Saturday, August 28, 2010

Salsa Lizano (Costa Rican Dreaming On A Summer's Day)

      For lunch today, we ate various dishes we brought back from Avalon – remnants of meals we weren’t able to finish at several excellent shore restaurants this week.  Café Loren in Avalon, White Heron Grill in Stone Harbor and Axelsson’s Blue Claw in Cape May – all of these are wonderful, welcoming and highly recommended places to dine. 
           The crab cakes, crab imperial and various grilled vegetables were all superb, but as one tends to do on occ  asions like this, I wanted to spice them up and vary them a little for their “encore presentation”, so  I found myself reaching for the bottle of Salsa Lizano sitting on the table in front of me.   Although I had kept  a bottle of this Costa Rican condiment  in my cabinet for quite a while (I purchased it out of curiosity because of its Costa Rican origin during an exotic food store forage somewhere during my journeys), it took me some time to try it and I was delighted when I did.  Not only does Salsa Lizano bring various flavors to life and enhance others pleasantly without in the slightest masking them, it is also an entirely vegetarian (vegan, actually) product, which truly enhances its appeal.  Like nuoc mam, the ubiquitous Asian fish sauce, Salsa Lizano is one of those mystery ingredients that make everything livelier and better if you just add a little to your cooking.

      Wikipedia says the following about “Salsa Lizano”:
      “It is a Costa Rican condiment developed in 1920 by the Lizano Company.  It is now a product of Knorr.  It is a thin, smooth, light brown sauce (akin to such condiments as HP Sauce).  It is meant to be used while cooking or – popularly – at tableside to flavor ones food when serving.  It is slightly sweet with a hint of spiciness lent by black pepper and cumin.
      The ingredients include water, salt, vegetables (onions, carrots, cauliflower, cucumbers), spices, pepper, mustard and turmeric.

      Many Costa Rican dishes are prepared with Salsa Lizano, and it is ubiquitous on restaurant tables in its country of origin.  It is commonly used with gallo pinto and tamales, and is also considered particularly complementary with eggs, rice, beans, cheese, curries and as a marinade for meat.
      Salsa Lizano is increasing available commercially throughout the North American continent, including the United States.”


      We are hoping to visit Costa Rica later this year.  (Mexico has become too crazy, unfortunately.)  I will report back about the Salsa Lizano situation in situ.
      I found the following very enthusiastic and appealing recipe for the most tipico Costa Rican dish, Gallo Pinto on another blogger's website.  I haven't tried it yet, but it looks good and should certainly be a good starting point for an interested cook.  When I'm reunited with my Elisabeth Lambert Ortiz books, I'll see what she suggests: 

Gallo Pinto – Costa Rican Rice and Beans

      This is it folks! The definitive version of Gallo Pinto. It took a long time to get here and I have a lot of people to thank, Dan for eating Gallo Pinto all the time, the Ticos for endlessly varying their national dish so that I could try 1000 different recipes, Dinger and Willow for eating the leftovers when we couldn’t face another day of rice and beans
          Gallo Pinto is a terrific recipe to perfect, it works best with leftover rice and/or beans, you can increase the amount to feed 20 without really doing anything different, it is a very hearty breakfast, it is probably the cheapest thing you could ever make, you can make a version with stuff that you have right now in your pantry, and it tastes like Costa Rica! It does take a little planning if you don’t have beans on hand. What works great is to make a big batch of beans & rice for dinner (maybe bean burgers, black bean soup, or burritos) and then when you get out of bed the next day you are 15 minutes from having breakfast on the table. I will write out the recipe assuming that you are just making the rice and beans so that you have them so you can make Gallo Pinto for breakfast for four people.


1 cup rice, (any will work, I use basmati)
1 tsp Vegeta Gourmet Seasoning and Spice Mix (Sazon) or half of a vegetable broth cube
1 cup black beans
2 bay leaves
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp coriander seeds
2 dried ancho chilie peppers, seeds removed (any other pepper can be subbed, some will be more spicy, anchos aren’t spicy, you can also use jalapeños or bell peppers just add them when you add the garlic instead)
1 Tbsp oil
1 large onion, chopped
6 cloves or garlic, chopped
1/3 cup cilantro, chopped and packed
1 lime
The Beans:

Soak the beans for at least 8 hours. If you live somewhere that is really hot (e.g. Texas in the summer) you should do this in the fridge.
When the beans are done soaking change the water (add about 7 cups), add a couple bay leaves, and bring to a simmer for around 90 minutes. You will need to check the doneness of the beans at around 1 hour because the timing will vary depending on how dry your beans are. You can also do this step in the crock pot. Whatever you do, make sure that you save some of the cooking water with the beans because you will need it later.
The Rice:
Dissolve the broth cube or 1 teaspoon of Vegeta in 2 cups of water. Add 1 cup of rice, bring to a simmer, and then reduce heat to almost off for 35-60 minutes depending on what kind of rice you are using. It works best to refrigerate the rice overnight because then it drys better.
Gallo Pinto:

Toast the cumin, coriander, and dried peppers until fragrant and then grind in either a spice grinder or mortar and pestle. (Conversely, if you are short on time or don’t have the seeds you could also toast the powders and when you put in the garlic). Add enough oil to cover the bottom of the skillet and place it over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the onion. Sauté for 5 minutes, until the onions start to turn translucent. Add the garlic and the spice mixture and sauté another minute. Add a little more oil if you can’t see any and turn the heat up. Add the rice and stir fry for about a minute breaking up any chunks but don’t smoosh the rice. Once all the rice has changed color add the beans starting with just one cup until you have a pleasing ratio of rice to beans. Also add some of the bean cooking water with the beans. Gently mix and once everything is heated through adjust the spices, add the cilantro, and turn off the heat. To make the mold, press the Gallo Pinto into a small bowl, invert a plate on it, and then flip both over and lift up the bowl. Serve with the lime, salsa, tofu scramble, and fried plantains.


  1. I couldn't agree with you more, Salsa Lizano makes everything taste better. I normally buy online at , they tend to have the best price. I love Costa Rica and everything about it. Unfortunately, I've never been, although I'm hoping to go within the next couple of years. Love the blog!

  2. Thank you very much for writing. I also remain amazed at the quality, flavor, versatility and subtlety of Salsa Lizano and really appreciate receiving the link. We had hoped to visit Costa Rica over Thanksgiving. All sorts of complications came up, unfortunately, which made us postpone our trip, but we definitely plan to travel there before too long. Thank you for your kind words about the blog. I enjoy putting it together and it's extremely nice of you to say that you like it. Curtis