Traditionally served with breakfast alongside fried or scrambled eggs, Gallo Pinto is a hearty and delicious traditional Costa Rican dish. It’s a cinch to prepare, too!
I’ve always been interested in exploring international cuisine.
In addition to my trusty Time-Life Foods of the World cookbook series (which, I know I’ve gushed about before; it’s a vintage collection at this point, but if you have an opportunity to get your hands on a set, I highly recommend!), I’m also lucky to have friends from a variety of cultural heritages.
Most recently, a few of my friends whose families hail from Costa Rica offered to teach me how to prepare some of their favorite traditional dishes, which, in turn, I’m able to share with you (score!).
A few weeks ago, I learned to make Gallo Pinto, Costa Rican Rice and Beans. One bite, and it’s safe to say that I have a new favorite rice dish in my recipe collection. I couldn’t put my fork down!
Gallo Pinto means, quite literally, “Spotted Rooster” in Spanish, characterizing the speckled appearance of the dark beans against the white rice.
It’s typically served as a part of a hearty breakfast, alongside fried or scrambled eggs, with accompaniments such as sour cream (“natilla” in Costa Rica, which is thinner than the American variety), a crispy slice of fried white cheese (“queso frito”), plantains, sliced avocado, a corn tortilla, and a strong cup of coffee.
I loved the contrast of the egg’s crispy edges and velvety yolk against the creamy, lightly-spiced rice and beans.
Plus, it’s easy to make, especially if you prep the rice and beans ahead of time. (In fact, day-old rice is preferred, as the refrigerated grains are easier to separate and combine with the beans and sauce.) What a way to start the day!
While Costa Rican cuisine is full of robust, fresh flavors, the heat level (at least, in the dishes I’ve tasted) tends to be mild. If there’s one thing we’ve established on this blog it’s that I’m a total lightweight when it comes to “hot” spices, so I’m pretty much in love!
The primary seasoning in traditional Gallo Pinto is Salsa Lizano, a vegetable-based condiment used widely throughout Costa Rica. The sauce is thin-textured and easily pourable, with a golden, tan color. Tasted on its own, it’s fairly salty, with a warm, round flavor of cumin and a bit of pepper.
Many recipes suggest using Worcestershire Sauce as an alternative if Salsa Lizano is unavailable. I can see the general parallel, but Worcestershire most definitely lacks the smokiness of Lizano. For an authentic flavor, I don’t recommend making the substitution.
I haven’t visited Costa Rica myself (yet!), but from what I’ve heard and read, it is an absolutely gorgeous country. The landscape is diverse (think: incredible beaches, majestic mountains, cloud forests, volcanoes), the culture rich, and, judging by my friends, the people some of the warmest in the world.
The Costa Rican people live by the mantra of “Pura Vida,” meaning “Pure Life.” It means living peacefully, positively, and in the moment, with happiness and gratitude for the good things in your life. Pura Vida reflects a profound appreciation for the simple beauty of life itself and the people in it. What a wonderful way to live.
I wish you all “Pura Vida,” including a delicious bowl of Gallo Pinto!
Gallo Pinto (Costa Rican Beans and Rice)
- 2 tablespoons light-tasting oil (vegetable, mild olive, canola)
- 1 red bell pepper , chopped
- 1 small yellow onion , chopped
- 2 cloves garlic , minced
- 2 cups cooked black beans , in ¾ cup reserved cooking liquid*
- ¼ cup Salsa Lizano **
- 3 cups cooked rice , preferably, day-old and refrigerated
- ¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
- Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Sauté chopped bell pepper and onions until peppers are soft and onions are translucent, about 6-8 minutes. Add minced garlic and cook for 1 minute, until fragrant.
- Add black beans, reserved cooking liquid, and Salsa Lizano, stirring to combine. Simmer for 5 minutes, until slightly thickened and little bit of the liquid is evaporated. Gently stir in cooked rice and cook until heated through and most of the liquid is absorbed, about 3-5 minutes.
- Stir in chopped cilantro. Season to taste with additional Salsa Lizano, if desired, and serve.
When we were in Costa Rica I had this with every meal. Every one!! I love it and this is as good as theirs was. Not so much the scenery and wildlife here in Pa….
When we visited Costa Rica, Gallo Pinta was presented at breakfast on the first morning stop in a roadside cafe! The Costa Rican couple on our tour chose that, so I decided to sample it as well. With scrambled eggs alongside, it was delicious!! I made that choice for breakfast every morning if our stay there because I enjoyed it so much! I’d like to make it at home, but I don’t have access to the proper seasonings to reproduce this treat! I will have to keep searching so I can enjoy it once more! Thank you!
This was pretty spot on. The best gallo pinto I had was at a little place near Bijagua (Cataras Lodge). It was a bit different than the others I’ve had and someone we talked to explained that each cook had their own little way of cooking it. But a breakfast of gallo pinto with an egg, some fruit, fresh juice, and coffee? Perfect.
Deb Pella Keen says
I had the same dish at Cataras Lodge – it is a great memory from the trip. Great for a vegetarian!
I got back from Costa Rica last week. During my ten day visit, I ate gallo pinto almost everyday. I just made this recipe and it turned out perfectly the very first time. The flavor of the rice and beans was subtle but amazing. I paired the gallo pinto with slow fried jerk chicken. As delicious as the jerk chicken was the gallo pinto still stole the show. Outstanding recipe!
Fantastic recipe – came out great the first time and every time thereafter!
Molly M says
Totally Tico! I add about two tablespoons of Lizano when I cook the rice! Great recipe
Jamie Vance says
We just returned from Costa Rica and after falling in love with their typical breakfast I wanted to make my own. This recipe is close to the Costa Rican breakfast we love. Steer clear of the other recipes (especially the ones that call for Worcestershire sauce!). Salsa Lizano is a must!! If you’re looking for a great Gallo Pinto recipe look no further!
Sooooo good! Thank you!
I was able to find the Lizano Salsa in my special grocery store!
Made this for dinner tonight and I loved it! I realise it’s a breakfast dish but rice is a dinner food for me (I’m from the UK). I’ve never been to Costa Rica before but I would love to and sample more of their authentic dishes. I ended up making the salsa lizano myself by buying the Guajillo chillies on amazon and mixing with a bunch of other pantry staples (found the lizano recipe online) and it turned out great! It’s naturally vegetarian which I am trying to incorporate more of with my dinners and so very filling. Thanks for the recipe!