This is another one of our favorite and easy Costarrican recipes.  There are different types of pumpkin that grow here, it is usually known as ayote or ayote sazon.  Pumpkin is a very resilient crop, it pretty much grows on its own without very little cares, and because it is a vine, it tends to get huge and abundant.  When harvest time comes, there are really plenty of pumpkins to collect.  If you don’t know what to do with your ayotes, here’s an idea.


3 cups of bread

1 cup of pumpkin puree, without the skin (cooked in water and then drained, or in the oven)

3 eggs

3/4 cup of raw sugar or grated “tapa dulce”

1 cup of coconut milk or regular milk

½ cup orange juice

¼ cup of olive or coconut oil, or ½ stick of melted butter

1 pinch of salt

1 tablespoon vanilla

ground cinnamon


Preheat the oven at 350 º F. Soak the bread in milk or coconut milk, and then mix with the pumpkin puree. Add the remaining ingredients, mix well and pour on a greased mould. Bake until the surface is lightly brown, no longer than 1 hour. Stick a clean knife in it to see if it is done. Let it cool off, then cut. Refrigerate when it is cool enough.



Chicasquil (Cnidoscolus aconitifolius), in other countries also known as chaya or tree spinach, is a large, fast-growing leafy perennial shrub that is believed to have originated in the Yucatan Peninsula. It is associated since pre-Columbian times to the Maya culture. Its succulent stems exude a milky sap when cut. It can grow to be 6 meters tall, but is usually pruned to about 2 meters high for easier leaf harvest. It is a popular leaf in Mexican and Central American cuisines, similar to spinach.
This plant is found from northern Mexico to Guatemala, reaching South to Costa Rica and even Peru. It is easy to grow because it needs no special care, and is found in almost every garden of traditional Costarrican families, usually planted as a natural fence between houses.
Chicasquil is valued for its high iron content, higher than spinach even. It is also a good source of protein, vitamin A, calcium and antioxidants. It has even been found that chicasquil leaves have a possible antidiabetic effect.
The leaves should be boiled before being eaten, as the raw leaves contain a high content of toxic hydrocyanic acid. One minute in boiling water destroys the acid in the leaves. Cooking is essential prior to consumption, to inactivate the toxic components. This is the same case as cassava or yuca, which also contains toxic hydrocyanic glycosides and must be cooked before being eaten.
Cooking for 20 minutes or more will render the leaves soft, and of course safe to eat. You can have them plain with oil or butter, similar to spinach preparations, or integrate them in more elaborate dishes. The stock or liquid the leaves are cooked in can also safely be consumed, but be careful not to use aluminum cookware, because this can result in a toxic broth.
In Costa Rica, chicasquil is traditionally used in “picadillos” (chop up), stews, tamales, enyucados and other dishes. Its name comes from two words in nahuatl: tzicatl, which means ant, and quilitl, which means young greens. This is due to the fact that we preferably use the youngest and most tender leaves of the plant.
Although it has many preparations in Costa Rica, one of the most common chicasquil dishes is from the Central Valley, called “picadillo de chicasquil”, which is the recipe we are presenting today. It is also known as Saint Michael’s picadillo, because old ladies used to prepare it to celebrate Archangel Saint Michael. It is also prepared for important social events, such as weddings, christenings, wakes, and in honor of different catholic saints.
This recipe is ideal to serve as “gallos” on top of a fresh corn tortilla, or with white rice. You can make it with meat or vegetarian.picadillochilasquil_3

4 cups of young tender chicasquil leaves
½ cup of finely chopped celery
½ kg of potatoes cut up into dice
1 finely chopped garlic clove
½ kg of ground meat (beef, pork or chicken)
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons oil
1 teaspoon achiote
½ cup of finely chopped onion
½ cup finely chopped bell peppers
1 cup of water
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Remove the stems from the leaves.
2. Cook the leaves in boiling water for 10 minutes.
3. Chill the leaves in cold water, drain and finely chop them.
4. Prepare a “sofrito” with oil, onion, bell peppers, celery and garlic.
5. Add the meat to the sofrito and cook in moderate heat.
6. Add the potatoes, salt, achiote, pepper and water.
7. Cover and cook the picadillo over medium heat until the potatoes are done.
8. Add the chicasquil leaves and mix.
9. Adjust salt and pepper to taste.


Costarrican Delicacies: Picadillo de Arracache

“Arracache” (Arracacia xanthorrhiza) is a root vegetable originally from the Andes, one could say it’s something between the carrot and celery. The name arracacha was borrowed from Quechua “raqacha”, and is very popular in the Andean region (Peru, Venezuela, Ecuador, Brazil). Depending on the country, the plant is also called apio criollo, virraca, mandioquinha and batata-baroa In Costa Rica we know it as arracache.

The vegetable has a starchy taproot, which is its most important part. It resembles fat short carrots, with lustrous off-white skin. The interior may be white, yellow, or purple. In Costa Rica we usually see just the white kind. This root cannot be eaten raw, but when cooked, it develops special flavor, texture and aroma. The leaves are similar to parsley, and vary from dark green to purple. The young stems can be eaten cooked or in salads, and the leaves can be fed to livestock.  The plant is rich in calcium, four times as much as potatoes.

We share with you a classic Costarrican dish from the Central Valley. The recipe is “picadillo de arracache”. It is usually served with fresh soft corn tortillas for “gallos”, along with an assortment of other things you can put on your tortilla. It is also served as part of a “casado”, which is a classic Costarrican meal.

picadillo de arracache

1 ½ kgs of raw arracache
1 kg of ground beef (or ½ kg ground beef and ½ kg ground pork or chorizo)
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 bell pepper, finely chopped
1 cilantro roll, well chopped
Pinch of achiote
1 cup of chicken or beef stalk
3 large tomatoes, peeled and cut into cubes
2 tbsp sunflower, coconut or olive oil
Salt and pepper to your own taste

Wash the arracache and put it in a large bowl with water to peel it. You must leave it under water in the process. Once peeled, chop it into small pieces and then grind it in the corn mill, or with a food processor. Wash it well and then soak it in boiling water twice. Then let it drain. This is the first step to prepare arracache. In this stage, you may pack it in zip locks or vacuum sealed in the fridge for 2-3 weeks.
Put the oil in a pot and heat it, add the garlic, bell pepper, onion, cilantro and achiote, and sautee briefly. Add the tomatoes and the meat. Cook until you get a good sauce. Add salt and pepper and the stalk. Add the arracache and cook with a middle flame, until the picadillo feels soft. Make sure you cook until it until it is as dry as possible.

Costarrican Tamales


As Christmas approaches, many of our Costarrican friends are getting together with their families to prepare the traditional tamales, a dish popular in almost every Latin American country, sometimes adopting a local name.  Every country has a different recipe, and every family within a country has their own version of that recipe.  In Costa Rica it is customary to make tamales with several members of the family, as its preparation needs the help of many hands.  It is also a way to socialize and celebrate the Christmas spirit.  After tamales are ready, it is also traditional to exchange them between families, as a sort of reciprocity practice.  So when you visit friends in December, it is most likely that you will be invited to a tamales and coffee.  Someone gave us this recipe and we would like to share it with you:

• 2 ¼ lbs banana leaves
• 3 lbs pork, chicken or beef roast
• 5 cups cooked rice
• 2 ¼ lbs potatoes
• 2 lbs corn flour
• 1 teaspoon ground cumin
• 1 teaspoon ground achiote
• 1 bag of raisins or dried plumbs
• Salt
• Olive oil
• Garlic
• Pepper
• Onion
1. Chop the meat into medium chucks and brown. Season with garlic, peppers, onion, salt, cumin and black pepper. Cover with water and simmer for 2-3 hours. Then separate the meat from the broth and shred it. Set the broth aside.
2. Cook the rice. Boil the potatoes until soft and cut into cubes.
3. Add 1 tablespoon salt, 1 teaspoon ground cumin and 1 teaspoon ground achiote to the dry corn flour and mix. Add vegetable oil and broth. Mix with hands to make a dough. This is called the “masa”.
4. Cut off the middle vein from leaves, briefly pass the remaining leaves over a flame to slightly smoke them. With your hands, cut the banana leaves into squares. Spread 3-4 tablespoons of masa in the center and fill with potatoes, rice, meat, 2-3 raisins, and any other extra ingredients that you choose.  For example you may add 1-2 olives, 4-5 capers, 1 prune, a tomato slice, black bean puree, to make a nice compliment.
5. Fold the banana leaves and tie with a natural fiber string called “pabilo” or with a cotton string.  Then tie the tamales in pairs into “piñas”, leaving the foldings of the leaves on the inside of the “piñas”.
6. Cook the tamales in gently boiling water for one hour.