Hearty and Healthy Costa Rican Vegetable Beef Soup Recipe

Costa Rican Vegetable Beef Stew with carrots, corn, beef, and potatoes.

Costa Rican Olla Carne is a healthy vegetable beef soup that combines beef short ribs, acorn squash, sweet potato, chayote, corn on the cob and of course Costa Rican spices. Served with fresh white tortillas and Costa Rican white rice -there’s a reason this is the Costa Rican national dish!  

Costa Rican Vegetable Beef Stew with carrots, corn, beef, and potatoes.

I remember returning to Costa Rica after a long absence- my husband and I had immigrated to the United States to get married and start our professional lives.

The first years in the United States were marked with frenzy- starting careers, building a home, and making new friends. The last thing on our minds was cooking, even though food had always been a huge part of our relationship.

When we returned to San Ramón for Christmas, we could hear the hiss of the pressure cooker before we even arrived at our doorstep.

Costa can 

Since then, we make it a point to share this recipe with friends and family in Costa Rica and the United States. Olla carne was a first food for our daughters, a meal we share with new parents, and one that we prepare and share with fellow Costa Rican expats.

The soup is not just a meal- it’s a symbol of the pura vida life. Because in the end, what is more “pure life” than sharing a healthy meal with those we love the most?

Olla de Carne Recipe

Ingredients: 

For the beef stew/broth:

  • 1 lb beef stew meat (carne de res)and 1 lb beef short ribs (costillas de res)
  • 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

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
  • 2-3 ears of sweet corn, cut into thirds
  • 1 yucca, peeled and cut into large chunks
  • 12 cups water
  • 1 TB sea salt
  • 2 TB chicken bullion
  • 1/2 white onion, finely chopped
  • 1/3 red pepper (chile dulce), finely chopped
  • 1/3 bunch cilantro, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, pressed
  • 1 TSP olive or vegetable oil

Instructions:

Cooking the meat- Heat oil in slow cooker or pressure cooker (I use an Instant Pot). Sauté the chopped vegetables until tender. Add the meat and sear each side- cooking just until brown. Sprinkle the meat with salt and pour water on top. You should have about 6 inches of water above the meat- this soup needs a good amount of broth.

Cook in slow cooker on high for 4-6 hours, on low for 6-8 hours. If using pressure cooker (preferred method) cook for 20 minutes after pressure starts to rise.

Cooking the vegetables: As with the meat, heat the oil in a large stockpot, and then sauté chopped vegetables until just tender. Wash the vegetables, peeling if desired (vegetables are typically not peeled in Costa Rica). Quarter the potatoes, yams, and chayotes. Peel the yucca and cut into 3-4 large pieces (cortadas en trozos granted). Cut the carrots and sweet corn into thirds. Slice the squash in half, remove the seeds, and then quarter cut each half into four large pieces. Place all vegetables into the pot, and sprinkle with salt. Cover with water and boil on medium heat (fuego lento) until all vegetables are tender- about 1 hour.

Serving the soup- In a large bowl, place 1-2 pieces of meat with the bone, and fill about half the bowl with beef broth. Place the desired vegetables on top, and cover with the vegetable broth. Serve hot with a spare plate for bones and vegetable peels. Costa Rican Vegetable Beef Soup is often served with white rice, either at the bottom of the bowl or on the side.  

About Olla de Carne – Costa Rica

Olla carne is the most popular of the Costa Rican soups- 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 Costa Rican vegetables- making it a perfect Fall harvest meal here in the States, and a delightfully messy soup to eat. Feel free to check out your local farmer’s market for fresh produce! In Costa Rica, meat is sold in different cuts but you can just ask for carne para la olla or carne para sopa and you’ll get what you need.

It’s usually served in an extremely large bowl, sometimes with white rice on the bottom. Other times, the rice is 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.

About The Cooking Process

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 stockpot.

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.

*Note: A traditional olla carne would include tiquizque and ñampí, but I do not include those vegetables here because I can’t get them in the United States!

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!

More Costa Rican Soup Recipes:

Substitutions

You can use chicken stock instead of beef stock. 

If you can’t get beef short ribs, you can always use either beef stew meat or a chuck roast and cut it into smaller pieces. 

If you’re out of potatoes, another root vegetable you could try is the taro root. Peel and cube two taro roots and prepare as part of the vegetable recipe. They’re a great source of starch and fiber, and taste similar to a sweet potato.

If the onion is too strong, swap in a whole diced shallot for a milder flavor.

Variations

This is a really easy soup to make vegan or vegetarian. Just omit the beef and use vegetable stock. 

If you want to make a traditional Costa Rican meatball soup (sopa de albondigas Costa Rica) just use meatballs in place of the beef and make in the same manner.

Serving Suggestions

Serving the soup- In a large bowl, place 1-2 pieces of meat with the bone, and fill about half the bowl with beef broth. Place the desired vegetables on top, and cover with the vegetable broth. Serve hot with a spare plate for bones and vegetable peels. Costa Rican Vegetable Beef Soup is often served with white rice, either at the bottom of the bowl or on the side.  You can also serve with this Costa Rican Arroz Arreglado Recipe.

Of course, lots of people add extra flavor to their soup by using Salsa Lizano. Yum!

FAQ

  1. What cut of beef is best for soup? – For this soup you’ll need beef short ribs and/or beef stew meat.
  2. What can I add to vegetable beef soup to make it taste better? – Salsa Lizano of course! You can always up the spice, or if it’s really not salvageable you can add some red pepper flakes. If you aren’t familiar with Salsa Lizano, find out more here
  3. How do you make beef tender in soup? – Generally, the best rule of thumb is cooking your meat over low heat for a long period of time. Slow cookers are ideal for this process, and it also helps if the beef being cooked is well-marbled with fat– this is a good indicator of tenderness.

Printable Recipe

Yield: 8 bowls

Olla de Carne Recipe

Costa Rican Vegetable Beef Stew with carrots, corn, beef, and potatoes.

Olla Carne is one of the most popular Costa Rican dishes I've encountered - and it's so easy to recreate at home with a few simple ingredients, including Costa Rican white rice. You'll love this olla carne recipe for the whole family- even as a first food for the baby. Please enjoy this rendition of vegetable beef soup Costa Rica-style!

Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour 30 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 45 minutes

Ingredients

  • For the beef stew/broth (in slow cooker)
  • 1 lb beef stew meat and 1 lb beef short ribs (costillas de res)
  • OR
  • 2 lbs beef stew meat (carne de res)
  • 1/2 white onion
  • 1/4 red pepper
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 8 cups water
  • 1/3 bunch cilantro
  • 1 TB sea salt (affiliate)
  • 1 TB chicken bullion (affiliate)
  • 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

Instructions

  1. Cooking the meat- Heat oil in slow cooker or pressure cooker (I use an Instant Pot).
  2. Sauté the chopped vegetables until tender.
  3. Add the meat and sear each side- cooking just until brown.
  4. Sprinkle the meat with salt and pour water on top.
  5. You should have about 6 inches of water above the meat- this soup needs a good amount of broth.
  6. Cook in slow cooker on high for 4-6 hours, on low for 6-8 hours.
  7. If using pressure cooker (preferred method) cook for 20 minutes after pressure starts to rise.
  8. Cooking the vegetables: As with the meat, heat the oil in a large stockpot, and then sauté chopped vegetables until just tender.
  9. Wash the vegetables, peeling if desired (vegetables are typically not peeled in Costa Rica).
  10. Quarter the potatoes, yams, chayotes and sweet corn.
  11. Peel the yucca and cut into 3-4 large pieces (cortadas en trozos granted). Cut the carrots and sweet corn into thirds.
  12. Slice the squash in half, remove the seeds, and then quarter cut each half into four large pieces.
  13. Place all vegetables into the pot, and sprinkle with salt.
  14. Cover with water and boil on medium heat (fuego lento) until all vegetables are tender- about 1 hour.

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

8

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 856Total Fat: 30gSaturated Fat: 12gTrans Fat: 2gUnsaturated Fat: 17gCholesterol: 250mgSodium: 1905mgCarbohydrates: 67gFiber: 9gSugar: 17gProtein: 84g

Please double-check this information with your favorite nutrition calculator.

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6 Comments

  • Reply
    Leanna @ Alldonemonkey
    September 27, 2018 at 12:06 pm

    So many! Hmm, arroz con leche, arroz con pollo, tres leches, empanadas…

  • Reply
    Angelica B
    September 27, 2018 at 7:29 pm

    I love this kind of soup!! In Venezuela we call it Sancocho, a meal to feed a crowd!!

  • Reply
    Kali
    September 29, 2018 at 2:28 pm

    I love most Hispanic food I’ve tried! Ones I like to make at home are simple…beans, rice, tamales, mole enchiladas.

  • Reply
    Angela
    September 29, 2018 at 4:02 pm

    Some of the best food I’ve eaten was while traveling in Costa Rica! I can’t wait to try your recipe!

  • Reply
    Ana Loza Garza
    February 2, 2020 at 3:22 pm

    3 stars
    It definitely took longer than 20 mins. to prep and 30 mins to cook. There was also one ingredient that was not mentioned in the instructions. You didn’t say what to do with the plantains so we left them out. I hope it doesn’t hurt the recipe too much. Overall its a great recipe and my daughter and I learned a lot just wish the instruction were a little more clear.

    • Reply
      Christa
      February 2, 2020 at 3:33 pm

      Hi Ana! Shoot- I’ll add the plantain instructions in. Would you tell me how long it took you to prep? The 30 minutes to cook is an error too- shoot! I’ll add this to my list to update ASAP. Thank you for commenting. The recipe will be fine wihtout plantains!

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