Olla Carne is one of Costa Rica’s most-revered national dishes, and we love to make it here at home. Whether it be a first food for baby, a home remedy for a terrible cold, or a warm bite on a chilly Fall evening, Costa Rican vegetable beef stew is a staple at Casa Pura Vida. We have long wanted to share the recipe with you, because over the years we have perfected the authentic Costa Rican flavor of the soup despite not having the ability to get all of the traditional ingredients here in the United States. In this post we will include a bit of background on the iconic dish “olla carne” and then, of course, the recipe for you to make at home!
Olla carne is a beef and vegetable stew that is a staple in Costa Rican homes -and it’s super healthy and gluten-free (Paleo too!). You won’t always find it on the menu at restaurants, but I have often dined with ticos who ask “do you have olla carne today” and it miraculously appears. It is a beef based soup full of large chunks of all types of vegetables- making it a perfect Fall harvest meal here in the States, and a pretty messy soup to eat.
It’s usually served in an extremely large bowl, sometimes with white rice on the bottom, other times the rice on a small separate plate (which is how I like to eat it.) There is a separate empty plate served with the soup, and it is for the beef bones and vegetable rinds that aren’t eaten. I go through tons of napkins eating olla carne, since most people use their hands to extract the edible parts from the non-edible parts.
It is most traditional to make the olla carne in a pressure cooker, but I have adapted this recipe to use a slow cooker and a traditional large stock pot. This is because I threw my pressure cooker out after it exploded in the kitchen and took out the microwave. I’ve always been terrified of pressure cookers, but that sealed the deal – no more pressure cookers at Casa Pura Vida!
There are several theories about adding the different types of vegetables to the soup, dependent on the amount of time it takes to get them soft. The vegetables in this soup definitely fall apart with each serving (this is the type of soup that tastes better the more times you heat it up, so we definitely make a huge “ollón” and eat it for days.) But you know me, I like to keep it simple so I just add all of the vegetables in at the same time, but make sure they are cut into large pieces. I also cook the beef and its broth separate from the vegetables and their broth, and then combine them together to serve. I think this gives the broth an incredible and unique flavor, but it is definitely not the most “traditional” preparation of the dish. Finally, the salt sold in Costa Rica is sea salt, which is a slightly “saltier” flavor. I make sure to use sea salt for the recipe because I think it tastes much better.
Clearly, I could write for days about the olla carne and traditions surrounding its preparation – but before I digress even further, here is the recipe! Also note that this post contains affiliate links for the exact products I use to prepare this soup.
Olla de Carne
Yield: 10-12 large bowls of soup
For the beef stew/broth (in slow cooker)
- 1 lb beef stew meat and 1 lb beef short ribs
- 2 lbs beef stew meat
- 1/2 white onion
- 1/4 red pepper
- 2 cloves garlic
- 8 cups water
- 1/3 bunch cilantro
- 1 TB sea salt
- 1 TB chicken bullion
Prepare the meat in the same manner as this recipe for shredded beef. Do not shred the beef. You can brown the beef before adding to the slow cooker, but it is not necessary. The meat can be made overnight the night before.
For the vegetables: (in a large stock pot)
- 3 red potatoes
- 1 acorn squash
- 3 sweet potatoes (or yams)
- 4 carrots
- 1-2 plantains (halfway between green and ripe)
- 2 chayote squash
- 12 cups water
- 1 TB sea salt
- 2 TB chicken bullion
- 1/2 white onion, finely chopped
- 1/3 red pepper, finely chopped
- 1/3 bunch cilantro, finely chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, pressed
- 1 TSP olive or vegetable oil
*Note: A traditional olla carne would include tiquizque and ñampí, but I do not include those vegetables here because I can’t get them!
Place the oil, onion, red pepper, cilantro and garlic in the large stock pot on medium heat. Stir occasionally as you wash and chop the vegetables in the next step.
Wash the potatoes, carrots, squash and plantain. Cut the vegetables into large pieces as shown below.
Add the vegetables, water, salt and bullion to the stock pot. I turn the heat to high until the vegetables boil, and then I turn down to a medium-low and allow everything to simmer about 35 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender. Do not overbook the vegetables or they will completely fall apart during serving and reheating.
Take the desired amount of beef and broth and place in a bowl. Then add the vegetables and more broth. White rice can be served separately or placed directly in the bowl (optional). This meal is often also served with warm tortillas. ¡Buen provecho!