Recipe Box: Central American Inspired Supper

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My spin on the "casado": Puerco pibil, queso fresco, cabbage salad, platacones
and quinoa and black beans.

In Costa Rica, the typical meal is called "el casado" which means married or married man in Spanish, named for the simple, home-cooked meals Costa Rican women were known to serve their husbands. These are comprised of black beans and rice, cabbage salad, fried plantains and the meat of the day (either chicken, fish or beef), sometimes with a wedge of fresh cheese or fried egg on the side.

For a full week after our wedding, we feasted on Mayan Cafe leftovers from our reception, then promptly set off to explore the farmlands and rain forests of Costa Rica. In this time, an intense love of piquant, savory Central American flavors aggressively took root in my heart, memory and gullet. After returning from our honeymoon, Kurt and I promised to add papayas, ceviche and fried plantains to our usual dinner line-up, and we were both sold on the idea of having rice and beans for breakfast. Determined to cook a meal that would evoke all the good feelings from those few weeks, as well as capture the flavors I now hold dear, I created this celebratory menu. Who needs a wedding scrapbook or vacation souvenir? Everything I need is right here in these recipes - memories in the form of food, to be squirreled away for safe keeping. Casado, indeed.

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Central American Inspired Supper for 4

Yucatan Puerco (pork) Pibil
Black Beans and Quinoa (gallo pinto style)
Platacones (twice-fried green plantains)
Cabbage salad with cilantro lime vinaigrette

Serve with a platter of warmed tortillas, lime wedges,
pickled red onions, queso fresco and fresh cilantro.

Yucatan Puerco Pibil
Adapted from Simply Recipes' Conchinita Pibil

This is a delicious pulled pork dish braised in achiote, orange and lime juice. Although, not Costa Rican, it reminds me of the Mayan-influenced meal served on our wedding day, and goes really nicely with the milder Costa Rican flavors in the other recipes. Traditionally, this is a Mayan celebratory dish, prepared from a whole suckling pig. The Mayan word "pibil" means buried, so if this was an authentic pibil recipe, you would dig a whole in the ground, build a fire at the bottom and roast your piglet wrapped in banana leaves and buried in the earth. However, for practicality sake, a dutch oven works just fine.

3-4 pounds pork shoulder
1 cup orange juice, freshly squeezed if possible
1/2 cup lime juice, juice of 4-5 limes
1 teaspoons salt
3 ounces of red achiote paste, available in Latin markets

The night before, or at least 6 hours before braising, mix orange and lime juices with achiote paste and salt in a blender until well combined. Cut pork into 2 inch chunks. Leave the fat, because it will aid in braising (you can easily remove it later, if need be). Put the pork in a non-reactive container, pour over marinade and mix well. Cover and refrigerate for 6-24 hours.

Cooking this dish takes about 3-4 hours, so be prepared to set aside enough time. (Totally worth it.) Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Pour meat and marinade into a dutch oven, and cover. I use my trusty Le Creuset, but if you don't have a dutch oven, you can tightly wrap the whole shebang in 2-3 layers of heavy duty aluminum foil and place inside a glass casserole dish. Another alternative is banana leaves - if you can find them at a Latin or Asian market, go for it. Whichever wrap you choose, just be sure to seal the pibil tightly. Bake for 3 to 4 hours, checking at the 3 hour mark. When the meat is practically falling apart, it is ready. Retrieve from the oven and gently pull apart meat with two forks. Serve with queso fresco, lime, green chiles and pickled red onions. Spoon leftover marinade juices on top. This is out of this world.

Black Beans and Quinoa
This hearty side was inspired by the traditional tico dish, gallo pinto, served along every meal on our honeymoon in Costa Rica. Gallo pinto is white rice and black beans fried with cilantro, onions and peppers. I use red quinoa instead of rice, opting for a less refined/whole grain substitute.

2 tablespoons coconut oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 red pepper, chopped
1 1/2 cups red quinoa
2 cups cooked (or canned) black beans, drained and rinsed
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2-3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce (regular can be used as well)
Salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/4 cup fresh cilantro
3 tbsp chopped green onions

Place quinoa in a two-quart saucepan with 1 1/2 cups cold water and a 1/2 tsp of salt. Bring to a boil, turn heat down to low, cover tightly and cook for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and leave covered for 5 more minutes before fluffing with a fork.

In a medium frying pan, heat oil and add chopped onions, peppers and garlic. Cook until tender, about 2-3 minutes. Add ground cumin and cook another minute. Pour onion and pepper mixture into quinoa and combine. Add Worcestershire sauce, fresh cilantro, green onions and season with salt and pepper, to taste.

2 green plantains
Oil for frying (I like coconut oil)
2 cloves garlic, minced

Peal plantains and cut into 1/2 inch slices. Add just enough oil to a pan so that the oil barely covers the plantain slices. Heat oil over medium heat. When the the oil sizzles when sprinkled with water, it is ready for frying. Fry, flipping once to brown both sides of the plantains. Try not to overcrowd the pan - you may need to work in batches. Drain on paper towels. When cool, sprinkle plantains with minced garlic. Using the bottom of a jar or glass, smash or flatten each round, working the garlic into the plantains. Reheat oil, fry again like before, about 1-2 minutes on each side. Drain on paper towels (repetitive, yes?) and sprinkle with salt.

Cabbage salad with Cilantro-Lime Vinaigrette

1 head of green cabbage, shredded
1/2 head red cabbage, shredded
1 large carrot, peeled into thin strips
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
3-4 green onions, chopped

1/4 cup white vinegar
1/2 olive oil
juice of one lime
1 tbsp honey
2 tbsp cilantro
1/2 jalapeno (seeded, chopped)
salt and pepper to taste

Combine ingredients in large bowl. In a small bowl, whisk together vinaigrette. Pour over salad, toss well, and season with salt and pepper. Allow the salad to sit in the dressing for an hour or so, to soften the cabbage and blend the flavors.


  1. Yum yum yum!!!!

    I used to make gallo pinto all the time- I should break out the Lizano sauce again! Looks delish!

    Also, I think we have the same green plates!

  2. This looks so good... I remember the food in Costa Rica being amazing. Stephen's family did Cuban food every Christmas, so I feel like el casado could become our tradition.

  3. You should! This one is great for holidays if you are feeding people because you can make a ton for cheapy cheap!

  4. Teagan, where did you find Lizano sauce. and in Alaska!? WOW.

    I love my green plate! I only have one. You are lucky to have more. It's actually a huge serving dish, because I was just that hungry.


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