The night I found out my mom tested positive for coronavirus I made our family’s ultimate comfort food: gallo pinto con plátanos. Being distant from my family right now is hard, but cooking this meal was my effort to summon any gods to help heal her. Gallo Pinto makes me feel safe in that it’s the same food my ancestors ate for generations, and I hope it brings you comfort too. For the sake of pantry cooking, you can make gallo pinto fast. Grab some rice, a can of black beans from the back of your pantry and make this Costa Rican staple. Make some for dinner and enjoy leftovers with scrambled eggs and fried queso fresco for breakfast the next morning. When this is all over, hug your loved ones tight. Thankfully, my mom is healing thanks to the amazing care she received at the hospital back home. I can’t wait to make this for her and show her all I’ve learned. As my abuela would say, “tengas fe y gracias a dios por la comida.”
Makes 2 to 4 servings
Time: 30 minute active time, plus cook time for rice and beans
1 yellow onion, diced
1 clove garlic, diced
2 t Achiote paste
1 1/2 c cooked black beans or 1 can Goya black beans
Splash of chicken broth or water
1 1/2 c cooked medium-grain white rice
Cilantro stems, chopped
2 ripe plantains, they should be ripe yellow on the verge of brown
1/4 c vegetable oil ( I use safflower - use any flavorless, high heat oil. All grandmas will use canola)
Por la Mesa/For the Table
Stack of cooked corn or flour tortillas
Sliced avocado served with lime wedges
Cilantro (because we are all quarantined and because us children of immigrants all know the best zero waste kitchen tricks, use the stems in the gallo pinto and the leaves for the garnish. No waste!)
Quick pickled red onions (1 red onion, sliced thinly mixed in small bowl with red wine vinegar, pinch of salt)
Gallo Pinto: In a large skillet, cook onion with garlic for 5 to 6 minutes on medium-low until translucent. Add 2 t achiote paste and stir together until onions and garlic are red in hue. Add beans with a splash of chicken broth or water. Stir to combine and bring beans to a simmer, season with a pinch of kosher salt. Once beans are reheated, reduce to low and stir in cooked rice. Combine rice with beans with a wooden spoon until the rice takes on the color of the beans. Season with salt to taste and stir in chopped cilantro stems.
I learned to fry plátanos from my mom and grandma: Peel plátanos as you slice on a diagonal with a paring knife. Heat 1/4 c vegetable oil in a medium-size skillet on high. Fry plantain slices for about a minute and a half on each side until golden brown, almost crispy on each side, they should be glistening. Transfer to a plate with tongs and sprinkle with salt.
Por la mesa/For the table: Serve gallo pinto alongside a stack of warmed tortillas, avocado and lime slices, and the fried platanos. Top with fresh cilantro and pickled onions. Enjoy the tico life.
Gabriella Stern is a Brooklyn home cook and food systems specialist. She is on the Brand team at Hot Bread Kitchen, who creates economic opportunities through careers in food for women, immigrants, and people of color. Gabriella is spending her quarantine days cataloging all the Italian dishes consumed on the Real Housewives of New Jersey.