A lot of people say that Costa Rican Food isn’t all that great and that it’s unimaginative at best, however I beg to differ. Having lived here for just a year and a half, I have been able to sample a lot of local cuisine, but I am far from an expert. Food in Costa Rica has a rich history and deep meaning for the people here, which for me deserves a lot of respect when being critical of it’s food.
Even though I’ve been living here for over a year and a half, I haven’t quite yet embraced preparing typical food at home. Okay, so maybe I have gotten too comfortable with what I like to cook and the ingredients I know well, but now is the perfect time to explore.
Recently, I vowed to find the most unique dishes to Costa Rica and tweak them into the perfect recipes. But before we get down to business, we have a few terminologies to sort out and some background to familiarize ourselves with. First, the terms I’ll be using in this post may seem foreign to you (duh, because they are) but they’ve become a permanent part of my language living here. Ticos or Ticas are the native people. The name originates from their specific dialect of Spanish and how they’ve always added a -tico or -tica to the end of words, as in ‘little’ or ‘small’. For example, I chuckle when I hear someone say ‘quiero el chikitico’ or ‘I want the small one’. This is not common to end words with -tico or -tica, but it is common in any Spanish-speaking country for them to say “cafecito” (little coffee), “pancito” (little piece of bread) or “whiskito” (you guessed it: a little whiskey).
Here’s a little cultural background. If there is one common thread among all Ticos, it’s their passion for futból and their devotion to either La Liga or Saprissa. Here, your blood either runs purple and white or red and black, or you’re not Costa Rican at all. You know when it’s game day and it’s even easier to know when a goal is scored b/c no matter where you are in the country there are car horns blaring when there’s a GooooooOOOOOOOOOOaaaaaaaaaallllllll!!!!!! And what do the Ticos do before, during and after the games? Why eat of course. Which is why I chose the recipes I did, so you could maybe get the taste of what a traditional meal of the futból-loving Ticos is like.
Now for the ingredients that you’ve most likely never heard of. First we’ll start off with the pejibaye, or peach palm, which grows and is exported more in Costa Rica than any other country. The flavor is similar to a boiled peanut but with a milder flavor and a different texture. You can find them all over the sides of the road where locals set up giant pots boiling over a flame. Ticos love to eat them with mayonnaise and salt, but I’ve found them to be most delicious as a creamy soup. You can find them for about $2-3 for a kilo (2.3 lbs).
Then there’s a chyote, which is a type of squash that comes in either white or green and is a very inexpensive vegetable use for side dishes and what they call ‘picadillo’, which essentially means small pieces. Chyotes are about $0.30 a piece and recipes typically call for 2-4 units and rarely do you need any more unless you’re serving more than 6 people. But I beg you to be careful when you’re peeling and chopping the chayotes. You need to grab the vegetable with a towel or wear gloves. The reason for this is because they leave a strong film on your hands that acts like children’s glue but much, much worse. There’s not real way to get it off until it wears itself off.
Now to the recipes so you can judge for yourself if you agree that Costa Rican food isn’t noteworthy, but I have a hunch that you’ll love it.
Classic Costa Rican Recipes
Crema de Pejibaye – Peach Palm Soup
- 18 Pejibayes (cooked, peeled, pitted and chopped)
- 6 Cups of Chicken Broth
- 1 Cup of Heavy Cream
- 1/4 Cup butter
- 4 Tbsp of all purpose flour
- 2 yellow onions, finely chopped
- 3 bay leaves
- Bundle of 1 sprig of thyme and rosemary
- Salt and pepper to taste
- In a medium to large pot, melt the butter and saute the onions until they begin to caramelize
- Slowly mix in the flour and then add the chicken broth. Bring to a boil.
- Add chopped pejibayes, turn down the heat and simmer with the bay leaves and bundle of thyme and rosemary for 10 minutes. Remove bundle and bay leaves.
- Using an immersion blender, blend the contents of the pot until smooth
- Simmer for 10 more minutes to allow it to thicken, and add salt and pepper to taste
- Garnish with fresh chopped cilantro and serve hot.
Gallo Pinto Empanadas
Recipe makes 18 empanadas
Empanada Dough Directions
- In a medium-sized bowl mix 3 cups of All-Purpose flour and 1 tablespoon of salt.
- Cut 1/2 cup room temperature solid vegetable shortening into pieces and place in bowl with flour mixture. Using a pastry cutter, cut in shortening until you have a cornmeal texture. If needed break up large pieces with your hands.
- Slowly incorporate 3/4 cup of luke-warm water, adding a little at at time until a dough ball forms. The dough should not be sticky and should be kneaded about 10 times.
If needed, add more flour or water to reach the appropriate consistency.
- Cover with plastic wrap and let rest for 1 hour. If you’re making the dough in advance, wrap with plastic wrap and refrigerate. However, bring dough to room temperature before assembling empanadas.
- 1 Cup Dried black beans
- 1 Bay leaf
- 1 medium Yellow onion
- 4 Garlic Cloves
- 3 Cups Water
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup Brown or White rice
- 1/2 Red bell pepper
- 1 Green onion
- 1/8 Cup Fresh choppded cilantro
- 2 Whole Eggs
- 2 Tbsp Unsalted butter
- Soak beans in a bowl of water overnight and then drain.
- Finely chop the onion. In a slow-cooker, place black beans and three cups of water, the bay leaf, half of the chopped onion and cook on high for 3-4 hours.
- Strain off excess juices and remove bay leaf.
- Bring two cups of water to a rapid boil and pour in rice. Season with 1 teaspoon of salt and let cook on medium heat for 15-20 minutes until rice is fully cooked.
- In a large fry pan, melt butter and saute remaining onion, garlic and bell pepper. Cook until onion is translucent, add green onion, then pour in rice and beans and mix until incorporated.
- In a separate pan, scramble egg with milk until fully cooked. Add egg to rice and bean mixture.
- Finally, chop cilantro and add to the mixture. Allow to cool.
- Thoroughly clean the work surface and give yourself plenty of room.
You’ll need flour, a rolling pin, a circular cutter (6-8”), spoon, water, cookie sheet and your filling. Sprinkle flour on the work surface and pull a piece of dough off that’s about the size of a lime.
- Begin to flatten the dough ball in all directions until the dough is roughly 2 millimeters thick. The dough shouldn’t stretch much further than the diameter of your cutter, or you might have used too much dough.
- Press the cutter through the dough completely. Remove excess dough and incorporate it into the next dough ball. It’s important to note that once the dough has been rolled and stretched, it is much harder to do it a second time, so using the least amount of dough per cut is ideal.
- Once you’ve rolled out the dough and cut out the circle, it shouldn’t shrink any. Moisten the edges by dipping your fingers into egg wash and gently spreading a thin layer around the edges.
- Spoon out 2-3 tablespoons of filling onto the upper half of the circle. Fold the bottom half of the dough up over the filling and press the edges together repositioning the filling inside if needed. It’s important to have the right amount of filling so it won’t break open or leave it hollow after cooking. You should fill it just enough to still get the empanada to close.
- There are many ways to close and shape empanadas but I prefer the pinch and twisting closure. Starting with one edge pinch the edge between your finger and then fold the corner up over itself by 2 cm and pinch the new fold to seal it. Repeat the motion all the way around the empanada by pinching and twisting the dough to create a rope-like edge. When you reach the other edge simply tuck the corner under and pinch closed to seal it off.
- To cook them, heat up some vegetable oil, coconut oil, palm oil or peanut oil in a medium-sized pot to a medium-high temperature. Be sure to test your oil before dropping in the empanadas, if you drop in a little piece of extra dough, it should boil easily but not crackle, pop or boil too rapidly. If this happens, reduce the heat of the oil before submerging the empanada. When the oil is ready, submerge two or three empanadas in the oil and allow them to cook for 4-6 minutes until golden brown. Watch them carefully so they don’t burn.
Barbudos – Egg Fried Greenbeans
- 30 Greenbeans (washed and ends trimmed)
- 1 Tbsp All Purpose Four
- 1/3 cup of light olive oil for frying
- 2 eggs
- 1 tsp ground cayenne pepper
- Salt to taste
- In a medium-sized sauce pan, boil green beans in water with salt until al dente, with a slight crisp.
- Separate the eggs with whites in a small bowl and the yolks in another. Beat the whites until slightly stiff. Add the yolk, flour and salt and mix.
- Form groups of 6 green beans, soak in batter and fry in a pan with olive oil on medium-high heat, turning once after 2 minutes.
- Place in a hot oven while you’re cooking the rest. Eat immediately.
- 2 Whole Chayote
- 1 1/2 cups Frozen Corn
- 1 Medium Yellow onion
- 5 Cloves of Garlic
- 2 Medium Bell Peppers
- 2 Stalks Celery
- 1 cup Cilantro
- 1 Argentinean Chorizo
- 1 Tablespoon Cajun Seasoning
- 2 tsp salt
- 2 tsp Black Pepper
- 1 Tbsp Cumin
- 8 Strips bacon (6 if they are extra thick)
- 3 Tbsp Unsalted Butter
- Using gloves, peel chayote and remove pit. Cut into 2 cm pieces and place into a medium-sized pot. Cover with water and boil for 15 minutes. Drain and set aside.
- Meanwhile, fry bacon in a large fry pan turning occasionally until well-cooked but not burnt. Remove from pan, let cool and break into small pieces by hand.
Peel and dice the onion, mince the garlic and chop the bell pepper into small pieces.
- In the same pan with bacon grease, add chorizo (remove from casing), onion, garlic, bell pepper and celery. Cook on medium-high heat until slightly soft, about 2-3 minutes breaking up the chorizo as it cooks.
- Add butter, corn, cilantro, chayote, cajun seasoning, black pepper and cumin. Mix well. Salt to taste (varies depending on the type of cajun seasoning).
As seen in a previous post.
- 4-6 ripe plantains, cut into 1″ slices
- 1/2 Cup of margarine or butter
- 1 1/2 Cup of sugar
- 1 tsp of ground cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
- 1/4 tsp ground cloves
- 1 lime
- 2 Cups of water
- 1 tsp pure Vanilla extract
- In a large pan, melt the butter and saute the plantains on medium heat until golden. Add 1 cup of sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, lime juice and vanilla. Stir for 1 min.
- Add water and sprinkle on the remaining sugar.
- Reduce heat to low and cook until the liquid is reduced and caramelized. Serve hot, or let cool.