Meal 39: Costa Rica

Our travels have taken us to Laura's parents' place on the shores of beautiful Lake Josephine on Anderson Island, Washington. How lovely to hit our one-year mark of Noshing, and make it 20% of the way through the nations, amongst the pine trees, outdoor, during a break in the rain!

Costa Rican food, as I remember it from visiting there in eighth grade, is very simple and straightforward, with one distinctive aspect: Salsa Lizano. For a Tico, the colloquial name for a Costa Rican, it's just not authentic without this sauce, which is kinda like steak sauce but more vegetable-forward. So I shipped ahead a big bottle from Amazon to make sure we'd have it on hand. With the exception of that and possibly plantains, everything for this meal can be easily found at a normal supermarket.

We had quite a crowd of islanders on hand, plus Laura's parents Eileen and Lyall, sister Jennifer, high school friend Ellen, and  their retired high-school history teacher Mr. Martin:

The Tican meal par excellence is the casadoa single plate with a fixed assortment of inexpensive, delicious, and filling food. Casado means "married," and there are two explanations for the name. One says that the foods are a lovely marriage. The other is that men would wander into a lunch spot and ask to be served a meal as their wife might make them. Take your pick!

Gallo pinto | Rice and beans | Recipe

This rice-and-bean mix is by far the most emblematic dish of Costa Rica. It's a little more special than just tossing the two together. The black beans are simple enough; I made them overnight in a slow cooker and they were fantastic. The rice you fry dry for a few minutes, then add a bit of veggies, then top up with liquid to cook. Ideally you make them the night before so they can dry out a bit. Then sauté up more veggies, throw in the rice and the beans including some cooking water, and for the coup de grace a liberal helping of that Salsa Lizano. Listo! This stuff is great and worth the effort. Serve with extra Lizano on the side, and remember to pour the sauce into the cap first so you don't drench your dish.

(Note: a purist may say that a casado should have the rice and beans served separately. But since this was my one opportunity to make Tican food for years, I went all-out!)

Chuletas de cerdo | Grilled pork chops | Recipe

There's a wide variety of meats you can serve with a casado including beef, chicken, and even fish, but pork chops just felt right. I found this simple marinate with lime zest and juice plus cilantro and a few other things. Yum.

Plátanos | Plantains

Traditionally these ripe plantains would be sliced and fried, but given my self-imposed rule of no frying in others' kitchens, we simplified and baked the plantains brushed with butter. Most of the plantains weren't that sort of nearly-black-skin type that means they're the sweetest, but it was tough (and expensive!) to find enough around Tacoma so we did what we could. Wish I could have baked them for another few minutes but they were pretty ok.

Ensalada de repollo | Cabbage salad | Recipe

A pretty simple but plenty tasty salad. The dressing is tangy and a little sweet, which is the perfect way to blend with the rest of the plate.

Queso | Cheese

There was nowhere to find the suggested Turrialba cheese, so we did our second best with a wheel of ranchero cheese. This stuff is addictive, I really had to stop myself from eating any when cutting it up!

Huevos fritos | Fried eggs

Look at how orange those yolks are! Fresh eggs from an island neighbor. When making fried eggs, such as to put on top of the casado, get the freshest and highest-quality you can, they'll actually have some flavor that way.

Arroz con leche | Rich rice pudding | Recipe: Spanish, English translation (use number II!)

I chose the second of three recipes on this page, and I'm glad I did! (Though I did use half the butter it calls for.) A liter of milk plus a can each of condensed and evaporated milk sure seemed like a lot of liquid for just under a cup and a half of cooked rice, and when I took it off the stove it sure seemed runny. But after a few hours in the fridge, it either got absorbed or solidified on its own, and we ended up with a really rich and tasty pudding. Love the tres leches effect!

Refresco de mango y piña | Mango and pineapple shakes

To go with the pudding, Ellen cut up some mangos and a pineapple, and whipped up a delicious drink. So simple and tasty!

There's not a ton of distinctive Costa Rican music, but we did find one gem that really sums up the meal: a song called Rice and Beans! Warning, it's catchy.

Amazing we're a fifth of the way through! Next time we're back to our normal swing of things, with a meal from the Republic of Congo (the one that's across the river from the former Zaire) in Brooklyn. Happy Fourth!