Costa Rican Gallo Pinto for Meatless Monday

This recipe is dedicated to my friend Caryn who is looking for a crave-worthy, healthy dish that integrates grains and beans that even her kids will eat (without gagging or complaining).

Whenever I go to Costa Rica, I pretty much live on Gallo Pinto. I’m not joking. I eat it for breakfast and lunch and as a side dish with dinner. And now that I know how to make it, well now I pretty much live on it at home, too.  It’s a super tasty, very healthy traditional dish of Costa Rica and Nicaragua which is basically their version of rice and beans, but with plenty of flavorful twists. Translated, Gallo Pinto means something like “multi-colored rooster,” and that’s exactly what it looks like! Little bits of vibrant red peppers and tomatoes flash colorfully between black beans, white rice, flecks of green cilantro, caramel-colored onion and garlic. And it’s topped with the most delicious flavor found in Central America: Lizano Sauce! While this delectable mild pepper sauce can be found in the Hispanic section of many supermarkets around the world, don’t worry if you can’t find it – worcestershire sauce is a great substitute.  All the protein and deliciousness in this dish makes it the perfect food!

I’m not the only one who is in love with Gallo Pinto – my Carnivorous Crusader also adores it so much that he gladly forgoes meat to eat this zesty, filling dish. That automatically qualifies Gallo Pinto as a “magic dish” in my book! Especially for its versatility and universal likability. John likes it so much that it got him to stop sulking when I told him we were doing Meatless Monday – yes, that is the power of Gallo Pinto. Impressive, indeed.
A few years ago while we were kiteboarding in Costa Rica, the cook at the restaurant where ate every day – a lovely elderly lady with very few teeth named Maria – took me under her wing in her kitchen and taught me how to make her special version of this beloved Costa Rican dish. She spoke no English, and mi espanol no es buena, but luckily we spoke a common language: food.  Now whenever I make Gallo Pinto, I think of Maria and her joyful toothless smile, rainforests, volcanic waterfalls, cute Costa Rican three-toed sloths, and the big smile that I’m sure to get from my converting carnivore when he sees that I’m making Gallo Pinto for dinner (or breakfast, or lunch, or as a side dish). Hope you enjoy it as much as we do!
Gallo Pinto
Serves: 4 as a meal, or 8 as as side-dish
From cutting board to table: about 15 minutes if you’re a fast chopper! Personally I like to cook the rice a little longer in the pan to get some crispy bits, but that’s optional.
2 tbsp olive oil
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 onion, peeled and finely diced
1 red bell pepper, seeded and finely diced
2 roma tomatoes, finely diced
1.5 cups black beans (drained and rinsed)
2 cups cooked white rice
3/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
1/2 tsp salt (smoked sea salt if you have it)
freshly ground pepper, to taste
2-3 tbsp Lizano sauce* or worcestershire sauce
*Lizano Sauce can be found in the Hispanic aisle in many supermarkets. But if you can’t find it, worcestershire sauce is a good substitute
In a non-stick saute pan, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Saute the onion and garlic for 2 minutes. Add the red pepper and saute everything until the onion is translucent and a bit golden (3-4 minutes). Add rice and stir well until rice is heated through. (* optional – you can cook the rice a little longer to get some crispy bits at the bottom – yum – or you can just forge ahead. Your choice!) Add tomatoes and saute for 4 minutes, stirring frequently and scraping the bottom of the pan so the rice doesn’t permanently weld itself to your pan. Add the beans and stir for 2 minutes. Add the cilantro, salt, pepper and Lizano (or worcestershire sauce) to taste.  Serve hot and enjoy pura vida, Costa Rican style!

Tags: , , , , , ,

Categories: 15 minute dishes, Main dish, Recipes, Starters and sides


Cimeron Morrissey is an award-winning magazine writer who writes about her passions, which include travel, water sports, animal rescue and food.

Operation Carnivore Conversion

This is Operation Carnivore Conversion, an ambitious and potentially hazardous project to transform my meat-loving husband into a vegetarian. Recognizing that his diet was shared by Tyrannosauruses but not by humans who live very long, he has decided - reluctantly - to try to dramatically reduce his consumption of animal-based foods. The success of this project relies on my ability to serve inventive and tasty meals that would satisfy even a femur-gnawing caveman (and to prepare them in less than 30 minutes since I don't have much time). This is a high-risk endeavor. If my husband feels deprived or underwhelmed, he will see my arms as snack-shaped objects and/or whine me to death. Failure is not an option. Oh boy, here we go!

27 Comments on “Costa Rican Gallo Pinto for Meatless Monday”

  1. March 1, 2012 at 2:13 am #

    Sounds great! I’ll have to try it.

  2. March 1, 2012 at 3:02 am #

    Pura vida! I love gallo pinto AND Salsa Lizano. Thanks for sharing the secret recipe!

  3. Cimeron
    March 1, 2012 at 4:08 am #

    Wow, impressed that you know about Salsa Lizano – not many people outside of Costa Rica do. It’s pretty amazing, isn’t it? I cannot get enough of it. In addition to it being the secret ingredient in gallo pinto, it also makes a surprisingly awesome addition to a bloody mary. Lizano is truly a magic sauce!

    RantingChef – let me know what you think of it when you give it a try! I hope you like it!

  4. Rhonda
    March 1, 2012 at 7:01 am #

    Sounds fun! Trying this for sure. Meatless folks should read labels carefully for Worcestershire sauce — a lot of them have anchovies. There are some non-fishy ones to be found, though, even in the regular market.

    • Cimeron
      March 10, 2012 at 3:47 am #

      Great point, Rhonda! I know that the Salsa Lizano doesn’t have animal products in it, and the taste is incredible so if you can get it, it’s worth it. But if not, hopefully it’s not too hard to find anchovy-free Worcestershire.

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    Thanks so much for your kind words, William5 – I really appreciate it! 🙂 Stay tuned (or hit the subscribe button) for more. I’ve been on hiatus for a last couple of weeks, but I’ve got lots of cool posts coming soon!

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