Gallo Pinto is Costa Rica's famously delicious national dish, built around rice and beans and flavored with onions, peppers, herbs, spices and special sauce. Though it's traditionally served for breakfast, gallo pinto also makes an excellent side dish for dinner.
The name "Gallo Pinto" means "spotted rooster," in Spanish, which describes the speckled appearance of the dish, white rice dotted with black beans and red peppers. This dish is so popular and beloved in Costa Rica, it's become a defining attribute of Costa Rican culture. In fact there's a Costa Rican saying ‘mas tico que el gallo pinto’ which literally translates as "even more Costa Rican than spotted rooster," - this dish is part of the heart and soul of Costa Rica!
Who invented Gallo Pinto?
This is a hotly debated topic. Costa Ricans will tell you that they invented the dish but Nicaraguans will insist it was their creation. There's a long history of debate but no way to prove who's right, which has caused years of friction. It's been called "the gallo pinto wars," a long-standing battle between the two neighboring countries as to who invented gallo pinto and who rightfully owns it, and the competition is fierce.
In 2007, in an attempt to gain the advantage, Nicaragua made enough gallo pinto to feed 22,000 people, earning the Guinness World Record for the largest dish of gallo pinto ever created. But two years later, Costa Rica retaliated by cooking 3,300 pounds of rice and 2,640 pounds of beans - enough to feed 50,000 people, and they stole the spotlight.
My takeaway from all of this - gallo pinto is a great dish to cook for a crowd!
A big thank you to my niece Eva, who told me about gallo pinto and taught me how to cook it. Eva spent 6 weeks in Costa Rica on a work/study program with an organization called Global Vision International, and in addition to her studies and exploring the rain forest (cute frog she photographed below), Eva got a taste of the local cuisine and some hands-on cooking lessons from folks she met along the way.
Of all the Costa Rican dishes she tried, Eva was most excited about the "amazing breakfast" called Gallo Pinto - "a big pile of well-spiced rice, beans and vegetables with a fried egg on top and caramelized cinnamon-sugar sautéd plantains on the side." When she described it to me, I couldn't wait to try it, so I invited Eva over for a cooking date and we made gallo pinto together.
How To Make Gallo Pinto
Here's what you need:
- 6 cups cooked white or brown rice - white is more traditional
- 2 cans of black beans, drained - some folks prefer to use some the bean liquid in the dish - I like a drier texture - your choice.
- 1 red bell pepper
- 1 yellow onion
- 3 large garlic cloves
- 1 bunch of scallions - The white and light green parts for the rice, the dark green tops reserved as a garnish
- Cilantro - both to flavor the rice and to sprinkle on as a topping
- Lizano Sauce - This popular Costa Rican condiment has been compared to Worcestershire Sauce. Savory and a little sweet, Lizano is an essential component of gallo pinto. Some cooks insist on adding a couple of tablespoons to the rice as it cooks. Others leave it out of the cooking process and suggest having a bottle on the table to use as a final topping. Either way, it will add a wonderful depth of flavor to the dish.
- This dish takes less than 15 minutes to cook, so it's best If you have all of your ingredients chopped and at the ready when you heat up your skillet.
- Start by sautéing the onions, peppers and garlic until they soften.
- Next add the cooked rice and stir gently to combine.
- Then add the beans and gently stir them into the rice mixture.
- Lastly, stir in the scallions, chopped cilantro, salt, pepper and Lizano sauce, if using.
- If you're serving this for breakfast, cover the pot with foil or put it in a 200ºF oven, to keep it warm while you cook the eggs and fry the plantains.
Here are two more things to love about this dish:
- Gallo pinto is healthy: The combo of rice and beans is considered the perfect protein. Complete proteins contain full doses of all nine essential amino acids, which are required to help the body build muscle and fuel organs. Most plant-based proteins don't contain all nine essential amino acids but when you put beans and rice together, you get them all.
- Gallo pinto is inexpensive - It's great to have such a delicious healthy, hearty, nutritious vegetarian recipe at a very affordable price.
I'm so grateful to Eva for giving me a taste of Costa Rica by introducing me to this amazing dish.
If you try this gallo pinto recipe I hope you'll come back and leave a star rating and a comment. Eva and I would love to know what you think!Print