Simple Gallo Pinto

I can’t think of a more fitting recipe for my first-ever blog post than gallo pinto. I just got back last night from a work trip to Florida, and I’m working 12-hour shifts at the hospital tomorrow and the next day. So, on the tail end of my travel, and anticipating the need for packable lunches for my weekend at work, I was looking for a cheap and easy meal that reheats well and will last a couple of days.

When I was seventeen, I spent a year in a little community right outside San Jose, the capital city of Costa Rica. While I was there I ate rice and beans on the daily for breakfast, lunch, and/or dinner. Rice and beans are a staple in much of the world, and during my time in Latin America I grew to love them. Gallo pinto, as it’s called in Costa Rica, is just a thrown-together dish of leftover rice and black beans, and whatever else is on hand. Everyone has a slightly different recipe for it, and it’s traditionally served as breakfast. In the States we’re not necessarily accustomed to rice and beans as breakfast foods, but I’d gladly eat them any time of day.

Now, while gallo pinto is one of the most simple foods out there, it can be time consuming if you don’t plan ahead. Ideally, you will cook the rice and beans the day before and let them sit in the fridge overnight. This way, it’s easy to pull them out of the fridge, mix together, throw them in a pan to heat, and go. Plus, leaving the rice in the fridge overnight draws out some moisture and prevents it from getting soggy when combined with the beans and reheated. However, I did not plan ahead this time–and that’s okay too. You can still make this recipe right from scratch.

Start by cooking the rice and the black beans (separately) according to the package directions. You can even use canned black beans (drained but not rinsed) if you’re really short on time, but dried ones give the best flavor and texture. Again, planning ahead is helpful here–soaking the beans for eight hours overnight helps when it’s time to cook them. But if you did not soak them overnight, you can speed-soak them and cook as follows:

  • Combine black beans and water in medium sized pot (1 cup beans to 3 cups water)
  • Bring to a boil
  • Once boiling, remove from heat and let stand 1 hour
  • After 1 hour, add 1 tbsp minced garlic, 2 tsp cumin powder, and a liberal shake of salt
  • Place beans back on heat and simmer for an hour or more, or until soft
  • Drain beans of excess liquid, but no need to rinse

Same with the rice–if you did not cook it ahead of time and refrigerate, just go ahead and cook according to package directions, which may vary depending on type of rice chosen. White rice is the traditional choice, but I used brown rice for this recipe.

Once the rice and beans are done, set them aside. Chop up a medium sized onion and a red bell pepper (the pepper is optional; less traditional, but it adds more color and flavor to the dish). Saute them in about a tablespoon or two of butter–you can also use olive oil or a different fat if you want to make it vegan, but butter is the best flavor for this, in my opinion. When the onion and pepper are soft, add a tablespoon of minced garlic to the pan, and then add the rice and beans all together. I like to use freeze-dried garlic because it’s super convenient but still has a fresh taste. I tend to buy Litehouse brand garlic (and no, this is not an ad, I just like it).

Salt and pepper are the basic seasonings and should be added to taste, along with cumin, garlic and onion powder, chili powder, or other seasonings as desired. It’s important to be very liberal with salting and seasoning since this is such a simple dish.

Stir the whole mixture frequently as it cooks, and when it is warmed through and some bits of rice have become crispy, it’s ready to plate. It’s such a versatile dish that you can pair it with just about anything, or eat it on its own. My favorite way to eat it is with a fried egg and some avocado slices on top (and a cup of freshly-ground Costa Rican coffee on the side), but it’s also great with chorizo or chicken thighs, or in corn tortillas.

If desired, garnish with cilantro, sour cream, shredded cheese, salsa, shredded lettuce, or whatever you have in the fridge. The traditional crowning touch (and my all-time favorite condiment) is Lizano Salsa, which is the Costa Rican “everything” sauce and can be bought on Amazon if you want to try it. Again, not an ad, just a killer kitchen staple that everyone deserves to know about. Also, if you decide to purchase a bottle of Lizano, go ahead and put some in with your black beans while you’re cooking them. It’s so good. Seriously, if you think this is a recipe you might make again in the future, do yourself a favor and order a bottle of Lizano now.

There are a million ways to make gallo pinto, and even more ways to eat it. So experiment with different seasonings and toppings to see what you like best. It’s so cheap, and can also be easily multiplied to feed a group. A pot of pinto never lasts very long for me!

Quick Recipe

Makes 4-5 servings; keeps and reheats well
Per serving: calories 322, total fat 8.4g, cholesterol 0mg, total carbs 64.8g, fiber 18.5g, sugar 4g, protein 13.9g

  • Leftover black beans, drained but not rinsed (cooked from 1 cup dry; per package directions or as detailed above)
  • Leftover rice (cooked from 1 cup dry, per package directions)
  • 1 medium onion
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 1-2 tbsp butter (or olive oil, for a vegan option)
  • 1 tbsp minced garlic (or more to taste)
  • 1 tsp cumin powder (or more to taste)
  • Salt
  • Black pepper
  • Garnishes of choice (fried egg, avocado, salsa, sour cream, cheese, etc.)
  1. Chop onion and bell pepper into small, uniform pieces
  2. Melt 1-2 tbsp butter or oil in a large cast iron skillet or deep saute pan and add onions, peppers, and minced garlic, cooking 10 minutes or to preferred softness
  3. Season veggies liberally with salt, pepper, and cumin
  4. Add cooked rice and beans to skillet and stir well, adding more salt & cumin if desired
  5. Spoon onto plates and add toppings of choice (recommended: Lizano Salsa)