Gallopinto (Nicaraguan Rice and Beans) Recipe

Recipes differ from household to household, but this is how my mother makes it.

Top down view of gallopinto, served alongside two tortillas.

Serious Eats / Kristin Teig

Why It Works

  • The rice is cooked a day ahead of time so that the grains will be separated and distinct.
  • Gallopinto can be cooked soft, crisp, or extra-crisp, depending on preference.

Rice and beans are served at every single meal in Nicaragua. It's either rice and beans, or riceandbeans, otherwise known as gallopinto ("red rooster," though friends and I used to call it "painted rooster" due to odd translations and plain old foolishness). The name alludes to the color of the mixture of white rice and small red kidney beans, which mirrors that of the king of the coop.

At lunch and dinner, white rice is served pilaf style: Rice is sautéed in vegetable oil along with finely chopped onions (some choose to use larger pieces so they can flavor the rice but be picked out at the end), then simmered in water or chicken broth, covered, and cooked until fluffy. Normally, a large piece of green bell pepper is thrown in, then removed prior to serving. Nicas love all things fried, so you may notice rice having a bit of a sheen to it.

Small red kidney beans, often sold as "Central American beans" in the US by brands such as Goya, are a staple item of our table and culture. The recipe accompanying this article is my mother's, and is by no means a definitive how-to on cooking beans, but it's the only way I've ever done it and have no cause for complaint. Beans are picked through to ensure there is no debris; a practice that could be dispensed with in this country, but back home it can take up a good piece of the afternoon. I remember large burlap sacks being torn open, tiny maroon beans spilling out onto a large table, the sound like a sheet of rain hitting parched grass. Then, necks arched forward, brows furrowed, and eyes squinting, the housekeeper's fingers would quickly and methodically rake across the beans, separating and scattering them, now and then decisively picking out small bits of grey rock.

After the selection process, the beans are thoroughly rinsed, then soaked, then simmered, then allowed to rest in the pot until tender. My mother adds seven peeled garlic cloves in the last few minutes of cooking. Seven, no explanation.

When served straight out of the pot in their liquid, the beans are referred to as frijoles en bala, or "beans bullet-style," perhaps because of their shape. Alongside rice, the liquid is neatly soaked up.

Gallopinto, the rice-and-beans combination, is known by many names across Latin America, some charming like casamiento (wedding) others rather dated and decidedly politically incorrect like moros y cristianos (Moors and Christians). The premise is the same, but the execution slightly different depending on which country is serving it, and of course, there are personal touches added in each household.

The basic method of making gallopinto is to briefly sauté chopped onions and garlic, then add rice—preferably day old to avoid a mushy mixture, as the rice and beans should be distinguishable from each other—and beans. At my house, the ratio of beans to rice was 50-50, but this can be adjusted to taste. And, speaking of taste, oftentimes we'd have three different versions of gallopinto at the table: one of my siblings liked it soft, another fried just so the rice grains started to crisp, and I liked it the way it's made at my grandmother's house, extra-crispy.

Although vegetable oil is common for frying gallopinto, lard is quite traditional and takes the already satisfying, tastes-just-like home dish to another level. If available, bits of leftover pork or shredded beef are welcome additions.

Serve gallopinto with scrambled or fried eggs, a side of corn tortillas, and queso fresco.

May 2012

This recipe originally called for cooking 1 pound of dried beans and using 2 cups of those cooked beans. To reduce the amount of leftover beans, this recipe was adjusted to reduce the amount of dried beans to a 1/2 pound, which yields about 3 cups cooked beans.

Recipe Facts

4.8

(4)

Prep: 35 mins
Cook: 2 hrs 30 mins
Active: 45 mins
Chilling Time: 24 hrs
Total: 27 hrs 5 mins
Serves: 8 servings

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Ingredients

For the Rice:

  • 1/4 cup (60ml) vegetable oil, divided

  • 1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped (about 1 cup; 200g), divided

  • 1 1/2 cups (10 ounces; 300g) long-grain white rice

  • 3 cups (710ml) water or homemade or store-bought chicken stock

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons (5g) Diamond Crystal kosher salt; for table salt, use half as much by volume or the same weight

  • 1/2 green bell pepper (3 ounces; 85g), cored and seeded

For the Beans:

  • 1/2 pound (225g) dried small red or black beans (see note)

  • 1 teaspoon (3g) Diamond Crystal kosher salt; for table salt, use half as much by volume or the same weight

  • 4 medium garlic cloves (20g), peeled

Directions

  1. For the Rice: In a large heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat 2 tablespoons oil over medium heat until shimmering. Add two-thirds of onion and cook, stirring, until softened and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add rice and cook, stirring, until grains are shiny and evenly coated with oil, 2 to 3 minutes. Add water or stock and salt, increase heat to high, and bring to a boil. Place bell pepper on top of rice.

  2. Boil rice without stirring until most of the liquid has evaporated and you can see small bubbles bursting on the surface of the rice. Immediately reduce the heat to the lowest setting, cover, and cook for 15 minutes. Remove and discard bell pepper. Fluff rice with chopsticks or fork, then let cool. Transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate for 24 hours.

  3. For the Beans: Spread beans out in a rimmed baking sheet. Pick out any debris and broken beans. Transfer beans to colander and rinse under cold running water. Place rinsed beans in a large pot and cover with cold water; water should cover beans about 3 inches. Let soak for 30 minutes.

  4. Bring beans to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to maintain a simmer and cook beans for 30 minutes. Turn off heat, cover beans, and let rest 1 hour. Bring beans back up to boil over high heat. Add salt and garlic, reduce heat to maintain a simmer, and cook until beans are tender, 30 to 60 minutes. Drain beans. You should have about 3 cups of cooked beans; measure out 2 cups of beans and reserve the rest for another use. 

  5. For the Gallopinto: In large saucepan, heat remaining 2 tablespoons oil over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add remaining onion and cook, stirring, until softened and translucent, about 5 minutes.

  6. Add rice and beans, and cook, stirring, until rice is evenly coated. Continue to cook, stirring, to allow flavors to meld and gallopinto to become slightly crisp, about 10 minutes. Serve immediately. If desired, cover and cook over low heat for 10 minutes (see note).

Notes

Goya sells "Central American Beans," which are the small red kidney beans that are standard issue in Nicaragua. If you can't find them, use small black beans.

Gallopinto is served either soft or crisp—cook according to preference.

Nutrition Facts (per serving)
194 Calories
7g Fat
26g Carbs
7g Protein
Show Full Nutrition Label Hide Full Nutrition Label
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 8
Amount per serving
Calories 194
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 7g 9%
Saturated Fat 1g 3%
Cholesterol 0mg 0%
Sodium 394mg 17%
Total Carbohydrate 26g 9%
Dietary Fiber 5g 17%
Total Sugars 2g
Protein 7g
Vitamin C 12mg 58%
Calcium 46mg 4%
Iron 2mg 10%
Potassium 477mg 10%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)