Gallo Pinto is the speckled rooster, the omnipresent beans-and-rice dish for Nicaraguans, a comfort of every day, sometimes at more meals than one. Nextdoor, the Costa Ricans have a speckled rooster of a different colour, made with black beans, but the red rooster belongs to Nicaragua. Unlike a pilaf, the rice in this dish is cooked on its own before meeting the other ingredients, much like a Chinese stir-fried rice, and this makes the texture of the final product easy to control. The flavour of this version of beans-and-rice is deep, round and nutty; nuttiness is a wonder of lightly seasoned beans.
Millions of Nicaraguans will eat gallo pinto today, no doubt expressing a host of variations on the core recipe. Personally, I think this dish is best kept simple, so where one certainly could add so many regional spices, I just use bay and garlic, lots and lots of garlic. The ratio-of-consensus in traditional recipes comes in at 6 cloves of garlic for every cup of dry beans. so to that I defer. I admit there is much personal preference in this: I find that if any bean dish is complicatedly seasoned, the round flavour of the bean disappears entirely. Besides, I can’t imagine that any dish made daily in a household, a dish made to accompanying everything else, should be terribly complicated. Because the beans need to spend mellowing-time with the garlic, and because canned beans are never as purely flavoured and often mushy to boot, it is worth cooking your own from dried. Where I would have preferred to use the small Mexican red bean, I had to use kidney beans because they are far easier to find in the UK. Kidney beans are larger, and so they make for a clunkier photo, but they are still mesoamerican beans, and still delicious.
For breakfast, serve with sour cream and a cup of good coffee. Later on in the day, gallo pinto complements a fruity Nicaraguan stew.
Nicaraguan Red Beans and Rice (Gallo Pinto)
90 minutes, including 75 minutes simmering; serves four
1 cup dried red beans (Mexican or kidney), soaked all day or all night
1 dried bay leaf
6 cloves garlic
1 cup long-grain white rice
3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, finely diced
1. Drain the beans, place them in a saucepan, and cover with water by a few inches. Bring to a boil and skim the foam. Toss in the peeled garlic cloves and simmer them together, uncovered, until the beans are tender but not mushy, about 75 minutes (if your beans are older it will take a little longer).
2. About forty-five minutes into the bean-simmering, rinse the rice grains several times and cook as per usual.
3. Heat the oil in a heavy pan and saute the onion gently until soft and golden.
4. When the beans are tender, drain them, reserving the liquid. Remove the garlic and bay.
5. Add the beans to the sauteed onion and stir. Add the rice. By the spoonful, add just enough reserved liquid to colour and moisten the rice, but not so much to cause clumping and goopiness. Easy does it.
6. Salt to taste.