Comida tipica [ko-ME-da TI-pi-ka or typical food] is the watchword for gallo pinto [GA-jo PEEN-toe or speckled cock]. Don’t ask me WHY a side dish is named after a painted rooster. Why would someone name a pudding "spotted dick"? We’ll have to just accept it and move on.
As you meander about Costa Rica, you’ll pass at least a million sodas [little diners], all serving comida tipica. In fact, even T.G.I.F. and Denny’s offers up a side of gallo pinto on the menu.
Properly prepared, which means fresh, hot, nicely seasoned with a fresh hot corn tortilla, maybe a dollop of natilla [nah-TEE-jah, like a Costa Rican sour cream, NOT like a Mexican sweet custard dessert], it is right up there with potatoes in the comfort food zone. Delicious! Here’s how we make it at home:
Contrary to popular belief, gallo pinto is not leftovers thrown together. The best is made fresh each time, not all cooked up and dished out over the next few days. You pre-cook the beans and rice, then keep them separated.
You have to play around with the amounts. Making gallo pinto is not an
exact science… we’ve had it old and cold, lukewarm and greasy. We
like it fresh, hot and decidedly not greasy! Oh: if you get it
in a restaurant and it’s all pretty much the same color of brown, it’s
not fresh. The cilantro should be green and the peppers red. The rice
and beans should NOT be the same color.
First, we make a pot of black beans and a cooker full of rice. Traditionally, of course, you use white rice and that’s all we’ve ever used. I love brown rice, but have yet to find it here in any form not totally devoid of all nutrition. So we stick with white rice. High glycemic on the downside, but like eating for free on the upside. A pot of each will last us a good five days – after that, it’s good for a soup but not for gallo pinto.
1/2 onion – diced or minced. The boys don’t like the pieces of onion, so we mince.
1 small chopped red pepper
Garlic to suit (we use 2 cloves)
Minced hot pepper to taste (we use 1/2 a jalapeño… it’s breakfast, after all)
Bunch ‘o fresh cilantro
Cook other ingredients but the cilantro in a pan in 1-2 T. olive oil till soft and hot, not too long. We like a little crunch to our peppers. Add 1-2 C. each rice and beans and the cilantro. Cook till hot, serve. Delish!
About the corn tortillas: These are so simple to make. Corn flour and water basically. Add salt to taste if you want. The locals add grated cheese. You can make them fat like pancakes, or thin like tortillas.
The critical element is to roll between two pieces of wax or plastic paper or it WILL stick, I don’t care how much flour you use. So don’t use any extra flour to roll, just use the plastic/wax paper. You can cut plastic baggies in half – less clingy than actual clingwrap. You can use a tortilla press or a roller (still need the pastic/wax). Or use the handy press-and-turn method with your fingertips: press, turn the tortilla a bit in a circle, press again, repeating until you have a round-ish tortilla. This is how the locals do it… they don’t use equipment!
Keep the cast iron skillet hot enough so you only have to flip once, like a pancake. Flipping makes them tough. Once you get the hang of this, it’s easy. And homemade beats storebought every time. Pura vida!