Gallo Pinto is a rice and beans casserole, traditional of Nicaragua and Costa Rica, very regularly served as a side dish and particularly enjoyed at breakfast alongside a couple of fried eggs.
One of my very good friends recently went to Costa Rica and, while there, totally fell in love with Gallo Pinto, one of their traditional dishes, which they apparently eat practically every day, and sometimes even several times a day!
He loved their traditional rice and bean casserole so much that he asked several locals for their recipe and, after he returned, started making it on a regular basis. Of course, it was only a matter of time before he had me discover it and fall in love with it, too!
And now, I thought I’d pay it forward and share the recipe for this very simple yet super tasty dish with you, too…
Now, before anyone goes throwing tomatoes at me, let me specify that I am not Costa Rican and have never even set foot in Costa Rica so I’m in no way suggesting that this would be a truly authentic Gallo Pinto recipe, far from there. I can only assure you that it’s a very tasty one!
In fact, I think that Gallo Pinto is one of those dishes for which there seems to be as many different recipes as there are people making it. One thing that they all seem to have in common though is that they all call for cooked rice, preferably cooked the day before and chilled, red or black beans, preferably home cooked, and Salsa Lizano!
That last ingredient, the Salsa Lizano, would be the one secret ingredient, the key ingredient that every one agrees on. It’s said to be practically mandatory when making authentic Gallo Pinto. Indeed, most seem to agree that without this sauce, no Gallo Pinto will ever taste like the real thing.
Also too, when making Gallo Pinto, you should be cooking your rice the previous night, (white rice is preferred here but feel free to use your favorite kind) so it has ample time to chill before you add it to the dish. This will allow it to absorb more flavor and will prevent it from getting mushy…
Likewise, if you are going to cook your own beans (which you totally should – home cooked have so much more flavor to them!) you should be doing that ahead of time, too. Don’t go draining and rinsing them though, as you are going to be using the cooking liquid as well, or at least some of it!
Once your rice and beans have been dealt with, heat some olive oil in a large saute pan set over medium heat. Once hot, add the onion, garlic, bell pepper and salt and cook until soft and fragrant, about 6 to 8 minutes.
Now add 2 cups of cooked red or black beans, a half cup of their cooking liquid and a quarter cup of Salsa Lizano.
Now about that Salsa Lizano, should you have had no luck locating it, substitute Worcestershire sauce for it and add a teaspoon or so of ground cumin to your dish. While this won’t give you the true, traditional flavor of Gallo Pinto, it’ll at least get you as close as it’s gonna get…
As for the beans, while home cooked are always preferred, if there was no time for that, you could substitute a can of black or red beans and their liquid. Just go ahead and add the whole can, without draining first!
Stir to combine and simmer for 5 minutes, until slightly thickened and about half of the liquid is evaporated.
Add the cooked rice, stir well and continue cooking until most of the liquid is absorbed but not completely gone, about 5 minutes.
Remove the pan from the heat source and stir in the chopped cilantro.
That’s it, you’re done!
Serve your Gallo Pinto immediately, garnished with a few lime wedges, a little bit more chopped cilantro and a few tablespoons of chopped red onion (for added color, mostly!) if desired.
Like I said, this goes good with just about anything… apparently in Costa Rica, they eat it as much as 3 times a day, which means with practically very meal, but are particularly fond of it at breakfast, alongside a couple of fried eggs.
I can totally see why… and I say you should definitely try it for yourself!
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- 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 medium yellow onion chopped
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 1 red bell pepper chopped
- 1/2 tsp salt I use Himalayan salt
- 2 cups cooked red or black beans plus 1/2 cup reserved cooking liquid (or canned*)
- 1/4 cup Salsa Lizano or Worcestershire sauce + 1 tsp ground cumin**
- 3 cups cooked white rice preferably chilled overnight
- 1/2 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro
- 1-2 tbsp finely chopped fresh cilantro
- 2-3 tbsp red onion
- Lime wedges
Heat the olive oil in a large saute pan set over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, bell pepper and salt and cook until soft and fragrant, about 6 to 8 minutes.
- Add the cooked beans, reserved cooking liquid (if using canned, add beans and liquid – do not drain) and Salsa Lizano (or Worcestershire and cumin), stirring to combine. Simmer for 5 minutes, until slightly thickened and about half of the liquid is evaporated.
- Add cooked rice, stir well and continue cooking until most of the liquid is absorbed but not completely gone, about 5 minutes.
- Remove from heat and stir in chopped cilantro. Serve immediately, garnished with a few lime wedges, a little bit more chopped cilantro and a few tablespoons of chopped red onion (for added color) if desired.
*Home cooked beans are always preferred, but if there was no time for that, you could substitute a 19oz can of black or red beans in their liquid.
**Salsa Lizano is said to be absolutely crucial to preserve the authenticity of the dish; if you leave it out, the flavor will simply not be traditional. You should be able to find Salsa Lizano in specialty/ethnic food stores or online. However, if you were absolutely unable to get your hands on it, your best option would be to substitute Worcestershire sauce and add about 1 teaspoon of ground cumin to the dish.
***Cook time does not include time to cook beans and rice.