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Gallo Pinto

A quick description:

If there's something that everyone that lives in Costa Rica knows about it's gallo pinto. It's a dish that's about as old as you can imagine and about as common as you can get.

Gallo pinto is a mixture of rice and beans which is normally eaten for breakfast. Many people eat it alone, others add an egg on the side, maybe a slice of toast, and in restaurants you can even find gallo pinto with steak or chicken on the side. The more creative even mix the gallo pinto with sour cream to obtain a interestingly tasting mass.

Why is it so common? Well, the main reason is it's based on rice and beans, which are the number one element in any costarrican diet. The second reason is that it's normally made from leftovers: it's unusual to see gallo pinto made from fresh rice and beans, and most people consider it doesn't taste as good as gallo pinto made from leftover rice and beans.

As to the name, I have no real idea of why it's called that. I suppose the origin might date back to when the term "gallo" was used to refer to any small meal, and given the coloring the dish takes that's probably the origin of the word "pinto".

Gallo pinto is common at breakfast, and is also used when you've got nothing handy to cook and don't want to run to the supermarket.

The ingredients:

Salsa Lizano is a locally made sauce, kind of a liquid seasoning for food. Hellmans bought the sales rights a couple of years ago, so you might find it in your local supermarket. If not check with your local CR products store, and if you still can't find it, don't worry, it's important but not decisive to the recipe!

There's a trick to the beans and rice, which is that they're a day old at least. I don't know why, but they've gotta be a day old or it's not gonna taste the same. Probably some chemical breakdown which occurs in storage that gives them a different flavor. Also, the beans are precooked in water, and some of that water (black/red in color) is mixed into the recipe. If you look at the picture, you'll see the beans have a "liquid" look to them.

The recipe:

Start out by heating regular old kitchen oil in a frying pan. The oil part is important: if you don't use enough oil the recipe will taste flat. Much of Costa Rican cuisine has oil as a base flavor. You don't need to get your gallo pinto dripping oil, but don't skip on it either. Heat the oil and put in the onions to cook them for a few minutes.

After those few minutes, add your cooked rice and mix to spread the oil. Allow the rice to warm up (it'll probably start jumping around when it's about ready) and then add the beans along with a bit of their water. How much water? Well, consider that the water you add will need to dry up before you're done, so don't add too much.

Now mix the rice and beans uniformly to spread the color from the beans to the rice. As you go along, you'll see the mixture start to take on a darker color, which is what you're looking for. When you've got it about right, spread the rice and beans around the frying pan so they'll dry up faster. Let the heat from the stove dry up the water (it helps to keep mixing around with a spatula), some people like their gallo pinto dry, others like it a bit moist.

Once the mixture is dry, mix in enough Salsa Lizano so as to season, but not cover up the flavor entirely. You can add enough to give it a hint of taste, and set the sauce on the table in case anyone should like it with a heavier flavor. Remember Salsa Lizano has a strong salty taste, so don't overdo it.

And when that's done, you're done. Set it on a plate, add an egg, a slice of bread, steak, whatever. The recipe itself takes no more than 5 or 10 minutes if you've got rice and beans left over from the day before. Enjoy.

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