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This Costa Rican gallo pinto recipe is a traditional Costa Rican dish served at breakfast alongside eggs, coffee, and homemade tortillas. We combine black beans and white rice with red bell pepper, cilantro, onion and Salsa Lizano. Perfectly pura vida!
About This Recipe
Costa Rican gallo pinto, which literally translates to “spotted rooster” is the national dish of Costa Rica. While served at any time of day, you will most likely find this dish on the Costa Rican breakfast menu. This dish is Costa Rican rice and beans at their finest,and the speckled appearance of the dish lends itself to the name.
Gallo pinto is 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 fried 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 too.
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.
For this recipe, I highly recommend you use day-old rice, leftover beans, and Lizano sauce. You’ll just chop a few vegetables for the sofrito, and you’ll have a perfectly authentic gallo pinto.
The origin of gallo pinto is uncertain, but the legend goes like this: a small farm owner in Costa Rica invited people over for a party. So many people came to the party that he couldn’t feed them all with the food that he had prepared in advance.
He went into his house and grabbed some rice and beans and mixed them together. He had a simple rice and bean dish that everyone loved, and thus gallo pinto was born.
This version of events is highly disputed in Central America, as there is also Nicaraguan gallo pinto. Everyone argues over which country actually invented gallo pinto, but I, of course, believe it was born in Costa Rica.
A note on Salsa Lizano if you haven’t heard of it. It’s the national sauce of Costa Rica and is often compared to Worcestershire sauce.
I think Salsa Lizano has a slightly more bitter flavor, and it definitely has a thicker texture. You can’t usually find it at local grocery stores, but you can sometimes find it in Hispanic grocery stores- especially those specializing in Central American products.
Worcestershire is a good substitute for the Salsa Lizano, but now that you can order Salsa Lizano on Amazon and it come pretty quickly, I’d say that if you plan ahead a bit, you’ll find this special sauce is worth waiting for. It really makes the dish unique and special.
Related post: What Is Salsa Lizano From Costa Rica
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
Ingredients (printable recipe below)
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 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.
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!
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.
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 a similar dish called 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 and a bit spicy.
Gallo pinto usually uses black beans, but in recent years red beans (or kidney beans) have become more popular. You’ll often see gallo pinto with red beans, and you can feel free to substitute for a slightly different flavor.
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.)
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.
What does gallo pinto consist of?
Gallo pinto is just black beans and white rice tossed together with vegetables and Salsa Lizano. It has the name gallo pinto because it resembles a “spotted rooster” and is an integral part of traditional Costa Rican food.
Is gallo pinto healthy?
Gallo pinto is incredibly healthy- some people say that rice and beans together make the perfect food. This dish is high in antioxidants, protein and fiber.
What is Costa Rica’s national dish?
Gallo pinto, which literally translates to “spotted rooster” is the national dish of Costa Rica. It can be served at any time of day, but is most often found as a breakfast dish. It is served alongside eggs, plantains, fresh cheese and tortillas. Often a slice of avocado will accompany the meal.
- 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