In any “soda” (a restaurant where you can find comida tipica / classic Tico food) here in Costa Rica, you’re bound to find a massive jug of what looks like pickled vegetables on the table. It’ll be loaded with different colors, flavors, and spices and probably look as though it’s been sitting there for a few days–or even weeks–and chances are it has.
Before I get into what chilero is let me just say that this is MY recipe and how I learned to make it, so I don’t want to hear anything about how ohhhh it needs vinegar, or this or that vegetable, or that your host auntie makes it different. This is TALIA’S recipe so lay off.
That being said, I’ve tasted a lot of different chileros since arriving in Costa Rica. I mean, I have been working in a kitchen for the past two years…
Chileros come in all tastes and forms–from a simple lime juice mixture with chopped peppers and onions to an intricate combination of vegetables, herbs, and flavors–and are always a superb addition to Costa Rican cuisine.
Last week, a cocinera (chef) that I work with brought the most beautiful chilero I had ever seen to our kitchen in San Vito. Not only did the mixture of veggies and spices fuse together like a glitter-filled lava lamp from the 90s, it had the most incredible flavor. Of course I was like, Francina, GIRL…I need this recipe.
Now if you ask a woman for a “recipe” in my community, you’ll be enthusiastically bombarded with a list of ingredients but sometimes it seems like they’re not even sure how it all came together in the end.
“But how much?” I’ll ask.
“It’s up to you!” They say.
I had a task in front of me.
I needed to focus intently on this project so I headed down to the kitchen at the women’s rural tourism site where I could find some peace and quiet and most importantly, not feel judged for taking photos of strategically arranged peppers on a cutting board. I brought all my ingredients with me and snagged a few limes from a tree on my way down.
Picking limes from a tree with a big stick. NOT easy fyi.
On just my first try, I nailed the recipe and crafted one of the tastiest chileros in gringa-made chilero history. Fortunately, I made it pretty spicy and no one could handle the heat so I had the entire bottle to myself. And, like my amazing cocinera counterparts, I too, did not measure my ingredients so I’m going to wing this recipe and encourage you to adjust yours to your level of preferred spiciness.
Costa Rican Spicy-ish Chilero
- ½ medium carrot
- 1 red pepper
- 1 green pepper
- ½ onion
- 1-2 small, spicy peppers of your choice (don’t use the seeds if you don’t want it spicy)
- 3 cloves of garlic
- 5-7 medium-sized limes
- 1 teaspoon of salt
- 2 tablespoons of oregano
- ½ cup of water
1. Add ½ red pepper, ½ green pepper, ¼ onion, 1 spicy pepper, garlic, juice of 3 limes, a pinch of salt, and a TBSP of oregano to a blender and blend until a salsa-like consistency is created. Add water as needed.
2. Slice the ½ carrot, the other halves of your peppers, and onion into thin strips and add to a bowl. Juice the rest of your limes in the same bowl and add a teaspoon of salt and a TBSP of oregano.
3. In a jar or container of your choice, combine your salsa mixture with your lime juice and sliced vegetables. Add half a cup of water and more salt/oregano/lime juice to your liking.
***The chilero is best after the flavors have a chance to marinade for a few hours and will be even better (and spicier) the second day. You can continue adding water and lime juice to your mixture honestly, for a up to two weeks or until things start to look and smell sketchy.