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Casado – Costa Rica National Dish – Day 78/Dish 42

March 31, 2010

Rejoining the ship after several days we once again head across the Atlantic Ocean and into the Caribbean Sea.  Our destination is the Central American mainland and the small nation of Costa Rica.  I always feel that the name of this place should be pronounced:  Costah RRRRReeeKah and preferably to the tune of a fast moving Calypso beat. 

In a direct, about face from the trials of much of post colonial Africa, Costa Rica has a long and polished reputation as a safe, happy and carefully managed country.  Although this is of course subjective, consider some of the facts about this unique country before you decide.  Costa Rica took the unusual step of permanently abolishing its military in 1949.  They rank 1st in the Americas in terms of the Human Development index, 3rd in the world overall, are rated the “Happiest Nation on Earth” and also the “greenest” and plan to be the first “Carbon Neutral” nation by 2021.  Not a bad track record for a small country surrounded by troubled neighbors.

So what makes a country like Costa Rica stand out from so many of its neighbors?  Is it unique philosophies, a more holistic approach to governance and daily life?  Or is it the wisdom to observe the squandered opportunities of other places and the end result of such courses of action?  To decipher the riddle perhaps a look into the past is appropriate.

Costa Rica, like so many Central and South American nations is a former Spanish Colony. Unlike most, it has developed in relative isolation.  Far from the former Spanish Colonial capital in Guatemala City, little active interest in Costa Rica’s development was paid by the Spaniards.  This isolation meant that Costa Rica started off poor and slow to develop.  Another interesting side effect of this isolation was the lack of forced labor of its native people.  In turn this reduced the class structure that is found through much of the rest of Latin America. 

On September 15th 1821 the provinces of Central America declared independence from Spain and shortly thereafter formed the Federal Republic of Central America.  The day of independence is still celebrated through most of Central America.  This lasted until 1839 when Costa Rica formerly withdrew from the arrangement and formed an independent nation. 

Although Costa Rica has seldom seen intense violence, from 1917-1919 the nation was ruled as a dictatorship by Federico Tinoco Granados.  He was overthrown and forced into exile after only two years in power.  Another uprising occurred in 1948 after a disputed presidential election.  Jose Figueres Ferrer overthrew the government in a bloody 44 day civil war that was the bloodiest event in Costa Rica during the twentieth century.  His next moves were nearly unprecedented.  With power in their hands, the newly installed government abolished the army, wrote a constitution and relinquished power peacefully in favor of democratic elections.  Ferrer went on to become the first president by popular vote and Costa Rica has enjoyed a relatively peaceful fair democratic existence ever since. 

Perhaps this is why so many ex-patriates enjoy retirement in the tropical heat of Central America in beautiful Costa Rica?  Perhaps the appeal is the coastlines in both the Atlantic and Pacific or the beautiful mountains that march through the center of the country?  Maybe asking questions leads to more questions and real answers are seldom found?  Thus is the life of an adventurer. 

Costa Rica’s national dish is called Casado.  In truth it is not one specific dish, but a plethora of options plated together forming a marriage of flavors and textures.  In fact, Casado means “marriage” in Spanish.  I was a bit nervous that this dish would wind up being a massive overbearing platter of protein and cholesterol like Bandeja Paisa in Colombia.  Not that I mind lots of meat, but I also crave the freedom of fresh veggies and the tangy and heady aroma of cilantro, tomatoes and onions cut with the zest of citrus and pepper. 

Casado is a dish found throughout Costa Rica and in time you would find yourself migrating to your favorite places and recipe combinations.  When ordering Casado, you are given the selection of items that will appear on your plate as well as a choice of meat, usually chicken or beef.   Traditionally, you would have your meat selection grilled or stewed with sides of a cabbage salad with sliced tomatoes, fresh corn tortillas (still hot!) Black Beans and rice or Gallo Pinto another Costa Rican classic with a side of fresh Platanos Maduros (Ripe Plantains) fried or baked.   The aromas clash and dance in the air around your nose.  The colors are vibrant and bold.  The textures range from crunchy to smooth.  They leave you feeling full but liberated, not bloated and slow.  This is a meal worth exploring for a few months as every day and every place could be different.  Maybe retirement in the peaceful nation of Costa Rica is the single smartest decision you could make if you love fresh food?

I give this dish a 3 for difficulty.  Nothing is particularly challenging to make, however experience in blending the flavors of Central America are a plus.  Leave time for the long soak method of cooking the beans or simply open a can and season the beans in their juices.  Either way, prepare to truly enjoy this dish.



Appearance: 4 out of 5 (loses one point for lack of a formal presentation)

Aroma: 5 out of 5

Flavor: 5 out of 5

Total: a whopping 14 out of 15!!


3 Plantains (ripe)

3 Tomatoes

1 Large Onion

½ Green Cabbage

2 heads of Cilantro Chopped

1 Large Lemon

1 tsp Garlic Powder

3 cloves Garlic

1 large can Black Beans

1 cup Rice

1lb Flank Steak

Maseca Flour (corn tortilla flour)

Alino Marinade

Salt and Pepper (fresh ground)

Note: Prepare the component dishes in the order below for best timing. As each is resting or marinating, move on to the next step.

Preparation for Meat:  

Marinate Steak in Alino marinade for 1 hour.  Grill to medium and remove from heat.  Allow to rest 5-10 minutes in a covered plate.  Slice on the bias for delicious steak bites.

Preparation for Salad:

Slice cabbage to thin shavings.  Squeeze ½ lemon over the cabbage.  Add 1 cup tomatoes diced, ½ cup diced onions, ½ cup sliced scallions, 1 cup chopped cilantro, garlic powder and salt and pepper to taste.  Stir and allow to rest in fridge for 1 hour.

Preparation for Black Beans and Rice:

Place unrinsed black beans in a saucepan bring to simmer or prepare dried beans according to package directions including an overnight soak.

Add ½ cup diced tomatoes, 3 diced cloves garlic, 1 handful of diced onion, handful of cilantro and pinch of salt and cracked pepper

Simmer for 20 mins to let flavors incorporate

Preparation for Rice:

Follow directions on package for 1 cup of rice.

A typical recipe calls for approximately 1.5 cups water with a pinch of salt.  Bring to a boil then reduce to simmer for 18 mins.  Remove from heat and allow to rest for 5-10 minutes.

Preparation for Tortillas:

Mix Maseca with a pinch of salt and water according to directions on package.  Form 1” balls and flatten with a tortilla press or a plate till 1/16” thick.  Gently fry in a lightly oiled pan till one side is cooked.  Flip over the tortillas and press down with a papertowel as they puff up.  Allow to finish cooking about 1-2 minutes per side.  Store in a covered dish lined with a slightly damp towel to hold in heat and moisture.  Serve hot.

Preparation for Plantains:

Peel ripe plantains.  Fry in 350 Degree vegetable oil till dark golden brown. Remove to a paper towel lined tray to drain.  Serve hot. 

Serves 3-4

15 Comments leave one →
  1. Jihad permalink
    March 31, 2010 1:28 pm


  2. March 31, 2010 1:37 pm

    ANother great tour.. this time Costa Rica! (i love the way Costa Rica rolls out from your toungue) I could hear some Calypso playing while I was reading your post.

    The food looks authentic. I could eat that whole plate.. the colors as you said are vibrant very FIESTA like… it’s a celebration in itself>

    It’s very evident that you put a great effort in creating this dish as well as this post. Great job Eric


  3. McKenzi permalink
    March 31, 2010 3:08 pm

    It looks pretty close to me… although I was never served corn tortillas in my 6 months in Costa Rica as part of casado (which I ate twice daily) and Ticos wouldn’t serve the rice on top of the beans. I never saw an official recipe while I was there, but the tastes are bland, so I’m guessing your blends are a bit more flavorful (I never saw garlic or black pepper).

    Pura vida!!

    • March 31, 2010 3:31 pm

      Hi Mckenzi,

      Welcome and thanks for the great first hand feedback!
      I should clarify a few points. The online recipes for Casado tend to be vague since they are trying to interpret a dish that can be many different components depending on the cook. It is hard to write a recipe for one item let alone 5 or 6.
      I have had about 70 different versions of rice and beans, beans and rice, peas and rice, rice and peas and gallo pinto(authentic Tico version) I dislike most of them as being too bland for my tastes. The only version I have ever eaten that I loved was a stewed black bean seasoned and served over white rice. Same with tortillas. I really only eat corn tortillas that I make by hand. I can’t stand the preservatives in store bought varieties and I don’t eat flour tortillas often. I have been spoiled by fresh hand made tortillas. THey are the best!
      I basically included my own versions of the “staples” on a Casado and didn’t use an internet recipe. That is unusual in this adventure but I was thinking yesterday how I never use recipes except during this project. So I went off the reservation.
      I would love to go to Costa Rica and try a variety of these dishes as they are as close to comfort food for my wife and I as anything we eat. The possible exception is Southern Food and that isn’t half as healthy most of the time. 🙂
      Thanks for your great comments. I look forward to many more….

  4. April 1, 2010 1:47 am

    Hey Eric – Love all the flavors here. How can you beat a dinner with black beans over rice, fresh homemade corn tortillas, fried plantains and steaks?

    As always an informative post topped with great food!

    Ciao, Devaki @ weavethousandflavors

  5. April 1, 2010 7:36 pm

    Eric, this looks delicious. I remember when I visited Costa Rica, there were some who said that I wouldn’t remember the country for its food, but of course, they were completely wrong. The food was delicious, and it looks like you’ve captured the spirit of Costa Rica on your plate!

  6. triszel permalink
    November 5, 2010 12:45 pm

    that looks so delicious and it is because i have tried it before.

  7. March 3, 2011 12:02 am

    Thanks for the recipe Eric! I visited Nosara in 2008 – my first visit to Costa Rica, and I knew nothing about it! Got off our little puddle jumper plane, and right across from our landing strip was a teeny little house with 2 tables and chairs, and a family was serving up casados for $3. My boyfriend and I sat down and were instantly smitten (by the food that is lol) From that day on, I refused to eat anything else for the duration of my stay. So for breakfast and lunch, and quite often dinner, too…I ate casados (and watermelon smoothies…yum)

    I have yet to have chicken that tastes better or is more moist and delicious than chicken in Costa Rica. I’m also greatly disappointed that I cannot find any restaurants here in New York that are even remotely similar to Costa Rican cuisine.

    I plan on surprising my boyfriend for his birthday next with with this wonderful recipe. It’ll be a nice escape since we really can’t afford to go back any time soon.

    • March 5, 2011 6:28 pm

      Very sorry it took me so long to reply. I have been sicker than a puppy all week.

      Your adventure sounds both fun and also tasty. I spend a fair amount of time in Central America and I do not know if it is the weather, the people, the surroundings or what, but I swear the food tastes better there too!

      I can’t believe you can’t find any Costa Rican restaurants in NYC?! Or am I making the same mistake people make when I say that I am from NY? Everyone (including me) forgets the state is huge! I’m from the ‘Cuse BTW…

  8. Sierra Maye permalink
    June 3, 2011 12:54 pm

    We did this for a project and it end up turning into a great dish.

    • July 3, 2011 10:42 am

      Thanks for letting me know about your project. Casado is a great dish with many simple delicious component dishes. I bet you had a good time with the final exam!


  9. June 19, 2011 2:49 am

    F*ckin’ awesome things here. I am very happy to see your article. Thanks so much and i am having a look ahead to contact you. Will you please drop me a mail?

  10. Alexandra permalink
    January 24, 2012 4:00 pm

    Thank you sooooo much!!!! I have been looking for a recipe since I first visited Costa Rica in 2009. I love this dish and I love how all of your dishes have historical value. I so look forward to cooking this and others from your list!!! 🙂 this is genius.


  1. Casado – Costa Rica National Dish – Day 78/Dish 42 « MyHungryTum | Costarica Today
  2. Costa Rican Casado « Bungolow

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