Cooking and eating through a new culture

Archive for the month “January, 2012”

Gringa Gallos

First off, let me say that in Costa Rica, gallos (when referring to a meal) means meat, beans and or cheese in a small tortilla. Usually,  a light snack, sometimes seen on local menus as an appetizer. Gallo is also a rooster. The following post is about the meal. Not some kinky white, feathered transvestite. Not to say they’re not strutting around downtown San Jose. There is some weird shit happening in the wee hours here, but I am trying to keep this site civil, so get yer mind outta the gutter.

For me, gallos are an ideal meal. I’ve never been a big meal person, but prefer to nibble here and there. Although, gallos can be deceptive. If hungry, I can easily down 4 or 5 which basically is…a big meal. But for the most part, a couple fits the bill just fine. You won’t find hard taco shells here, but there are a variety of tortillas. Not to be confused with burritos, gallos are small, with the tortillas only about six inches across. Just big enough for one hand.

Returning to my Meatless Monday kick, and my odd obsession for beans lately, I’ve stumbled across a wonderful recipe for lentil tacos, which I adapted into what has now become known here as Gringa Gallos.

A word about lentils: listed as one of the world’s healthiest foods, they can be cooked on the fly since they don’t require soaking like other legumes. Lentils lack only 2 essential amino acids in order to complete the 20 amino acids that we need in our body, but if you mix them with rice you will have a complete protein meal. Lentils, being a rich source of dietary fiber, are beneficial for lowering cholesterol. This fiber content also prevents the sudden hike in blood sugar levels after a meal.  Lentils contains significant amounts of folate and magnesium to keep your ticker in tip-top shape and flavonoids, which is great for preventing cancer, especially breast cancer. Not bad for something that has been around since Neolithic times.

Cast iron cooking lentils!

I had seen other recipes that just added taco seasoning to cooked lentils. I guess if you were pinched for time, it’s an easy way out, but I prefer to tinker with my spice load and create my own blend. I found the addition of cumin to the lentils and a splash of Worcester sauce transforms the nuttiness to almost meat like dimensions. With an added dose of cheese, I can’t tell the difference. I dress them with slices of avocado, fresh salsa too for a perfect Latino meal…gringa style.

Now Rafa and I are certainly good hedonists. We love the decadence of  a good life, but that is tempered with our concern to stay and be healthy for the rest of our lives. Sure we indulge, but everything in moderation. My rant: Paula Deen is an hypocritical twat. Now, I am not normally invested in the idiots I see on TV. In fact, I hardly watch anything, but on occasion I will peruse the cooking shows for shits and giggles. I have seen her shows…and I found her incredibly annoying and her recipes absolute crap. Usually, it would have just ended there. But with her announcement of her three-year old diagnosis for type 2 diabetes and her subsequent signing with Novo Nordisk for a multi-million dollar endorsement of their new diabetes drug, I call bullshit. Americans consume about 150 pounds a sugar a year and if you want to eat that, fine. It’s a free world. Be fat, and if that makes you happy, who am I to say? But I can’t really think of any other person who will be awarded a lifetime of medication to control a disease they were to ignorant to ward off with their own self-control. The fact that she hid her disease and continued to promote a unhealthly lifestyle, with no concern and “No regrets”, is selfish and disingenuous. There is not a doubt in my mind that if Big Pharma didn’t dangled that golden doughnut in front of her, her diagnosis would still be kept secret. Was that being civil?

Team Bourdain! All the way!


Hey Chickie

Beans are a staple of the Latin American diet and nary a day goes by where I don’t consume some sort of legume. Sure there is the ubiquitous black and red beans found in the majority of dishes, but so much more is out there. Recently, I have found myself pulling away from the more traditional local recipes and spicing things up a bit. Surprisingly, I have been leaning a bit Indian (dot, not feather).

While working on the whole Meatless Monday idea, and reviewing a fridge bursting from the Sunday market, I decided on a vegetable masala. I think I have mentioned before that I am not a huge Indian food fan (I have always dreaded reeking of curry) but there were elements of the diet I did like, especially the significant use of vegetables and exotic complex spices. Both Rafa and I have amped up our excersie routine and we’re trying to stay away from heavy meat meals, especially at night. I don’t know, maybe it’s the tropical environment too, but I just have had a hankering for something spicy.

Now there are countless recipes out there and I am sure many people might sneer at my short cuts and adaptions to this traditional dish, but I don’t care. I am not Indian, I do not pretend to be. I just like making good food that people will eat.  So what I started with is a simple recipe from here: . Basically, I just use the guidelines for the spice mixture and added what ever vegetables I come across in the market. Sometimes it’s sweet little baby zucchini , sometimes it’s cauliflower, but I always keep the potatoes. I also like to use tomato paste instead of blanching and peeling tomatoes. It saves time and makes the sauce richer. But what really kicks this dinner up a notch is adding chickpeas. The garbanzo or chickpeas(Cicer arietinum) are a very good source of folic acid, fiber, and manganese. Loaded with protein, as well as minerals such as iron, copper, zinc, and magnesium they are also a great source of fiber.  Garbanzo beans can help lower cholesterol and improve blood sugar levels too. Not bad for something tasty and so cheap.

Since I pride myself with being a conscientious consumer, I buy my beans by the bag and cook them up myself instead of purchasing cans. This allows me to cook up big batches, and with the chickpeas, I split them up between the above recipe, homemade hummus and roasted chickpeas, which makes an awesome snack.  Believe it or not, the main element in hummus, tahini, is pretty easy to come by here and with the help of my trusty vintage Cuisinart food processor, I can whip up some hardcore hummus in no time. I use to think that chickpeas were just those vile, cold, little turds in the salad bar, but when you cook them yourself you can add any number of herbs or spices to rev them up. By tossing in one (only one) of those evil habanero chile peppers while cooking, you can infuse them with a nice mild heat.

With Rafa’s parents being closer than we had anticipated recently, I was apprehensive on how they would critique my cooking, especially with my recent interest in bolder meals. Rafa will coo about my cooking, but some people just like what they like. The curious smells certainly piqued their interest, and the whole medley of vegetables was impressive, and when they sat down…there was silence. It’s not often that there is silence at a Latino dinner table.

Lets just suffice to say, that they gobbled it up.

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