Nicaraguan Beans and Rice

Gallo Pinto

As Jenny Sanchez, from Leon, Nicaragua, taught Lindsay Sterling in Freeport, Maine. Photo by Lindsay Sterling.

Note: "Gallo" means "rooster" in Spanish; "pinto" means "spotted." The rice and beans cooked this way look mottled like a rooster's feathers.
Cooking Time: 45 minutes
Makes: 4-6 servings


  • 1 can pinto beans, strained and rinsed
  • 1 cup medium or long grain white rice (preferably not parboiled)
  • 1/4 green pepper, medium dice
  • 1/4 red pepper, medium dice
  • ½ small yellow onion, medium dice
  • 1/4 tsp + 1/8 tsp salt
  • about 16 cilantro leaves
  • 4 ripe bananas or plantains (yellow with black spots)
  • 8 oz. sour cream
  • 8 oz. salsa
  • 1/2 small cabbage
  • 2 tomatoes, large dice
  • 1 1/3 limes
  • 1/4 cup cheddar cheese, cut in ½ inch cubes (Jenny couldn’t find the Nicaraguan cheese in the States and found that cheddar tastes great here)


1. In a small pot with a lid, bring 1 cup rice and 2 cups water to a boil. Turn heat to low, cover, and let cook for 20 minutes.

2. While the rice is cooking, in ¼ cup olive oil in large sauté pan, saute yellow onion, red and green peppers until soft. Mix in beans and let cook for 5 minutes on medium high so beans are sizzling in the oil and beginning to brown. Turn over sections of the beans gently with spatula to brown the other sides of the beans. Once beans are slightly browned, scoot the beans into a ring around the outer edge of the pan so the center of the pan is empty.

3. Pile the cooked rice into the center of the pan. Sprinkle 1/4 tsp salt onto the beans around the rice. Mix the beans and rice together so that the beans are evenly distributed in the rice. Add cilantro leaves, cover and turn off heat.

4. Peel bananas or plantains and slice each lengthwise, then across so that you have 2.5-inch long segments. In 1 Tbsp olive oil in a large sautee pan (preferably nonstick) on medium-low heat, saute bananas or plantains in a single layer until golden brown. (If not using non-stick pan you may use more oil). You may use two pans at once or fry the plantains batches. Because the fruit is so sweet, the natural sugars can burn easily, so keep an eye on your heat and if they’re getting too dark too fast, turn the heat down. Flip each piece so both sides become golden brown.

5. While the bananas are cooking, shave the cabbage on a large cutting board into lacy thin shavings with a paring knife. Cut limes in half and squeeze lime juice directly onto the cabbage. Sprinkle cabbage with ¼ tsp salt. Toss the cabbage so that the lime and salt are evenly distributed.  Sprinkle the diced tomato on top of the cabbage.

6. Get ready to assemble each person’s plate by putting all the components of the dish next to your stack of serving plates: the rice and beans, sour cream, salsa, fried plantains, and cabbage salad.

7. Now fill a cup-sized small bowl or measuring cup with rice and beans and press down as if packing sand into a mold for a sand castle. Flip over the cup of packed rice and beans onto the center of the first plate, releasing an unusually orderly mound of rice and beans. Now make an “X” out of two banana or plantain segments on one side of the beans and repeat with two more segments on the other side. Decorate the empty parts of the plate surrounding the beans and plantains with a generous dollop of sour cream, a couple spoonfuls of salsa, and the cabbage salad. Sprinkle cubes of cheese on top of the rice and beans. Continue assembling the rest of the plates. Enjoy this fine meal!