Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Recipes from Costa Rica

I just have one thing to say about this week's meal: coconut fudge.

I guess I have to write a whole post too, though. Dang.

Yes, coconut fudge is heavenly. And when I say heavenly, I mean that this is the stuff Saint Peter hands out to all new arrivals at the Pearly Gates. It is also the stuff that the devil dangles in the faces of all his new recruits while taunting "Nah-nah-nah, you can't have some!"

So I'm sure you're dying to know about the coconut fudge. First, though, I have to tell you about Costa Rica.

Costa Rica has many things going for it, besides just the coconut fudge. Though seriously, the coconut fudge really should be enough. Anyway, besides being quite high on the Gobsmackingly Delicious Desserts Index, Costa Rica is the only Latin American country included on the list of 22 countries that have been "steadily democratic" since the 1950s. On the Human Development Index, it ranks 69th in the world—and this despite the fact that it is still a developing country with a poverty rate of about 23%. It is also fifth in the world (and first in the Americas) on the 2012 Environmental Performance Index—with aspirations towards becoming the world's first carbon-neutral country by 2021. And it doesn't have a military. Can you believe that? After a bloody civil war in the 1940s, the Costa Rican government decided to just abolish that entire institution.

Oh yeah and then there's the coffee, which is one of Costa Rica's principle sources of income. So Costa Rica is probably at least partially responsible for the fact that I can actually get out of bed in the mornings.

Finally, Costa Rica is home to the world's largest oxcart. The trivia just keeps getting better and better.

As far as the food goes, Costa Rican cuisine is similar to what you find in other Latin American nations. It is not typically particularly spicy, but it does have a lot of flavor.

I didn't have too much trouble finding a main course and a side, and here they are:

Escabeche de Pollo (Chicken Escabeche)

  • 12 chicken drumsticks
  • 2 large onions, sliced
  • 1 cup olive oil
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 1/2 cup pitted olives
  • 1/2 cup capers
  • 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • Salt and pepper to taste
And on the side:

Gallo Pinto

  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 cup cooked rice
  • 1 cup canned black beans
  • 1 tbps vegetable oil
  • 1/3 cup cilantro, chopped
  • 4 tbsp Salsa Lizano
  • A dash of black pepper
And finally, the coconut fudge. Cue the heavenly bells and sounds of singing angels:

Cajeta De Coco
This recipe came from, from a poster who obtained it while visiting Costa Rica.

  • 2 cups sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 cup fresh coconut, shredded
  • 1 cup butter or 1 cup margarine
  • 1/2 cup graham cracker crumbs
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
OK, let's start with the chicken.

This recipe is weird. It's really more like a drumstick salad, only without the lettuce. And other salad ingredients. It's drumsticks with salad dressing.

Anyway, it's easy to make. Here's how:

Heat half of the oil in a large skillet. Fry the drumsticks in the oil over a medium high heat until they are golden brown on both sides. Drain on paper towels.

Using this grill pan was really not the best idea.

Now put the drumsticks in a glass bowl and top with the sliced onions, bay leaves, olives and capers.

In a smaller bowl, mix the vinegar with the water and the rest of the olive oil. Toss with the drumsticks. Cover and let rest for 30 minutes.

At this point you can reheat the drumsticks or just serve them cold.

That's it! Now on to the gallo pinto. "Gallo pinto," by the way, means "painted rooster." The name comes from the appearance of this dish, which is speckled like (evidently) a colorful rooster. Gallo pinto is the national dish of Costa Rica.

Heat the vegetable oil over a medium flame and cook the bell pepper and onions until soft. In the last couple of minutes, add the garlic and cilantro.

Add the beans and Salsa Lizano to the pot with the black pepper. Then stir in the rice. Done!

And finally, the coconut fudge.

The ingredients of pure bliss.

Put all the ingredients in a pot over medium-low heat. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly.

Keep boiling for about five minutes, but don't stop stirring. Remove from the heat and let cool.

Now at this point, I figured I would just pour mine into a pan like I do when I'm making chocolate fudge, because I didn't have any of those little candy papers like the original recipe called for. Well, sadly this didn't really work. Coconut fudge doesn't solidify the way chocolate fudge does. So when I served mine, it was really just like a little scoop of pudding rather than something you could eat with your fingers. I can see now why the little papers would have been better.

I did chill my leftovers and that made them easier to cut up and eat, but they were still a lot softer than traditional fudge.

Here's the verdict:

My kids love drumsticks, so all 12 of the ones I made vanished pretty quickly. But the onion/caper/olive topping seemed a bit wasted. It added a little flavor to the drumsticks but even the vinegar didn't really penetrate them in a significant way. It was really just like eating unbreaded drumsticks that had been fried in hot oil, which, you know, is exactly what we were doing. I think maybe this recipe would have worked better if I'd put the drumsticks in the fridge and let them soak in the dressing for a couple of hours instead of just 30 minutes.

I really liked the gallo pinto. It was very flavorful and the Salsa Lizano gave it a sweet flavor. It made for pretty tasty leftovers, too. I would definitely make this again as something a little different to go with pretty much any Latin American main course.

And now, the coconut fudge. You know, I don't typically like coconut in desserts. I like it in savory dishes. But this, whoever invented this is a culinary genius. The coconut gave the fudge a great texture and a subtle coconut flavor. The graham cracker crumbs gave it a little more body than it would otherwise have had (which wasn't much really). And the rest of the ingredients combined just made it incredibly rich, decadent and unusual.

I know I'm gushing. I hope that readers who actually make this enjoy it as much as I did. I hope I'm not setting expectations way too high, because I realize that this newfound love of mine could very well just be a serendipitous connection between my personal tastebuds and this particular dessert. I will say, though, that I wasn't the only one in my family who loved this. When I wondered out loud which holiday I could make this recipe a traditional part of, Martin said "EVERY holiday."

So yeah, it was good. And now on to the turkey, homemade cranberry sauce and apple pie (I don't eat pumpkin pie, which I know makes me a freak of nature). Happy Thanksgiving everyone! See you next week.

For printable versions of this week's recipes:


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