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Thistles & Roses

A lesson from Ticos


Hispanic Heritage Month runs from Sept. 15 — Oct. 15. Costa Rica’s Independence Day is celebrated Sept. 15, when their independence from Spain occurred in 1821. The history and the formation of sovereign borders from Mexico to Central and South America is too complex to explain here but most happened around the same time in the 1820s.

The focus here is on Costa Rica, a country that I have visited about 30 times since 1995. Heredia is the province and main town where we usually visit. Our family has many close friends there who have become extended family, including Yolanda Calderon Sandi, a former congresswoman of the National Assembly of Costa Rica. Our children’s photos are placed with her other grandchildren and great- grandchildren. Yolanda is the matriarch of the family. We have stayed at her home many times.

We now have true family in Heredia as one of my sons married a Costa Rican (called Ticos or Ticas) and his in-laws live in Heredia.

I will give a recipe at the end of this article for Gallo Pinto (spotted rooster), the national dish of Costa Rica, which is black beans and rice. This is in keeping with other articles on hunger and keeping a tight food budget.

You can make this dish at home and start a new family tradition and awareness that there are many people in the world who get by daily on various forms of rice and beans. If you have traveled to Costa Rica, you know this dish is served universally for breakfast at hotels. It is called “pinto” by most Ticos.

Costa Rica had been under indirect control of United States fruit companies until 1949. The main one was United Fruit. Many central American countries were under the same control which prompted the name “banana republics,” a pejorative term. 

In 1948 a new constitution was approved and Costa Rica has since been called the Switzerland of Central America.. The military was abolished and neutrality declared. United Fruit’s influence began to wane.

Elections are free and many presidents from many parties have been elected. Education is universal and state supported. Costa Rica is one of the most literate countries of the third world. Health care is excellent and free.

A Gallup poll and an article in National Geographic magazine found that Costa Ricans are the happiest people in the world. Reasons for this are strong social bonds, a clean environment, and investment in education.

“Pura Vida” (pure life) is the national motto and greeting, and sums up their attitude towards life. They are just more laid back and calm. When I arrive there, I feel an immediate sense of peace and calm.

Now that recipe for Gallo Pinto:

Gallo Pinto

1 sweet bell pepper (red is traditional), diced
1 medium onion diced
4 tablespoons cooking oil
2 tablespoons Salsa Lizano (optional)
2-4 cups cooked white rice
2-4 cups cooked black beans (Canned ok but cooked from dry preferred) 
½ cupped chopped cilantro
(Note: Salsa Lizano is the national sauce of Costa Rica, called English sauce, and is now available in the USA from multiple online sources.}
In a large skillet:
 Sauté onion and bell pepper in cooking oil
Add rice and more oil if needed. Cook the rice until slightly crispy or as desired
Add beans and some bean juice and let simmer, stirring the entire mixture until heated
Add salt and pepper as desired.
Turn off heat and stir in cilantro and Salsa Lizano.
Serve with more Salsa Lizano and corn tortillas if desired.

Salsa Lizano is not required to make the dish. You can make a very good pinto without it and many Ticos leave it out and restaurants and hotels leave it out.

The proportions don’t have to be exact. Some people don’t like cilantro and it can be left out. You can make a large batch of Pinto and heat and serve during the week.

A traditional breakfast consists of Gallo Pinto, corn tortillas, an egg, and grilled plantains. Tropical fruit is optional. When served at dinner, a skillet grilled chicken thigh or breast is sometimes included. Salsa Lizano and hot sauce on the side and Costa Rican coffee are other options.

Cook your own batch and think of it as a regular addition to you family’s diet. We have.

 Celebrate Hispanic Heritage month by celebrating Costa Rica’s independence and democratic way of life.

That we could be such a happy people! 

Pura Vida!


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