There are some things that form part of our lives in the country we are born, but aromas are a mysterious link to our childhood innocence, freedom and joy
In every single Costa Rican person there is an unconfutable aroma that blends in with our parent’s home and grandma’s cuddling: Gallo Pinto… with its boiling beans, sautéed onion and Lizano sauce.
I remember when I was a kid, and as soon as I woke up, getting that aroma in my nostrils… Boiling beans… Gallo Pinto was on the way. My mother would wake me up when I had to go to school in the morning and the house was already filled with the aroma of spices and beans. The unforgettable Lizano Sauce smell, the onions, the garlic and cilantro… All combined with the beans, boiling.
There was a certain beauty in the whole morning routine… Schools in Costa Rica, start at 7.00 a.m. and so, the bus, sometimes, would pick me up at 6 a.m. It was still very cool, and sometimes when my mother woke me up, it was still dark. The uniform was already hanging – perfectly ironed – on the door knob and as I was ready to go, I had to put a sort of apron to cover it (Uniform cleanliness was key), go to the kitchen and sit with a glass of fresh juice and a plate of rice and beans, eggs, tortillas and sour cream. Up to this day… I don’t have a clue at what time my mother woke up to cook us breakfast. Amazing woman!
And yes! This is the most traditional morning for the Costa Ricans all over the country. Children are used to very clean uniforms and waking up really early. And we eat a combination of protein and fiber for breakfast, together with juices… Fresh juice! Every day in every meal! Nowadays, in the city, we go for Corn Flakes and milk, maybe a slice of papaya or pineapple… in the week days… But weekends always come with the taste of Gallo Pinto and Lizano sauce.
In the country this breakfast together with a piece of meat and sweet plantains, is put in smoked banana leaves to be taken by the men to the fields. Coffee or sugar cane juice (Aguadulce) is put in a bottle and taken as a part of lunch. Early meals are the most important. The earlier, the bigger… And then you grow up to read in Cosmo magazine that this is the healthiest way to eat. Who would tell!
And this is the reason why, when you go to your hotel breakfast buffet anywhere in Costa Rica you will always find a bowl with Gallo Pinto, our rice and beans, hot and fresh and ready to be served. For us is not a meal. It is part of our roots, our families and our lives.
Gallo Pinto Recipe:
2 Cups of cooked black or red beans. (A bit older, when the soup is already thick is so much better!)
8-10 sprigs cilantro (coriander leaf)
1 small or medium onion
1 garlic clove
½ small red sweet pepper (optional)
2 cups (350 ml) white rice
½ teaspoon (2.5 ml) salt
1 Tablespoon (15 ml) vegetable oil
1-3 Tablespoon oil to fry the Gallo Pinto
1 Table spoon of Lizano Sauce
To cook the beans: If beans are dried, cover with water and soak overnight, if they are fresh, just rise them off. Drain the beans to an inch (2.5-cm) above the top of the beans, salt, and bring to a boil. Cover the pan and reduce heat to very low simmer until beans are soft (~3 hours).
Chop cilantro, garlic, cilantro, onion, and sweet pepper very fine. Add 1 Tablespoon oil to a large pan and sauté the mix of those ingredients.
Then pour the beans with their soup into the pan, add the Lizano sauce and salt and cover it and let it rest for 5 minutes. Add the rice and mix all ingredients well. And let it rest until it dries (This is probably the hardest step since you have to let it dry…but not too much!).
And you have your Gallo Pinto ready!