Costa Rican Gallo Pinto Recipe
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This Costa Rican gallo pinto recipe is traditionally served at breakfast alongside eggs, coffee and tortillas. We combine black beans and white rice with red bell pepper, cilantro, onion and Salsa Lizano. Perfectly pura vida!
About This Recipe
The most “pura vida” thing about Costa Rica is the country itself- the endless cloud forests, pristine beaches, friendly people (who refer to themselves as ticos) and of course the food.
Costa Rica is an agricultural country at its roots- and coffee is a huge part of the national identity. For generations, men and women have arisen early to pick coffee in the fields before coming home for a large lunch.
The crown jewel of Costa Rican cuisine has to be the gallo pinto dish. Everyone in Costa Rica knows and loves this dish, and it contains pretty much all of the basic ingredients we use in our cooking.
Like many Latin American countries, the staples of Costa Rican food include black beans (sometimes red) and white rice. We make these two dishes in abundance every single day. If you know anything about making beans from scratch though, you know it takes a while.
Related post: What Is Salsa Lizano From Costa Rica
Gallo pinto was born out of necessity- many times rice and beans were leftover from the day before and people needed to get out the door quickly to work in the fields. Gallo pinto provides the perfect solution- a way to use up yesterday’s rice and beans for a hearty and filling breakfast.
Gallo Pinto is literally translated as “spotted rooster” for it’s color and texture, and it’s a mix of beans, rice, Salsa Lizano, chopped onion, chopped red bell pepper, and chopped cilantro. We usually serve it alongside a fried egg, ripe plantains, white cheese and homemade tortillas or a piece of toast. You may find sour cream (natilla), avocado slices or a bit of hot sauce on your table.
A traditional Costa Rican breakfast starts off with a plate of fresh fruit and a cup of strong coffee. Next up- plate of gallo pinto alongside a freshly made tropical fruit juice.
Related post: Costa Rican Passion Fruit Juice Recipe
Lovingly called “pinto” for short, you can also find this dish on lunch and dinner menus alongside freshly braised meat. Sometimes we substitute gallo pinto for rice and beans in a Costa Rican casado.
Basically, if you visit Costa Rica and don’t see gallo pinto- you might want to check if you went to the right country. If you are headed to the Caribbean side, don’t miss the traditional Rice and Beans dish made with coconut milk!
Gallo Pinto Recipe – Costa Rica
- cooked white rice
cooked black or red beans
bean broth or water
How To Make Gallo Pinto
(These instructions assume you have already done the first two steps- cook the rice and beans ahead of time.)
Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion, pepper, and salt. Lightly cook until the onion is translucent. You have just made sofrito!
Add the beans with broth and toss with the spices (your chopped vegetables) and oil.
Add the rice (cooked) to the skillet.
Toss until well combined with the beans and spices.
Add the cilantro and lightly toss.
Heat thoroughly and add the Salsa Lizano.
Mix again and then serve- preferably with fried eggs, warm corn tortillas and a hot cup of Costa Rican coffee or agua dulce.
Once I tried to add garlic to our gallo pinto and my Costa Rican husband was scandalized- scandalized. Don’t do that. It gives you bad breath in the morning, apparently.
Many non-Costa Ricans lament how long it takes to make this dish because they try to make the rice and beans and then the pinto. Trust me- you want to make this with leftover rice and beans or it becomes a whole day process.
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You can substitute canned black beans for the fresh. Just cut the amount of salt in half unless using low sodium beans.
We often substitute red beans or red kidney beans for the black- you can do freshly cooked or canned.
Some people say you can just substitute Worcestershire sauce for the Salsa Lizano. I think it’s totally different, but if you can’t get Lizano in time, go on and give it a try.
Note that if you travel to the Caribbean side of Costa Rica you can expect to find the Costa Rican dish called “Rice and Beans.” It’s not the same as pinto because it’s made with coconut milk instead of Salsa Lizano. It’s delish!
We serve this with fresh white cheese slices (Costa Rican cheese isn’t available in most of the US, but you can use a Mexican queso fresco and it will be very similar.)
We eat this with fresh corn tortillas, natilla (sour cream), freshly fried sweet plantains and a fried egg.
I love to eat gallo pinto with our favorite shredded beef in red sauce.
Other popular traditional Costa Rican recipes:
- Costa Rican Shrimp and Rice Recipe
- Costa Rican Arroz con Pollo Recipe
- Costa Rican Vegetable Beef Stew Recipe – Olla Carne
Can I make gallo pinto ahead of time? – Yes. You can then heat in the microwave or on the stovetop.
How long does this keep? – You can keep gallo pinto for up to a week in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
Is gallo pinto healthy? – I think it’s pretty healthy. Some studies have said that rice and beans together are the perfect food. It’s not high fat or high sodium and it has a great amount of fiber.
Costa Rican Gallo Pinto Recipe
This Costa Rican gallo pinto recipe is traditionally served at breakfast alongside eggs, coffee and tortillas. We combine black beans and white rice with red bell pepper, cilantro, onion and Salsa Lizano. Perfectly pura vida.
- 2 cups cooked white rice
- 2 cups cooked black or red beans
- 1/4 cup bean broth or water
- 1/4 cup yellow onion finely chopped
- 1/4 cup red pepper finely chopped
- 1/8 cup finely chopped cilantro leaves
- 1 tbsp Salsa Lizano
- 1 tsp sea salt
- 2 tsp vegetable oil
- (These instructions assume you have already done the first two steps- cook the rice and beans ahead of time.)
- Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion, pepper, cilantro and salt. Lightly cook until the onion is translucent. You have just made sofrito!
- Add the beans with broth and toss with the spices and oil. Add the Salsa Lizano.
- Add the cooked rice to the skillet and toss until well combined with the beans and spices. Heat thoroughly and serve- preferably with fried eggs, warm corn tortillas and a hot cup of Costa Rican coffee!
Once I tried to add garlic to our gallo pinto and my Costa Rican husband was scandalized- scandalized. Don't do that. It gives you bad breath in the morning, apparently.
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Amount Per Serving: Calories: 281Total Fat: 4gSaturated Fat: 0gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 3gCholesterol: 2mgSodium: 704mgCarbohydrates: 49gFiber: 7gSugar: 3gProtein: 13g
Please double-check with your favorite nutrition calculator.
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Welcome! I’m Christa, a former high school teacher married to a handsome Costa Rican and mother of two bilingual daughters. I love all things Spanish and bi-cultural, (especially travel and food!) and you’ll find my observations on life here. Thanks for stopping by
I am so sorry your husband was scandalized by the addition of garlic. My reference for Gallo Pinto is a Costa Rican book, “Comidas y Bebidas Tipicas de Guancaste,” by Guillermo Garcia Murillo. Traditional ingredients include butter and garlic (and lots of it, 4 chopped cloves to be exact). Perhaps Ticos outside of Guancaste Province prefer their Gallo Pinto without garlic, but I prefer the garlic.
Hi William! Yes- might be a Guanacaste thing, and might be a Murillo thing. I have eaten a lot of pinto throughout the country in the last 20 years, and I would say most of it is sans garlic. But- the great thing about pinto is you can make it how you like it! I’m with you- I like a little garlic unless it’s for breakfast. Thank you for commenting! ~Christa
This was sooooo goooood!!! I traveled to Costa Rica to visit friends in high school and loved eating gallo pinto! My dad still puts Lizano on everything to this day! Perfect recipe. Couldn’t get queso blanco (nor could I really go to the store due to covid19), so I used Swiss cheese and it actually worked great! My whole family devoured this and it made my heart happy! Got to remember old memories and make new ones ? thank you! And ¡PURA VIDA!
You made my day! My dad still puts Lizano on everything too- it’s so funny. Yeah queso blanco is tough- sometimes I use queso fresco and it’s sort of similar, but not the same. I wonder if I could make queso fresco at home? That’s a thought for after the crazoness dies down.
Your comment made my day- thank you so much! Pura vida! XO ~Christa
We are in Costa Rica right now and I just made your Gallo Pinto. I make it at home too but it tasted so much better here!! Topped with fried eggs – delicious 🤤
Oh that sounds perfect! Pura vida! ~Christa
Quick question. do you tend to cook your beans and rice the day before? I’m a fellow lover of Costa Rica and lived there as a student. My host mom usually does the beans and rice the day before. I didn’t know if you maybe did something else that also worked for you!
Hi Erin! So I usually cook a big batch of beans that hang around for a few days. They turn into gallo pinto, the casado beans and usually at the tail end a bean dip or the filling for bean empanadas or bean and cheese empanadas. For the rice- there’s usually some hanging around from the day before dependig on how much everyone eats. I think the gallo pinto tastes better with day old rice and beans, but- not everyone here in the US eats rice and beans as much as we do in CR! So then people tend to make them before making the pinto. The point of pinto though, is to use the leftovers for breakfast. Anyway- I pobably made that too long of an answer but I just loved you question so much! Pura Vida! ~Christa
Pinto pinto pinto! Can’t wait to make this! Thank you for the guidelines. Pura Vida!
It says toss with the spices and oil. I’m asking you, what spices? And what is salsa lizano?
The spices are the chopped vegetables. Here is an article about Salsa Lizano. https://www.puravidamoms.com/what-is-salsa-lizano-from-costa-rica/
Garlic, onion, red pepper and cilantro.
Thanks for the recipe and thee site. I was born in Costa Rica in 82, was adopted by a Canadian couple in 93 and have not been back since.
I miss the food the most. I still remember the yummy tastes and how much I loved eating traditional gallo pinto, arroz con pollo, home made rice pudding(arroz con leche?) My spanish is horrible, I hate to admit. Mangoes, guavas, cocconut, fresh fruit juice, the list goes on and on. Fried Yucca. OMGOODNESS!!! There are so many foods. I hope to be back one of these days. Thanks again. ¡Pura Vida!
Cinthia thank you for sharing your story! I totally agree with you on the food (obvi haha!). I hope you can go back soon.
I just got back from my first trip to Costa Rica and this is the real deal. I”m not a mom but found this site searching for Picadilo de Choyote recipes. Can’t wait to try this, I never got sick of the Gallo Pinto and it was basically the same wherever I went.
What a country. I fell in love. Can you imagine if every country decided it was better for their people and their economy to fully commit to renewable energy, green space, and wildlife protection? And hey, throw in some health care too.
I’m so glad you found the site and that it is helpful. And I totally agree- head over heels in love with Costa Rica! ~Christa
Do you have a preferred rice that you use? My son is dating a gal from Costa Rica and she enjoys cooking. I’m looking for a few of these ingredients that I can order that would be commonly used in Costa Rica. I’ve got Lizano but are there rice brands that would be common and available to order on an Amazon type platform here in the US?
I always use thai Jasmine rice and ticos love it! Pura Vida! ~Christa
Hi Christa! Thank you for sharing your recipe. We also live in gaunacaste. Can you please tell me where you find Thai jasmine rice please? Thank you 🙂
Hi! I haven’t used Thai Jasmine rice in Costa Rica, I just use what they sell at the supermarket- the local rice. When I’m in the States I use the Thai Jasmine because it’s the closest I’ve found to the Costa Rican traditional rice it’s so easy to get down there! ~Pura Vida!
Do you have a recipe for how you make your black beans?
I will be using canned black beans. Do they need to be cooked the day before? The rice is already done but figured since the beans are canned and no need to soak them…. Thanks
Hi! With canned beans no need to cook or heat- you can just add them cold. Let me know how it turns out. Pura vida! ~Christa