When I was just 13-years-old, I got my first job working at an Italian Restaurant right down the street from our home in cute little downtown Delafield, Wisconsin.
Coming from a family with a lot of people and not a lot of money, I always wanted a job so I could have my own cash in my own pocket; even if that meant working after school, on the weekends, and in between basketball and track practices.
The habit of making money stuck, and I ended up working at the same restaurant for 5 years. 5 YEARS. As a sort-of-full-grown adult, I haven’t even worked anywhere that long.
I was a straight up money makin’ playa. My senior picture will prove it to you.
Although it was hectic trying to manage school, sports, and work, I actually grew to like it. Ok well not right away.
I started as a dishwasher and I was looking to get out of that position as fast as possible. but I had to wait a while to a) turn the legal working age of 14 (whoops) and b) gain some dignity and respect around that place.
So after I while, I started working “behind the line” making salads, appetizers, pizzas, and all the easy foods I thought took talent. Then I started bussing, hostessing, and waitressing. Before I knew it, I learned the ins and outs of the entire restaurant biz.
Flash forward 10-15 years to current day, I find myself channeling my inner cocinera (cook) and using the skills that I learned working in a restaurant, hands down, more than any other place I’ve worked.
Wait, what does this have to do with gallo pinto? And just who do you think you are gringa saying you know how to make the best pinto?
I’m getting there. Let me explain.
I came to Costa Rica as a Community Economic Development Volunteer but what I’ve found myself doing is more along the lines of a Kitchen, Cooking & Culinary Volunteer (side note: this is not a real position).
During the first 3 months of pre-service training, I lived with a host mother who made and sold incredible cakes and pastries out of her home (obviously I participated in the nightly bake-fest. Yes I have the recipes. No I will not distribute them).
Currently and for the past 10 months, I’ve lived with a woman who makes and sells tamales weekly (yes, we make tamales weekly).
Now, in my community and with my project partner (the women’s group), I work every Saturday in a kitchen selling breakfasts, lunches, and other delicious food items.
How did this happen?!
I’ve actually thought about opening up my own food truck when I finish my service.
It has a nice ring to it right?
Now about that gallo pinto…
In the kitchen that I work in with the women’s group, one of our signature, hottest-selling items is our gallo pinto.
Gallo pinto is a traditional dish of Costa Rica and Nicaragua that’s made with rice and beans. It’s usually served for breakfast and accompanied by other foods like tortillas, queso fresco (cheese), meat, natilla (sour cream), and/or eggs.
Now I know what you’re thinking. Ohhhh rice and beans that’s so easy and simple.
Sure, you can slap together some simple rice and beans but it ain’t no pinto.
If you want to make the real deal, if you want el mejor sabor (the best flavor) you better listen up.
Now, I’ve had a lot of gallo pinto. I mean ALOTTA GALLO PINTO. From the houses and restaurants in the booming cities and suburbs of San Jose to the northern and southern parts of Costa Rica, I’ve tried it all. And just last month I finally visited Nicaragua and now officially consider myself an expert in this complex dish.
With my new self-bestowed expert status, I can say with confidence that the best, el mejor, gallo pinto comes from our tiny little kitchen in San Vito. And just your luck, I’m about to fill you in on the secret recipe.
El Mejor Gallo Pinto
The Best Gallo Pinto
- 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil
- 2 garlic cloves, chopped
- 1/4 medium white onion, chopped
- 1/4 cup chopped red pepper (optional, but delicious)
- 1.5 cups of black or red beans in liquid
- 3 tablespoons of Salsa Lizano (optional, but oh so worth it)
- 1 teaspoon of powdered chicken stock (omit if vegetarian)
- 3 cups of cooked rice**
- salt to taste
- 2 tablespoons of cilantro
**gallo pinto tastes best when the rice is cooked the day before. But if that’s not possible don’t sweat it. Just make your rice and do you.
1. In a large pot, heat vegetable oil
2. Add chopped garlic, red pepper (optional, but don’t omit it), and onions and simmer until onions are translucent and garlic and pepper is crystalized. Add a pinch of salt
3. Throw them beans in there! Don’t be shy, add some liquid too! Yeahhhh and bring em to a simmmaaaa
4. Add the secret sauce AKA Salsa Lizano
5. Add cooked rice and powdered chicken stock (or just a bit more salt) and mix together with beans and liquid
6. Add cilantro and salt to taste
Serve to your liking with items such as warm with tortillas, salsa, queso fresco, eggs, natilla (sour cream) or toast!
There you have it! A taste of Costa Rica in the comfort of your own home.
Lastly, I just want to say that the beauty of gallo pinto lies in its flexibility. You can really use whatever you have in the kitchen so experiment with different condiments and sauces until you find what you like best!