How to make Gallo Pinto, Nicaragua’s Breakfast of Champions

Nicaragua’s “breakfast of champions” is Gallo Pinto – a protein-packed mix of fried rice and beans. buildOn’s National Communications Director, Carrie Pena, and her friend, Jaime Neujahr, learned how to make the national dish while building a school on a buildOn Ambassador Trek in Sardinia, Nicaragua in 2010, and they continue to make it today.

Neujahr’s host mother, Doña Maria, would make Gallo Pinto(which translates to “spotted rooster” in English) every day. “I thought the Gallo Pinto was amazing, better than any type of beans and rice dish at home. It certainly fueled us for our manual labor tasks of breaking ground for building a school,” she said. “I was craving Gallo Pinto once we moved out of the village.

The secret to making this dish delicious is making sure the beans are not over or under-cooked, and adding a sufficient amount of seasoning. Villagers in Nicaragua typically use day-old beans and rice.

Here’s Carrie Pena’s recipe:

Ingredients for the beans

1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

4-6 oz. ham steak or pancetta, cubed

1 large yellow onion, chopped

16 oz. bag dried red kidney beans

½ cup white wine or beer (optional, & whatever your preference)

2 chicken bullion cubes (optional)

2 bay leaves

½ tsp. salt (or more to taste)

½ tsp. black pepper (or more to taste)

garlic powder (to taste)


Ingredients for tomato, cucumber and avocado salad:

1 to 2 cucumbers (I prefer English cucumbers), peeled and chopped

2 to 3 tomatoes, chopped

1 ripe avocado, peeled and chopped

1 lime

salt and pepper to taste

In a large pot, heat the olive oil over medium-high temperature. Add chopped ham or pancetta to oil, and brown on all sides for a few minutes. Remove ham to a bowl and add chopped onions to the remaining oil (you may need to add a little extra if you use a lean ham steak instead of pancetta; conversely, you may need to remove some oil if there is too much). Cook onions until they turn translucent, about 5 to 7 minutes. Add ½ cup of beer or wine, making sure to deglaze any brown bits left on the bottom of the pan. Let the onions continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until most of the alcohol evaporates (another 3 minutes or so). Add pre-soaked and cleaned beans to the pot, and stir to mix together. Add water to the beans, just enough to cover them. Drop in 2 bay leaves, salt, pepper, and garlic to taste. Add 1 or 2 bullion cubes for flavor, if desired (may want to adjust salt if you use cubes, so the beans aren’t too salty). Stir, and cover partially. Bring to a low boil, and reduce heat to simmer. Let the beans simmer for roughly an hour and a half, stirring occasionally and adding more water as necessary (the beans should stay just barely covered for most of the cooking process). About half way through cooking, add ham back to the pot and stir. Taste to get beans to your desired consistency, cooking until some begin to break down and the sauce becomes thicker. Serve over cooked white rice with tomato, cucumber and avocado salad.

For the salad, peel 1 or 2 cucumbers and chop them. Chop tomatoes and add to cucumbers. Slice avocado in half, and remove pit. Remove avocado with spoon, and chop. Squeeze the juice from 1 lime (or more to taste) over mixture, and add salt and pepper to taste. Serve with or on top of beans and rice.

Buen provecho! (Enjoy!)