Sunday, September 13, 2015

A Tasty Tico Meal

Costa Rica is a nature lover's dream. From coastline to volcanoes to rainforests, the country is teeming with wildlife and ecological diversity. Over 25% of Costa Rica is dedicated to nature preserves and parks. Over 5% of the world's species can be found in the little country that only takes up .1% of the earth's landmass. That's pretty impressive for a country the size of West Virginia. As the result of a brutal civil war that lasted a little over a month in the spring of 1948, Costa Rica became the first nation to abolish its military. Instead of funding the army, Costa Rica uses this money for education and conservation. Recreational hunting is also banned in Costa Rica. I really think that their nonviolence and conservational policies are amazing. They are consistently ranked as one of the most ecologically friendly countries as well as the Latin American country with the highest standard of living.

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The cuisine of Costa Rica is similar to that of neighboring countries like Nicaragua and Panama. Rice and beans are served for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The national dish is called gallo pinto and is made up of none other than rice and beans. I made it for Nicaragua's breakfast (it's their national dish too), so I wanted to try something different for my Costa Rican meal. Indigenous, African, and Spanish cuisines come together to create your typical Tico cuisine. (Tico is another name for the Costa Ricans.) Coconut milk, rice and beans, and tripe soup (mondongo) are typical dishes that descended from Afro-Caribbean cuisine. Corn and tamales were a staple of the indigenous people and are still eaten frequently today. My meal from tonight is a result of Spanish influences. Read on to discover a one-pot delicious meal!

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"Olla de Carne" literally means "pot of meat", but this Tico stew is so much more than that. A billion different native vegetables and fruits are chopped up and thrown into a pot, simmered down with beef, and typically served over rice. It's the perfect weekend meal.


Olla de Carne
1 pound sirloin steak, cut into bite-sized pieces
6 cups beef broth
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 bay leaves
½ tbsp dried oregano
½ tbsp dried cilantro
2 bay leaves
1 yucca root, peeled and cut into bite-sized pieces
4 corn on the cobs, cut into thirds
2 carrots, peeled and cut into bite-sizes pieces
1 chayote, cut into bite-sized pieces
2 green plantains, peeled and sliced
2 large potatoes, peeled and cut into bite-sized pieces
1 large or 4 small taro roots, peeled and cut into bite-sized pieces

Pour the broth into a large pot and bring it to a simmer with the beef, garlic, onions, oregano, bay leaves, and cilantro. Cook covered for 2 hours. Add in the yucca and corn. Bring the soup to a rapid boil for 5 minutes, reduce back to a simmer, and add the remaining ingredients. Continue to cook for another 30 minutes. Serve on top of rice.

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I think the vast number and variety of produce that makes up Costa Rican Olla de Carne represents the diversity of the nation. I had a lot of fun cooking with vegetables and fruits that I have not had a lot of experience with before. Yucca, taro root, chayote, plantains.... These more foreign ingredients blended well with the familiar corn, potatoes, and carrots to make a delicious stew.

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