October 08, 2014

If you've ever been to Costa Rica, you've probably been greeted with a genuine smile and a hearty "¡Pura Vida!" The phrase means pure life, but this is not just a colloquialism to the Ticos (Costa Ricans). It's a mantra. A paradigm. A way of life. They are some of the happiest, most passionate people on the planet, and consequently, their nation is thriving. Besides its unspeakable beauty, the Republic of Costa Rica is home to a growing economy, an exceptional health care system, 5% of the world's biodiversity (that's A LOT considering its small size), and some of the best coffee you'll ever taste.

 

 

College students, listen up. If you're considering study abroad, just do it. You'll most likely never get an opportunity like this again, and I encourage you to take advantage of it. Study abroad was the best thing I ever did in college. I went to Costa Rica for a month with a group of about 30 students from my university. We each stayed with generous, kind host families and were truly immersed into every aspect of their beautiful culture. We took a bus to school in the mountains every morning, ate typical Costa Rican food, toured organic coffee farms, milked goats (and fed their babies!), participated in a Costa Rican zumba class, played fútbol with the local kids, swam in waterfalls and hot springs, drank batidos (the best milkshakes you'll ever have), and traveled to beaches, rainforests, and volcanoes on the weekends. I made the best memories on that trip and have over 2,000 photos to prove it. I'm convinced that the best way to learn a language and gain valuable life experience is not in a classroom, but to go and to see and to feel.

Anyways, I'll get off my soapbox now and talk about what we're all really here for: Food. Goodness, how I love Latin American food. Read more about that here. In Costa Rica, the comida típica (typical meal) consists of rice and beans, sweet plantains, salad, meat or eggs, and tortillas. I was there for a month, eating this three times a day, and I never got tired of it. Others did, but I couldn't get enough. Rice and beans is the national dish in many Latin American countries, but Ticos have their own special version called gallo pinto. It's made by mixing the cooked rice and beans together, often with peppers and seasonings, and frying it in a little bit of oil just before it's served. I'll share a recipe later, but first:

In case you're wondering, it does taste as good as it looks. And the coffee. Oh my. Ticos drink like 10 cups a day, I swear. I didn't really drink coffee before the trip, but we saw every aspect of how it's made, from picking to roasting, and now I'm obsessed with it. I started out drinking it with milk and sugar and now I take it black. There is nothing better.

Picking coffee berries! It's hard work! Yes, this is what it looks like at first.
 

They must be cleaned, hulled, separated, and sun-dried. Then they look like this.
 

 

Tasting the beans once they have been roasted. Just grind them up, mix with water and serve!
 

 Actual heaven. 

Now that you're hungry, here is a recipe for gallo pinto:

Gallo Pinto

  • 1 lb. dried black beans
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil (plus extra for frying)
  • 2 cups white rice
  • 8-10 sprigs fresh cilantro, finely chopped
  • 1 small or medium yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 1/2 small red or yellow sweet bell pepper, finely chopped
  • 3 cups chicken broth or water
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
1. Cover the beans with water and soak overnight. Drain the beans, place in a medium saucepan and add fresh water to an inch above the top of the beans, salt, and bring to a boil. Cover the pan and reduce heat to very low simmer until beans are soft, about 3 hours. Drain, reserving 1/2-1 cup of the cooking water with the beans.

2. Add 1 tablespoon oil to a large saucepan and sauté the dry rice for 2 minutes over medium-high heat. Add half of the chopped onion, sweet pepper, and cilantro and sauté another 2 minutes. Add water or chicken broth and salt, bring to a boil, cover and reduce heat to simmer until rice is tender, 20-35 minutes.

3. Once the rice and beans are cooked you can refrigerate or freeze them. When ready to serve, sauté the rice, beans, reserved chopped onion, sweet pepper, and cilantro together in vegetable oil for a few minutes. Sprinkle with a little fresh chopped cilantro just before serving. If you can find salsa Lizano or Chilera at your local Latin market, serve some with your gallo pinto. This is the Tico way!

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