Gallo pinto – creamy rice and flavorful, hearty beans laced with the bite of garlic and flecked with savory cilantro – is the national dish of Costa Rica. It’s a dish traditionally eaten at nearly every meal, whether alongside fried eggs and cheese for breakfast or as part of a “casado” plate with meat, fried plantains, and a simple salad for lunch and dinner. The name itself literally means “spotted rooster,” taking its name from the flecked appearance the rice takes from being cooked with red or black beans.
The dish also is very similar to other Latin variations on rice and beans. Much like moros y cristianos in Cuba, pabellón criollo in Venezuela or arroz con gandules in Puerto Rico, gallo pinto is derived from Africans who settled in the Caribbean and brought the tradition of preparing rice with beans with them. There are countless variations of this classic in Costa Rican households from coast to coast, but every recipe includes one pantry staple: Salsa Lizano. It’s a favorite condiment for Ticos, who add a dash of the slightly sweet brown sauce nearly every dish before or after cooking. If you’re feeling adventurous, seek it out in your local bodega or ethnic market to add to the gallo pinto recipe below; if not, feel free to use Worcestershire sauce instead.
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 yellow Spanish onion, finely diced
4 small cloves garlic, crushed
1 15oz canned, low sodium beans (choose either small red or black beans)
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
Salt and pepper to taste
1 ½ cups cooked white rice
¼ cup of finely chopped cilantro
1. Add the olive oil to a large saucepan and heat to medium heat. Add the diced onion and garlic, cooking until golden and translucent. Crack open the can of beans and add the contents to the saucepan. Add the Worcestershire sauce to the beans, cooking for a few minutes until slightly thickened.
2. Add the rice to the bean mixture, stirring well to make sure the rice is well coated. Season with salt and pepper, adding cilantro just before serving. Serves six as a side dish.