Costa Rican cuisine is relatively typical of the Central American region, with some notable exceptions. Spicy food is less common, although food tends not to be entirely bland. Cilantro, sweet peppers, and onions are common flavoring agents. Rice and beans are common, as are potatoes and plantains.
According to a video we watched in my introduction to sociocultural anthropology class, tamales are an important Latin American Christmas tradition. Women get together and spend hours making hundreds of tamales. They're made of cornmeal batter filled with meat or vegetables, wrapped in corn husks and steamed. The Costa Rican version uses banana leaves tied up and boiled, but as I came down with my annual plague on Saturday I was in no condition to seek out a Latin market to find them. The Costa Rican version also uses rice and potatoes as filling along with shredded pork. I thought they were tasty, but could definitely have used more seasoning. I added a bunch of chili powder, paprika, salt, and cumin to my leftover pork. I probably won't make tamales again, as they take hours! To accompany the tamales, I made a black bean soup with boiled eggs (boiled in the soup, incidentally) and a heart of palm salad. The soup was a little bland, but a liberal addition of salt and pepper made it better. It might have been better with dried or fresh beans, but I took the easy way out (and cut off several hours) by using a can. I also forgot the garlic. I think the salad was my favorite part of the meal, although I'm happy to have soup leftovers now that I'm sick.
Heart of Palm Salad (Ensalada Palmito)
2 jars of hearts of palm
juice of one fresh lime
salt and pepper to taste
optional: one tomato or sweet bell pepper, chopped fine (I used a yellow bell pepper)
(mayo is also optional, but I opted out)
Slice the hearts of palm into bite-sized pieces. Toss with other vegetables, lime juice, and salt and pepper.
Black Bean Soup (Sopa Negra)
1 can black beans, drained
1 small or medium onion, chopped fine
10-12 sprigs of fresh cilantro, chopped fine
1 sweet bell pepper, chopped fine
2 cloves of garlic, minced or crushed
4-6 cups of water or broth (I used mostly the pork broth from the tamales, with 1 cup water)
salt and pepper to taste
Saute the onions in one tbsp vegetable oil until translucent. Add the pepper, cilantro, and garlic and saute for another minute. Add the beans and broth with plenty of salt and pepper. Simmer for about 30 minutes. Put the eggs in the soup and cook for 6-8 minutes. Remove the eggs to an ice bath to cool them quickly, then peel and put in bowls. Ladle soup on top.
Note: This recipe would make a crap ton of tamales. I made 8 (because I was sick and that's how many fit in my steamer), so I cut it down a LOT and had leftovers of everything anyway.
2 lbs instant corn masa mix
3 lbs pork shoulder roast -or- beef roast -or-
¼ lb pork lard (or vegetable shortening)
1 cup corn oil
1 batch (~5 cups cooked Tico style rice, see ingredient list and recipe below)
2 ¼ lbs potatoes
8 cloves of garlic
½ lb sweet or hot peppers to taste
1 large onion (optional)
2 ¼ lbs banana leaves (corn husks can be substituted, or if desperate aluminum foil)
coriander leaves (cilantro), salt, black pepper, cumin, oregano, achiote (annato)
Chop the meat into large (2") chunks then brown on high heat in the ½ cup vegetable oil. Add the chopped garlic, peppers, onion, 1 teaspoon salt, 1teaspoon cumin, ½ teaspoon black pepper, and 1 teaspoon salt for the last minute or two of browning, then cover with water and simmer until very tender (2-3 hours). Remove the meat from the broth and reserve the broth. When the meat is cool shred it finely. While the meat is simmering prepare the potatoes and rice.
Peel the potatoes and boil with salt, cilantro, and oregano to taste until soft. Cool and cut into ½ inch (1 cm) cubes.
To prepare the masa, allow the meat broth to cool until it is just warm. To the dry masa add 1 tablespoon salt, 1 teaspoon ground cumin, and 1 teaspoon ground achiote, and mix dry. Then add the vegetable oil, mix with your hands while adding the warm broth. It should take about 2 1/2 cups to make a paste the consistency of mashed potatoes. Mix and add slowly, and if you over shoot on the broth and get it too thin, add a little more masa.
Soften the corn husks in water overnight. Spread ~2 tbsp masa on a corn husk. Spoon ~ 1tbsp each meat, rice, and potatoes on top, then fold in all corners and place folded-sides-down in steamer basket. When basket is packed tightly, steam for about an hour.
Rice, Tico Style
3-5 sprigs cilantro (coriander leaf)
1 small or half a medium onion
½ small red or yellow sweet pepper (optional)
3 cups chicken broth or water
2 cups white rice
½ teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
Chop cilantro, onion, and sweet pepper very fine. Add 1 Tablespoon oil to a large pan and sauté the dry rice for 2 minutes over medium high flame then add the chopped onion, sweet pepper and cilantro and sauté another 2 minutes. Add water or chicken broth, bring to a boil, cover and reduce heat to simmer until rice is tender (20-35 minutes).