Thursday, March 15, 2012

Costa Rica

History: Declared independence from Spain in 1821
Armed Forces: Dissolved in 1949.  Only two brief periods of violence have hindered the democratic development since the late 19th century
Location: Central America, bordering both the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean
Area: Over 51,000 sq km; 130th largest in the world
         Slightly smaller than West Virginia
Population: Over 4.5 million; 123rd largest in the world
Religion: 76.3% Roman Catholic
Capital: San Jose
Human Development Index: Consistently among the top Latin American countries
Carbon: Announced plans in 2007 to become the first carbon-neutral country by 2021
Happiness: Ranked #1 in the Happy Planet Index in 2009
Sources: CIA Factbook and Wikipedia

When Kevin and I were recently considering where to go on vacation before the baby arrives, we seriously considered Costa Rica.  The standard of living is high and tourism is a major industry.  There were really only a few things that pushed us to Hawaii instead.  One, I was sure that I would be able to communicate with healthcare officials in case something went wrong while there.  And two, I don't think I could do a lot of the cool stuff in Costa Rica while pregnant anyway.  Guess we'll have to go later!

Recipe searching for Costa Rica was very different than I had anticipated.  I expected spice and flavor.  Instead, my research said that a lot of their cuisine was fairly mild.  The one thing that came up most often was Gallo Pinto.  Rice and beans?  Rice and beans!  Often served three times a day.  I didn't feel like I could choose something else when this was so prevalent.  I looked through a lot of recipes and settled on this one.  Simple, and reasonable assumption of authenticity.  It felt nice to be working with familiar ingredients in a not-entirely-familiar way.

I had to start the day before with soaking some dry beans.  I may have said it before, but this is much cheaper than buying canned beans, and really not a lot of work.  You can put any leftovers in the freezer.
They will expand, so make sure you use a big enough bowl.

After 24 hours or so, you boil the beans for 1.5-2 hours.  I had forgotten to take this into account when we cooked this, so we ended up deciding this would be a between meal snack.
The water gets very dark.  Normally I would discard it, except that the recipe specifically calls for it.
The rice was cooking in the rice cooker, so the only active work at the beginning was chopping and sauteing, as per normal.
I got a new camera for Hawaii, and it has a food option!  I'm not entirely sure I  like the results, though.  I kept playing with the settings.

The recipe calls for Salsa Lizano, which is a popular Costa Rican condiment.  In reading up on it I learned that it is basically on every restaurant table in Costa Rica.  Like ketchup here. We were a little worried about finding it, but it didn't take us too long.  In fact, it was our most successful trip to the Latin American store near us.  Unfortunately, they only have big containers.  If anyone needs some, let me know!
It is now made by Unilever, which I find a little odd...
It was a little thicker than I expected it to be.  Like a slightly watered-down ketchup.
This was unlike some other dishes I have made (like Bolivia), because the rice included was already cooked, as I mentioned before.  Mixing that with the beans and some bean stock certainly gave it an interesting color.  I was worried I wasn't putting enough stock in, but it turns out it doesn't take a lot.

I actually cut up some cilantro as well.  I hate buying bunches of herbs because usually they end up going bad.  It is hard to get cilantro in any other decent form, though.
And really, that's it.  Since it was a between-meal snack, I didn't serve it with eggs or sausage or anything.
Kevin and I both had the same reaction.  It was okay.  Not offensive in any way.  Could be a good side for something with a ton of flavor or salt.  As a separate dish, however?  Not much to get excited about.

We both flavored ours with some additional Salsa Lizano, which helped.  And to be fair, it isn't supposed to be the main attraction.  I guess I expected something more from a dish that so many people raved about, though.  I'm sure when we someday go to Costa Rica and try the real thing, we will see what all of the buzz is about.

Next time: Cote d'Ivoire


  1. Brings back good memories! This is often served at 2-3 meals a day typically in Costa Rica. (though when I was there, I stayed with a host family who had a more varied diet than the typical 'tico'.) I liked Salsa a condiment!

  2. !!! when i was in CR we seriously ate this for breakfast, lunch and dinner... along with some of the most delicious pineapple ever at breakfast!