Costa Rican Fire Sauce

Costa Ricans love their sauces. From Lizano’s to the typical veggies-in-vinegar at every soda table in the country, the Ticos can’t go without adding some extra kick to their dishes. I’ve adopted a similar mentality and feel like the table is empty without a bottle or two of various flavors on the table. My morning gallo pinto just isn’t the same without the chilero, nor the egg sandwiches with Tapatio. We know what we like and we check the labels to make sure they are not infused with MSG or any other preservatives, but sometimes we just want a homemade, fresh hot sauce to use for the month.

I’ve highlighted the most basic recipe for hot sauce that I know and we used our home-grown chili peppers that we bought from our neighborhood EPA in Cariari, Belen, Costa Rica. We planted the peppers back in March along with some basil, oregano, flat-leafed parsley, chives, thyme and cherry tomatoes. Are growing everything in planters so our dogs don’t stomp on them or sprinkle them with some unwanted flavor. The trick is mixing compost with good potting soil and keeping things fertilized with compost ever other month or so. We started a compost pile when we moved in, but haven’t yielded any good rich product yet.

Here is the recipe for the Costa Rican Hot Sauce and it’s certainly hot as fire so be careful how much you use as it stays with you for some time after your finished with it.

Costa Rican Fire Sauce Ingredients

• 9 ripe chili peppers
• 6 small to medium cloves of garlic
• 1 Cup white vinegar

Costa Rican Fire Sauce Directions

1. It’s best to use gloves when slicing hot peppers to avoid burning your eyes by touching them later.
2. Slice the tops off of all the peppers and discard. Slice each pepper into 4 large pieces and place into the blender.

chili peppers and vertical blender

3. Remove the skins from the garlic cloves by smashing them first and cutting off the tiny end which is inedible. Place into the blender as well.

chili peppers in vinegar

4. Pour in the vinegar and blend well, or use a vertical blender in a tall container.

hot sauce in blender
5. Transfer to a glass jar with a lid and carefully transfer the sauce without splashing or getting the fumes in your face.

Costa Rican Fire Sauce

Cheap Food Escazu – Don Fernando

It can be quite a challenge to find fine-quality meats at a reasonable price in Costa Rica, especially beef. Unless you raise the cattle yourself, or your neighbors do (which isn’t that uncommon, actually). The sole purpose of this post isn’t to bad-mouth the local restaurants that serve steaks. But the American restaurant chains in Escazú like Outback Steakhouse and Tony Roma’s just don’t have the quality of meat that you’re paying for. The single time I’ve been to Tony Roma’s, I ordered filet minion with a baked potato and what was served to me was a big ball of tough, undercooked (to my taste) meat. So, you can’t blame it on me wanting a medium-well steak, because it was medium-rare from all angles and still tough as leather.

My husband and I had a similar experience when buying steaks from the grocery stores like Hipermas, PriceSmart and even AutoMercado. Same story, tough, over-priced meat with an almost-gamey taste that you needed a chainsaw to cut and chew through. Alas though, we were turned onto Don Fernando, the butcher shop in Escazú just past the Scotiabank and Mas Por Menos toward Santa Ana in Plaza Colonial.

There certainly is cheap food in Escazú, at Don Fernando Carnicería. The assortment of cuts that we love include ribeyes, NY Strip, beef tenderloin, pork chops, chicken breast, turkey dogs and CHEESE. Glorious cheese, without spending an arm and a leg for it. Anyone who has spent even just a few weeks in Costa Rica will find that cheese is like gold here. For no apparent reason really. It’s made in the country but anything other than the local white ‘squeaky cheese’ is priced like an English import.

Our regular favorites from the butcher shop are ribeyes, turkey dogs and mozzarella cheese. Take the ribeyes and rub some Willingham’s seasoning (sorry folks, only available through mail order from the USA) or your favorite steak seasoning on them and grill ‘em up. We had a side of baked potatoes with black beans, butter, scallions, cumin, cilantro and salt & pepper.

Additionally, the carniceria or butcher shop, next door they have a Don Fernando restaurant where they’ll cook up your newly bought treasures if you can’t wait to get home. They also have a regular menu, which includes everything they offer in the way of meats from the other side of the kitchen. We have made a vow, even if it means going out of our way, to hit up Don Fernando to get all of our carnivorous needs.

Costa Rica Fish Tacos

Nothing says tropical like fish tacos. With cilantro sauce no doubt. And now my husband touts a great skill of homemade tortillas, so we combined efforts and out came Costa Rican fish tacos. The one thing that we definitely agree on is more more more cilantro. So, in the following recipe, you’ll see that there is no shying away from our favorite herb. You can also check out Frugal Antics, who is also on the cheap food mission with their interpretation of similar homemade corn tortillas.

(Serves 2, but easy to double or triple)

Cilantro Sauce:

1/4 C. Mayonnaise
1/8 C. finely chopped fresh cilantro
1 tsp powdered cayenne pepper
a liberal amount of fresh ground black pepper

Mix ingredients in a small bowl until well blended. Cover and refrigerate until serving.

Citrus Slaw:

2 C. finely sliced green cabbage
2 Tbl coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
1 Tbl honey
1 Tbl olive oil
juice from half a lime

Toss cabbage in a medium-sized bowl with cilantro, honey, olive oil and lime juice just before serving.

Fresh Tortillas:

2 C. Maseca (corn flour)
1 C. Warm water
1 Tsp salt (to taste)

1) Mix all ingredients adding more water or flour as needed until the dough doesn’t stick to your hands. Make a golf-ball sized dough ball and using a tortilla press, flatten into a 7″ corn tortilla and repeat until the dough is all used.

2) Place a dry skillet on medium-low heat and another dry skillet on medium-high heat. Start the tortilla in the medium-low skillet for 1-2 minutes and flip into the medium-high skillet for 1-2 more minutes and briefly flip one more time in the medium-high skillet until fully cooked but not crisp.

Fish:

1 large tilapia filet
1/4 C. soy oil
1/8 C. flour
1 egg
2 Tbl soymilk (or regular)
1/2 breadcrumbs

1) Slice the fresh (thawed) fish filet into 1″ pieces and coat with flour.
2) Break egg and wisk into a wide, shallow bowl. Dip fish pieces into egg and coat with bread crumbs.
3) Heat oil in a skillet on medium-high heat and fry battered fish pieces for 2-3 minutes turning frequently or until cooked through.

Assembly:

1) Spread a spoonful of cilantro sauce onto a corn tortilla
2) Place 3-4 pieces of fish in the center of the tortilla
3) Cover with citrus slaw and enjoy!

Summer Citrus-Cilantro Cabbage Salad

cabbage salad

cabbage salad

In Costa Rica, the salads are mostly made with a base of cabbage as opposed to lettuce. My best guess at the reason why is because cabbage is heartier and a head will stretch farther than a head of lettuce. Another notable difference with salads here is that they rarely use much of a dressing. Mostly just a little oil, lime juice and sometimes a splash of vinegar. This weekend I tried my hand at a Costa Rican typical salad, but with a twist (of course!).

(Serves 4)

SALAD INGREDIENTS:

• ½ head of green cabbage, sliced in very thin strips (much like coleslaw)
• 2 Tbl fresh cilantro, coarsely chopped
• 10-12 snow peas, stems removed, chopped in 1” pieces
• 1-2 green onions, sliced into thin rings (use white and green part)
• 1 large carrot, peeled and sliced at a sharp angle to make oval rings
• 2 Roma tomatoes, thinly sliced into rings

DRESSING INGREDIENTS:

• ½ C. olive oil
• ¼ C. white vinegar
• 2 Tbl. Honey
• 2 Tbl cilantro
• juice from 1 lime
• ½ fresh jalapeño pepper (seeded)
• garlic salt and fresh cracked pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS:

Simply toss all the salad ingredients into a large salad bowl and blend dressing ingredients. Pour dressing over salad mixture.

Cheap Food – Sweet Plantains

plantanos-dulces

First, let’s talk about the difference between plantains and bananas. Plantains are part of the banana family but aren’t eaten raw. The plantain averages about 65% moisture content and the banana averages about 83% moisture content which affects the flavor as well. Plantains are typically longer and have a thicker skin than bananas.

Plantains vary from the green, starchy fruit to the ripe, sweeter version and are used very differently in recipes. The plantain recipe highlighted in this post is using the ripe fruit in a sweet side dish called ‘Plátanos Maduros en Gloria’. It is a typical sweet side dish as part of the Costa Rican casados (typical food).

This is a typical cheap food found in Costa Rica. Total amount spent on the dish: $2. Serves 6.

INGREDIENTS:

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

DIRECTIONS

1. 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.

2. Add water and sprinkle on the remaining sugar.

3. Reduce heat to low and cook until the liquid is reduced and caramelized. Serve hot, or let cool.

Cheap Food – Tuna Pasta Salad Recipe

tuna-pasta-salad11

I was given a Costa Rica cookbook for my birthday this year and this was the first recipe I’ve tried, with some personal tweaks of course. It is a tuna pasta salad and uses my favorite shaped pasta, shells. I was surprised to see that the recipe didn’t call for much in the way of sauce except the mustard, so that’s where the improvising began. This is the Cheap Food Here version of the recipe:

INGREDIENTS (Serves 4)

1 8.8oz (250 grams) bag of mini shell pasta
1 standard sized can of premium chunk white tuna fish
1 cup baby peas
2 Tbl cilantro, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 medium-sized onion, finely chopped
1 stalk of celery, finely chopped
Juice from 1/2 a lime
1 Tbl mustard
2 Tbl red wine vinegar
2 Tbl Olive Oil
Garlic salt and pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS

1) Cook the pasta to al dente, according to package. Then rinse with cold water.
2) In a large bowl combine all remaining ingredients with the pasta and stir.
3) Serve on a bed of lettuce.

Cheap Food Costa Rica – Grecia – Los Pira

If you like putting tacos, hotdogs, hamburgers, and friend fries together before it gets to your stomach, I have just the place for you. In the great town of Grecia, just outside of San Jose, Costa Rica, there is a place right next to the main church called Los Pira. If I had come to a place like this  in college, I would have been in trouble for sure. The outside of the shop looks no different than any little food joint in San Jose, a sign with no real design, entrance crowded with people, Ticos cooking on a grill behind the counter, but don’t be deceived. There is more than meets the eye.

The menu includes traditional hot dogs and hamburgers, tacos (Costa Rican Style), nachos etc, but un-traditionally all piled on top of each other on a bun. I got the Super Pira which was two meat tacos with a sausage/hotdog and coleslaw on a bun. Yes, it was as delicious as it sounds. And fresh french fries on the side with ketchup and a mayonnaise sauce on them. Another option, hamburger with tacos, or add a hot dog on top of that and get it vampiro-style (with ketchup). Ridiculous! And the guy next to me had nachos, and I’m pretty sure it had everything on the menu on top of the chips. Ground meat, sausages, coleslaw, french fries, multiple sauces, hot peppers, etc. Looked amazing. Maybe I’ll get that next time.

And don’t let me forget the prices. Less than $2 each plate. Unless you opt for the burger with two sausages and three tacos, which is a whopping $3. Cheap food is here in Grecia, Costa Rica. Come all!

Malé – Cheap Food Escazú, San José, Costa Rica

Some nights you just don’t want to come home after 8-10 hours of working and immediately make dinner. One of those nights was tonight. So, on the way home, we swung by a place we drive past almost every day called Malé. It is a rotisserie chicken joint in Escazú with outdoor covered seating, which is pretty standard in Costa Rica, but this place has an open firing spit where you can see the chicken become delicious and fall-off-the-bone tender right before your very eyes.

We got a chicken combo for two with a 1/4 chicken each and some delicious pasta, fries and tortilla chips with salsa and refried beans. It came with drinks and extra tortillas for 4500 colones, which is about $8.50. That’s a pretty hardy meal for the price, and when the chicken is seasoned just perfect and tender as all get out, it’s worth every penny (or colone). These Ticos really know what they are doing with rosti pollo. Cheap food is here in Escazú, at Malé.