Costa Rican Gallo Pinto

A pretty little mound of Gallo Pinto, splashed with just a wee bit of chili sauce.

While traveling in Costa Rica, I made an effort to sample local flavors. The fruits and fruit juices were amazingly fresh. The tree-ripened bananas, for example, had a depth of flavor that I had never experienced before. I tried many fresh juices, including one made from cocona fruit which I can only hope I will someday get to have again. Roadside vendors sold us agua en pipa (coconut water from an unripe coconut), often drunk straight from the shell, which was the most refreshing thing after a long hike in the jungle.

Many restaurants we went to served both American meals and Typical (local) fare. Of course I had to try to Typical breakfast, which was centered around Gallo Pinto, a hearty mixture of rice and black beans. The Typical breakfast was usually Gallo Pinto with some fried eggs, farmer’s cheese, tortilla, and fruit. I confess to having tried the full deal, since I am sometimes less strict with my vegan rules when traveling abroad and will permit the occasional egg and local cheese. The meal was usually served with a bottle of Salsa Lizano, a green vinegary sauce of which I have become quite fond, and a piping hot cup of amazing Costa Rican coffee.

Last night I whipped up a batch of Gallo Pinto for dinner, splashed with hot sauce and served with salad rather than eggs, though it would also be great with a side of sautéed greens and maybe a little scrambled tofu. The trick with this recipe is to cook it down just enough that you can put it in a mold and have it hold its shape on the plate. I used a 1-cup measuring cup, and you can see in the photo how the mixture held the form. If you don’t have Salsa Lizano on hand, you can splash it with anything vinegary, like a hot sauce.

Gallo Pinto
makes 6-8 servings

  • 1 cup long grain brown rice cooked in 2 1/2 cups water (about 3 cups when cooked)
  • 3 cups canned or cooked black beans
  • 1 tsp coconut oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, cut in a small dice
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 green pepper, cut in a small dice
  • 1/2 red pepper, cut in a small dice
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/4 tsp ground ginger
  • pinch sea salt
  • 2 cups liquid (water, broth, or a combination of the two)
  1. Cook the rice and beans, dice the veggies, and measure out the spices before beginning to cook.
  2. Heat the coconut oil in a wok or pot. When melted and hot, add onion. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until clear.
  3. Add garlic, and cook for about 30 seconds (until fragrant). Add peppers, and cook, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes or so.
  4. Stir in spices and pinch of salt, and cook for 30 seconds, then add rice and beans. Stir to mix evenly, then add liquid.
  5. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Cook, stirring vigorously once in a while, until the liquid has reduced or evaporated and mixture is thick enough to mold.
  6. Measure out and serve hot. Top with some fresh chopped cilantro if you have it, but don’t worry about it if you don’t!

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