After spending two weeks in Costa Rica, I feel like I’ve gained a new appreciation for fresh, simple food that makes amazing, delectable meals. Costa Rican cuisine inspired me to rethink the way I eat and to take a more exploratory path in cooking. I recommend using organic ingredients to get as close as possible to that fresh, homemade taste.
Here are the recipes that I found absolutely finger-licking good…
Appetizer: Plantains & black bean dip
We were served this meal for breakfast one morning out on an excursion, and initially I found it strange, but it grew on me. Plantains are essentially banana chips, which could be sweet or savoury. They are also a great substitute for potato crisps. While ready-made crisps are full of saturated fats, these homemade plantains are much healthier with 20 chips having just under 200 calories.
makes about 60 chips with 2-3 cups of dip
2 plantains or 2-3 large bananas
2 tbsp olive oil
1 can black beans (drained and rinsed)
2 cloves garlic
1/4 small onion
Slice the plantains/bananas into rounds and place them on a tray covered with baking paper. Drizzle with olive oil and toss the chips around. Sprinkle with sea salt and cook in the oven at 180 degrees for about 15 minutes, while turning them from time to time. Meanwhile, drain and rinse the beans, and mix them in a food processor, adding the diced onion, garlic, and the juice of lime. Mix until the consistency resembles that of humus, then season with pepper.
Done! Told you it was easy…
Starter: Costa Rican pumpkin, carrot and green bean soup
Another easy meal, bursting with hearty vegetables and spicy flavour. We had this after a particularly extreme rafting trip, and it felt really good to warm up with some homemade soup when you’re drenched to the bone.
makes about 6-7 bowls
1 kg pumpkin, no skin
4 medium carrots
3 cloves garlic
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp crushed chillies
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
2 tsp turmeric
Chop up the pumpkin and carrots, and crush the garlic. Place them in a saucepan and add a litre of fresh water, along with all the spices. Boil for a minute, then reduce the heat and leave to simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Once cooked, wait for the liquid to cool down before you blend it. Et voilà!
Main course: Breaded chicken with roasted aubergine melts
An excellent main course, which can also double up as a nice vegetarian meal if you choose not to add the chicken. It takes a little longer to bake the breaded chicken, but it’s a bit healthier and less messier than frying.
4 large chicken breasts
1 cup breadcrumbs
1/2 cup olive oil
1 medium aubergine
150g crushed tomatoes
salt & pepper
sprig of fresh thyme
1 clove garlic
Preheat the oven to 175 C degrees. Chop up the garlic and thyme in fine pieces and mix them in with the breadcrumbs in a wide, shallow bowl. Add a dash of lemon juice. Spread the flour out on a flat plate, and whisk the eggs in another wide, shallow bowl. Pound each chicken breast with a meat hammer and dredge it in the flour, eggs and finally the breadcrumbs until each breast is coated evenly. Pour the oil in a 20×30 tray, arrange the chicken breasts in it and put in the oven. After 30 minutes, turn the chicken with thongs, and put back in the oven for another 30 minutes. Put the ready chicken on a paper towel to soak up the excess oil.
Meanwhile, cut the aubergine in 8-10 slices, just over 1cm thick. You might want to soak them in water for a while so that they lose their slightly bitter taste. You will need to bake these in the oven at 175 C degrees as well, so you can always pop them in along with the chicken, just on a lower shelf. Line a tray with baking paper and arrange the aubergine slices on it, drizzling them with some olive oil on top. Season with salt and pepper, and bake in the oven for 25 minutes until soft. Add the crushed tomatoes and top with grated mozzarella, and return to the oven for 5 minutes, or until the cheese is a golden and crispy.
Serve the aubergines on top of the chicken breasts, and add some fresh parsley leaves.
And now for the dessert options!
Sweet plantain chutney
makes 1 small jar (250g)
1 big ripe plantain
50g chopped dates
50g chopped figs
100g chopped raisins
50g melted coconut oil
50ml pineapple juice
Peel and dice the plantain. Heat the coconut oil in a pan, and add the plantain, figs and dates. Stir, cover the pan partially and let it simmer for a few minutes. Add the raisins and pineapple juice, stir again, and bring back to the boil. Cover and simmer for a further 20 minutes, or until the mixture thickens. Let the chutney cool before serving with crackers and cheese.
Moist banana bread
makes 4 portions
2 bananas, chopped
½ cup brown sugar
2 cups flour
½ cup vegetable or coconut oil
½ cup butter
2 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
Cream the bananas and sugar using a blender, then mix in the eggs and gradually add in the flour. Stir the remainder of the ingredients in. Place the mixture in a greased and floured loaf pan, and bake at 175 C degrees for 50 minutes. You can top the loaf with chopped pecans, or if you want it to be glossier, you can use another egg yolk to lightly coat the topside. Serve with a few slices of bananas and whole pecans, or any way you like!
Banana and rice milk ice-cream
makes 4 portions
3-4 ripe bananas
2 tbsp rice milk
4 tbsp toasted coconut shavings
Cut the bananas into chunks and place them on a tray, leaving space between the chunks. Put in the freezer for about an hour, and then pop them into a food processor. Gradually add the milk while processing into a creamy mixture. Serve in a bowl or a glass, topped with a tablespoon of toasted coconut shavings.
So, as promised, here’s your simple, yet very impressive feast. Let me know your favourite recipe in the comments! Also I’d be happy to hear your suggestions for different approaches you might have tried for these meals.