Feature photo by Leigh Shulman. Above photo by Arvindgrover

There’s no better way to start the day than with cup of strong, excellent coffee and a plate of gallo pinto, rice and beans made the Costa Rican way. This is the recipe I learned from my fabulous friend Randal when I surfed his couch in San Ramon.

We’re all relaxing around the kitchen, chatting and drinking coffee at Ran’s place in San Ramon, a suburb just outside of San Jose.

“You’re making the pinto this morning,” Ran informs me.

Yes, gallo pinto, the classic Tican breakfast of beans and rice.

Then he turns on the loud Ritmo, because reggaeton makes him feel like cooking, and starts swinging his hips.

He helps me assemble the ingredients:

One onion, chopped
Three garlic cloves, chopped
Oil, butter or animal fat
Two stalks Celery, chopped
Half a Sweet Pepper, chopped
Handful of chopped Cilantro
1.5 cups Black Beans
2 Cups Rice
Your choice of alcohol, beer works well.
Salsa Lizano Unlikely to be found outside of Costa Rica but is similar to mild green salsa found elsewhere)
Salsa Inglese aka Worcestershire sauce
Salsa China aka soy sauce
Salt and pepper

We’re all inside opening our first beer of the day. Yes, it’s first thing, but we woke up late, so it’s more like lunch than breakfast.

Begin With A Hot Pan, Garlic and Onions

First things first. I sautee garlic in olive oil, then add onions.

While I’m at the stove with the onions, Lila’s leaping and giggling in Ran’s bedroom, turning Noah into a jungle gym and Ran’s sweet dog Drunk – pronounced dronk with a fully rolled r – is in the backyard humping a towel.

Ran comes up behind me, takes my arm and gently rotates the spoon in the pan.

Photo by Randall Arias

“How’re those onions coming, honey?” His other arm encircles me, and we dance a little together, before he gives me a kiss and heads off to see who’s at the door.

Another friend arrives. There’s clearly some drama going between the two, so I focus on the pan in front of me. The onions have caramelized nicely. It’s time to add the celery, peppers and cilantro, keep stirring over heat until everything is cooked.

Now it’s time for the rice and beans.

There are two ways to make pinto. The first, comes from the Guanacaste province. They put the rice in first, and it makes for a drier, crunchier pinto. The other originates in the central valley, where the beans go first and the final dish is moister, mushier. We’re making Guanacaste today.

In goes the rice. Ran tells me to “fry it as much as I want,” although I’m not entirely sure what that means. I let it go about five minutes before adding beans, salt and pepper.

Final Touches

Then top with alcohol, salsa Lizano, soy sauce and a bit of Worcestershire sauce. Mix and you’re ready to eat.

Serve with naitilla – sour cream if you can’t find it — cheese, fried sweet plaintain, any kind of meat or eggs. You really can’t go wrong.

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