Costa Rica is home to world class surfing, mountain biking, sport fishing and white water rafting. And with sunshine all year round, it is always time to take advantage of the great outdoors. However, playing in the great outdoors tends to work up a big appetite, so what’s for dinner?
The trend for fusion restaurants is something which the Costa Ricans have known about for years, as their cuisine combines the best of indigenous, African and Spanish influences. Whilst the stunning scenery and lifestyle might bring you to Costa Rica, the food may be the thing to keep you here.
Casado is perhaps recognized as the national dish. The dish takes on many variations and could be prepared with fish, chicken or meat. It might include rice or beans and be served with a green pasta or salad. Less traditional dishes might also include a serving of french fries. Whilst there might not be any set rules on how you should enjoy this dish, the combination of the ingredients ensure it is balanced with plentiful nutrients, proteins and carbs…perfect for restoring energy after a long day riding waves, hiking, or exploring.
Of course no national dish happens by accident and the Casado is no different. All the ingredients are readily available in the area and years ago, it was a cost effective and healthy way to serve large families. And it was perhaps confirmed as the nation’s favorite during the 1960s, when people headed to San Jose for work, but still wanted to feast on the flavors from home.
Did we skip breakfast?
Whilst our round up of Costa Rican Cuisine may have started with lunch, we advise you never to skip breakfast in Costa Rica because you need to fuel your day.
Similarly, to the Casado, breakfast is composed with meat, sausages, toasts, white bread and cheese! Of course there is also, Gallo Pinto…
Gallo Pinto is a popular dish across Latin American countries and translates literally as colored rooster. Whilst it was once a dish to be enjoyed throughout the day, Gallo Pinto is now reserved for breakfast. The dish usually combines rice, beans, onions, peppers, garlic and coriander.
The breakfast is served with sweet plantain, cheese, sour cream (or natilla) and a Lizano sauce, which is a liquid mix of spices and vegetables. The sauce is used with the breakfast meal and other meals throughout the day.
Are you still hungry?
If you still have room for a little more to eat, the famous Chifrijo traditional dish will satisfy the taste buds. This is the type of food you might find sold by street vendors, at celebrations or washed down with a beer. Typically, the dish is prepared with rice, beans, pork or possibly other meats, chopped tomato, tortilla chips and avocado.
If you are visiting Costa Rica soon, you are guaranteed to fall in love with one or more of these dishes. And if you have recently holidayed in the area, you are probably missing these delightful flavors. Consequently, we have included one of our favorite recipes below, so you can enjoy a taste of Costa Rica, wherever you might be…
Serves 4, with seconds, or generous leftovers.
- 1 cup short-grain brown rice
- 2 teaspoons sweet paprika
- 2 strips sour orange zest, each 1⁄2-wide and 2-3 inches long (taken from the sour oranges in the in the salad ingredients, or from regular oranges if sour ones aren’t available)
- 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
- 2 cups water or vegetable stock
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Put rice, paprika, 2 strips of sour orange zest and thyme leaves in a pot with 2 cups of water or vegetable stock and season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low, cover and cook 45 minutes or until done.
- 4 cups very thinly sliced white cabbage
- Juice of 2 sour oranges (reserve 2 strips of zest – see rice ingredients) If you can’t find sour oranges, substitute the juice of 1 regular orange + the juice of a lemon.
- 1 small red onion, thinly sliced and soaked 15 minutes in ice water
- 1 bunch radishes, thinly sliced
- 1 pint grape tomatoes, cut in half
- 2 sweet oranges, trimmed of skin and pith, cut into supremes
- 1 cup coarsely chopped cilantro leaves, plus additional sprigs for garnish
- 1⁄2 cup + 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
Toss the cabbage with the orange juice, season with salt and pepper and let sit 30 minutes.
Drain and pat the onions dry with paper towel. Add the red onions, sliced radishes, tomatoes, orange supremes, cilantro and 3 tablespoons oil to the cabbage. Toss gently. Taste and adjust seasonings.
- 1 large white onion, cut into 1⁄4-inch dice
- 1 red pepper, cut into 1⁄4-inch dice
- 1 small chili pepper, thinly sliced
- 2 teaspoons minced ginger
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1⁄2 teaspoon cumin seeds, crushed
- 1⁄2 teaspoon coriander seeds, crushed
- 2 cups cooked black beans with their liquid
Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add the diced onions and cook 10 minutes, or until toasty brown, stirring often. Add the peppers, ginger, garlic and spices, season with salt and pepper and cook 2 minutes. Add the black beans, with their cooking juices, reduce the heat to low and simmer 15 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings.
Plantains, Egg and Cheese:
- 2 ripe plantains, cut into 3⁄4-inch slices on the diagonal and peeled
- 4 large eggs
- 8-12 corn tortillas
- 1 cup crumbled queso fresco or farmer’s cheese
Heat 3 tablespoons oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add the plantain slices and cook on the first until golden brown, about 5 minutes. If they darken faster than that, turn down the heat – you need to be able cook them long enough to soften without completely blackening. Flip them, then after they’ve had a chance to cook on the second side for a couple of minutes, use a spatula or other convenient tool at hand to flatten them. (We use a plastic holder for reading glasses, which is also great for bashing garlic.) Cook on the second side for a total of 5 minutes, then flip them again and cook on the first side for a few minutes. Transfer to a plate and keep warm.
Add the remaining tablespoon of oil to the pan over low heat.Crack the eggs into the pan far enough apart so they don’t touch, or so that if they do touch they’re still easy to remove separately. Cover and cook until whites are set and the yolks are still runny; longer, if you like your yolks firmer. Season with salt and pepper.
Wrap the tortillas in a damp clean dish towel and microwave 45 seconds.
To serve, put a spoonful each of beans and rice on 4 warm plates. Top the beans with cheese. Add a pile of cabbage, some plantains, a fried egg, and a lime wedge. Pass the tortillas and with the remaining cheese, and your favorite hot sauce.