Gallo Pinto – a nutritious concoction of fried rice and boiled beans with some fresh greens thrown into the mix – is a staple food for most people in Nicaragua and it is not uncommon to eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner, often with slight variations depending on what the family have grown themselves or can afford to buy. When resources allow, pieces of beef or chicken is added or the Gallo Pinto is turned into a side dish rather than constituting a whole meal. In fact, Gallo Pinto is such a quintessential part of Nicaraguan cuisine that you can get Mc Gallo Pinto for your McDonalds breakfast in Managua.
The name Gallo Pinto literary means “painted rooster” or “speckled rooster” in Spanish and is a reference to the look of the dish. Similar dishes can be found in many parts of the Spanish speaking world, e.g. Moros y Cristianos (“Moors and Christians”) in Spain, Casamiento (“Marriage”) in El Salvador, and Tacu tacu in Peru.
This recipe can be varied endlessly and those Nicaraguans who like spicy food usually add chopped red peppers of a very small and hot variety. As mentioned above you can also add chopped pieces of meat and virtually any vegetable or fruit that you happen to find in your kitchen or garden. I often include fried plantain (”food banana”) and chayote when serving Gallo Pinto as a main course, and use fresh cilantro sprigs as decoration. A personal tip that i learned from Themaltesebacon.com is to mix bacon into to the mix and stir until the bacon grease covers the rice. It is not healthy and it is not genuine but it is very tasty.
Gallo Pinto is considered the national dish of both Nicaragua and Costa Rica and asking about its true origin – or the proper way of making it – is a sure fire way of starting a hot debate if members of both nationalities are represented at the dinner table.
- 1 lb (450 grams) of fresh red beans. If you can’t find fresh, get dry ones and weigh them after you’ve soaked them. Now, if you ask a Costa Rican they’ll tell you that BLACK beans are the only proper way to do Gallo Pinto, but this is a Nica site so we’re using red ones.
- 10 sprigs of cilantro. Fresh is best, but frozen will work too. Don’t use dried cilantro. In some English speaking countries, cilantro is more commonly referred to as coriander (Coriandrum sativum) so if the shop assistant goes blank when you ask for cilantro try asking for fresh or frozen coriander instead.
- 1 onion
- ½ sweet pepper
- 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil to fry the rice
- 3 cups of chicken broth (if you want to make a veggie dish, use water or vegetable broth)
- 2 cups of white rice
- ½ teaspoon of salt
- 1-3 tablespoons of vegetable oil to fry the Gallo Pinto
- If the beans are dried, cover them with water and soak over night to have them ready for your breakfast Gallo Pinto. If they’re fresh, just rinse them off.
- Pour the drained beans into a pot and add fresh water until the surface is about 2.5 cm (1 in) above the top of the beans. If you add salt at this point it will make the bean shells harder; if you wait they will be softer.
- Bring to a boil, cover the pan and reduce heat to a very low simmer. Keep on simmering until the beans are soft and the juice is almost consumed.
- In the mean time, chop cilantro, onion and sweet pepper into very small pieces.
- Pour 1 tablespoon of oil into a large frying pan and heat up.
- Pour the dry, uncooked rice into the frying pan and sauté for two minutes over medium high flame. If you burn the rice it means that you’re using too much heat. Frying raw rice might seem strange to the non-latino, but by frying it raw you prevent it from becoming mushy later on when blended with the beans.
- Add cilantro, sweet pepper and half of the onion to the pan and continue to sauté for another two minutes.
- Add chicken broth and bring to a boil.
- Cover the frying pan and reduce the heat. Leave to simmer until the rice is tender. This will normally take 20-35 minutes.
- Stir in the boiled beans and the other half of the onion.
- Add salt to taste.
- Add the rest of the vegetable oil and fry the Gallo Pinto a few more minutes before serving.
This is quite a time consuming dish, especially the bean boiling part, but you can always make the rice and beans in advance and keep them in the freezer or refrigerator. When storing boiled beans, keep them in their own “black water” since this will add colour and flavour to the dish. In Nicaragua, it is common to have a pot of beans simmering on the stove more or less constantly.
Caribbean style gallo pinto
Along the English speaking Atlantic coast of Nicaragua, this dish is simply known as rice and beans. It is prepared in much the same way as Gallo Pinto, but is fried in coconut oil and/or simmered in coconut milk made from shredded coconuts which gives it a characteristic flavour.