January is a month of bitterly cold days, end of year blues and little in the way of harvest. That’s why I am in Costa Rica! Here the foliage is lush and the fruit is literally falling to ground, begging to be eaten. Even the wooden fence posts are resurrected in time, sprouting new leaves and new life.
Costa Rica is volcanic and if the soil was as fertile back home in Blighty as it is here, we would be in serious business when it comes to growing our own food. Unfortunately it’s not though and neither is the year round tropical climate which means that we just have to work that little bit harder to make stuff grow. In the long run, I suspect this brings with it far more satisfaction, a greater sense of achievement and, of course, encourages precious moments of contemplation within the safety of the plot holders most sacred of spaces, the shed. Armed with only a thermos of tepid tea and several layers of restrictive clothing, popular shed dwelling winter pastimes tend to be slow paced, including pottering, pondering and planning the year ahead. In my mind it is equally as important to create this little haven of calm as it is to grow quality produce and after a brief, curtain twitching stroll around the neighbouring plots, I believe I am not alone in these sentiments.
With preserving, drying and proper storage it is still possible to be feasting on your own home grown delights during this less than fruitful season. Despite the hooligan South London squirrels managing to break in through the eves, helping themselves to my carefully wrapped apples in the loft, I still have a windowsill lined with ripening pumpkins, a cupboard full of jams, a freezer crammed with berries and a glut of dried Mexican black beans.
As I am staying on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica (not that I want to keep harping on about it!), I thought this a good opportunity to hunt out the best recipe for the traditional dish of rice and beans. On several local recommendations, this led me to the self taught chef, Walter Enriques Pineda Bombata at Le Fe Restaurant in the small village of Cahuita.
As Walter gave me catering measurements, starting with 4 kilos of rice then eventually giving up on measurements altogether, I have done my best to scale this down to smaller portions. He also uses fresh coconuts for the milk, which are not so easy to come by on my local high street so, depending on the size of the coconut, I am guessing that the milk of one coconut will equate to one tin. There is no exact science to cooking (unless you are Heston Blumenthal!) and it really is a matter of taste. I busked it back in my cabina with these quantities and it tasted delicious. The next day it tasted even better with the addition of freshly caught and barbecued red snapper.
So here it is, Walter’s winning recipe for rice and beans:
25g dried black beans or kidney beans (or one tin of cooked beans)
2 ripe coconuts (2 tins of coconut milk or 1 if using precooked beans)
2 medium onions
2 sweet red peppers
5 sticks of celery
Large bunch of fresh coriander
1 small Panamanian bell pepper
2 cloves (optional)
Tablespoon of butter
For the Bomba Spice Mix:
1 Tablespoon of Bouillon powder
¼ Teaspoon of black pepper
2 Teaspoons paprika
½ Teaspoon curry powder
½ Teaspoon sugar
1. Cook the beans using one tin of the coconut milk in a pressure cooker until almost cooked. Alternatively, soak over night then cook in a pan with the coconut milk.
2. Finely chop the onion, sweet pepper, celery and coriander and lightly fry in a pan with the coconut oil, reserving a third of the coriander to mix in towards the end.
3. In a large heavy bottomed pan, heat the second tin of coconut and add the rice, beans, chopped vegetables, thyme and a whole Panamanian bell pepper. When the bell pepper pops, remove it from the pan before the seeds disperse and add the Bomba spice mix and cloves.
4. Turn the heat down and simmer gently, being careful not to let the pan burn dry. Add a little more coconut milk or water if necessary but do not stir the rice otherwise you may end up with a starchy mess.
5. Finally, when everything is cooked through add the butter, the remaining coriander and give the whole thing a good mix.
Serve with fried ripe plantain and salad.
Mrs Bun & Mr Bombata