I love tropical breakfasts. The day hasn’t become too hot yet, the birds are making a racket, and there is coffee. When in Costa Rica in 2014 at a surf camp, I took surf lessons every morning and ate gallo pinto soon after. The dish usually consisted of black beans and rice, but the surf camp also routinely added scrambled eggs.
A surf camp is by no means a culinary destination, but that was OK: I had just turned in the first draft of the manuscript for what would become Mindy Segal's book Cookie Love, and I needed a break from indulgence. Yet even though I was under no illusions that I was in Costa Rica for the food, I always looked forward to gallo pinto. Packed with protein from the beans, it satisfied me nearly until dinner. (This also may have had to do with the blazing heat and humidity, which also helped curb the appetite.)
At the table, there was always a bottle of Lizano, Costa Rica's all-purpose seasoner. I'm convinced that Americans like the slightly sweet, mild brown sauce for the vacation-nostalgia factor, but I'm not the biggest fan--Mexican salsa works so much better. When I make gallo pinto at home, though, I'm under no restrictions. So this recipe isn't quite a traditional gallo pinto—I like mine packed with minced chiles for a bit of heat and sliced cherry tomatoes for brightness. I also like to keep it simple so it pairs well with eggs for breakfast or with tortillas at lunch. It is easy to make when you have leftover cooked rice and cooked beans.
Serves 4 to 6
If cooking the beans from scratch, 1 cup of black beans makes approximately 3 cups of cooked beans. I soak them overnight, drain them the next morning, cover them with an inch of water, and then cook them until tender, adding salt to taste in the last 10 or so minutes of cooking time. You also can use canned beans. You can scale the recipe up or down; just keep the ratio of beans to rice at approximately 1:1.
- 1-2 tablespoons vegetable or coconut oil
- 1 poblano chile, seeded, stemmed, and finely diced (about 3/4 cup)
- 1/2 yellow onion, finely diced (about 1/2 cup)
- 1-2 tablespoons minced serrano chile
- 2 cups cooked rice (white or brown)
- 2 cups cooked black beans with about 1/2 cup cooking liquid
- 1 cup cherry tomatoes, quartered
- A handful of picked cilantro, minced
- 1 lime, cut into wedges
- hot sauce (optional)
- Heat the oil in a 10 or 12-inch skillet over medium heat. Stir in the poblano, onion, and serrano, season with a pinch or two of salt, and sweat until the onions softened but not colored, about 2 minutes. If the onion starts to brown, turn down the heat.
- Stir in the rice, using a wooden spoon to break up any chunks. It is okay if some of the rice starts to stick to the bottom of the pan. Pour in the beans and stir to dislodge any of the sticking rice. Sir in the tomatoes and cilantro and simmer until the ingredients are thoroughly hot and the rice is evenly coated with the bean liquid. Taste, seasoning with more salt if needed.
- Serve with eggs or alone. Offer lime wedges and hot sauce for seasoning at the table.