Gallo Pinto: a typical colorful meal from Costa Rica

Although rice is not a native crop in Latin America, it has become the fourth staple food eaten in this region. Rice arrived in that part of the world by the year 1520, through Spanish and Portuguese colonizers who introduced it, first into Mexico and Brazil.

Thanks to its versatility, affordability, and adaptability to all climate conditions, this grain has rapidly adapted to Latin American crop production. Then, it was taken as a native grain and used in several traditional dishes. Almost all countries in this region have a rice-based typical meal, and it is part of their daily menu.

These are some of the reasons why it turned out to be one of the most eaten foods in Latin American houses. Moreover, its blank flavor has made it possible to create salty and sugary meals, even desserts and drinks.

Distinctive Latin flavors

Latin America refers to the countries located in North America, Central America, the Caribbean, and South America. In total, they sum 21 countries populated by indigenous people, mixed-race people, and Portuguese, African and Spanish descents.

Deep flavors given by spices, herbs, and condiments; different textures and colors provided by fresh vegetables, are the main characteristics of Latin American cuisine. Their meals are a translation of native food mixed with European culinary influences.

Main ingredients include corn, rice, beans, potatoes, chilies, tomatoes, limes, parsley, olives, garlic, onions, vinegar, and spices like cumin, oregano, and cinnamon, anise, and so on. As for meats, beef, chicken, and pork are the most consumed.

The perfect combination

Of all these diverse ingredients, beans and rice stand up as the preferred staples. All Latin American countries use them as part of their daily menu. These two ingredients are present in breakfasts, lunches, and dinners. People prepare countless recipes where beans and rice are the main stars or a mandatory side dish.

Some of the most popular rice-based dishes with beans in Latin America include:

  • Cuban Moro (Rice with beans and pork)
  • Gallo pinto from Costa Rica (Rice and black beans)
  • Venezuela’s Pabellón (black beans, white rice, and shredded meat).
  • Casamiento from El Salvador (bean and rice fried plantains and sweet cream).

This powerful combination is part of their daily meals. They eat rice and beans as a complete meal or as an accompaniment to other main dishes. It is considered a vegetarian meal rich in nutrients. Sometimes, people add other proteins to transform this one-pot meal into a full dish.

Detailing a rice and beans dish

In Costa Rica, where rice is widely produced and consumed, Gallo Pinto is a typical side dish in the three main meals. It consists of rice, black beans, onion, red bell pepper, cumin, paprika, cayenne pepper, cilantro, and Lizano sauce.

This sauce gives a distinctive flavor and makes Gallo Pinto a true Costa Rican dish. Lizano sauce is the perfect combination of sweet and savory. It is a blend of carrot, tomato, onion, garlic, red pepper, cilantro, cauliflower, cucumber, paprika, turmeric, and black pepper. It is slightly green with a thin texture.

There are two types of Gallo Pinto depending on the region where it is prepared:

  • Gallo Pinto with black beans and rice. It is moister and less greasy, prepared in Valle Central and surrounding regions.
  • Gallo Pinto with red beans and rice. It is drier and greasier and has a toasted flavor. It is typical in Northern areas such as Guanacaste.

Let’s learn how to prepare a traditional Gallo Pinto from scratch.

Gallo Pinto

Ingredients (4 servings)

  • 3 cups of white rice (you can prepare it beforehand).
  • 2 cups of uncooked black beans.
  • 1 tablespoon of butter.
  • 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil.
  • ¼ finely diced onion.
  • ¼ cup of finely chopped cilantro.
  • ¼ cup of chopped red bell pepper.
  • 2 tablespoons of Lizano sauce.
  • Salt to taste.


  1. Soak the black beans with enough water overnight.
  2. The next day, drain beans and put them in a big saucepan with water. Bring to a boil.
  3. Put a lid on the saucepan, reduce heat and simmer until beans are soft.
  4. In another saucepan, add butter, onions, red bell pepper, cilantro, and salt. Cook over high heat.
  5. Incorporate cooked black beans, oil, and Lizano sauce. Stir very well.
  6. Reduce heat and cook until all ingredients are well-combined.
  7. Add rice and mix.
  8. Cook for 5 more minutes.
  9. Serve in a traditional Costa Rican breakfast with fried eggs, tortilla, fried plantains, and natilla.