Thursday, September 9, 2010



The second day I was back in this part of the world, Geinier and I visited the amazing Feria (farmer’s market) in San Isidro and there he introduced me to Mauren Jimenez and Ademar Varelas who run Finca Coreotos, a small organic farm in the mountains above San Isidro. Mauren and Ademar (who have become my good friends) had turned their entire Finca over to organic and were pursuing the path of raising the best organic vegetables they could. Mauren and Ademar are responsible for 75% of what we serve at La Cusinga and I could not do what I do without them.

It was through an old acquaintance, Linn Aosjia, whose wedding I had catered some years previous, that I came in contact with Marjorie Cerdes Mora and Bolivar Cortes Gomez, the caretakers of Linn’s Diamante Organico. Linn’s vision had been to build a finca growing exclusively organics in the lush San Salvador valley east of the coast and Diamante Organico was the farm that came out of that vision. It is from Marjorie and Bolivar that I get the wide variety of amazing and exotic vegetables that make the plates at La Cusinga so interesting.

As I have matured as a chef and a human being, it has become my philosophy that a chef is only as good as his products and that when one is presented with the best possible ingredients the best thing to do is to try to get out of the way and let the natural flavors do the talking. I cook the beautiful vegetables I get from these two couples as as simply and respectfully as I can and I am grateful every day for the bounty that I receive as the fruits of their hard labor.

Many of the vegetables that we cook, and particularly the basics, such as green beans and broccoli (which we use a lot of) are prepared by a simple blanching followed by a shocking in ice water some time before we serve them. Just before they are to be served, I sauté them with whichever flavorings we have decided goes best with that evening’s flavors.


Fresh Green Beans, 5-6 per person;

Broccoli Florets, 2-3 per person;

2 Cloves Garlic, chopped fine;

8-10 Strips of Red Bell Pepper;

1 TBS Olive Oil;

Sea Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper

Blanch the green beans and broccoli (the broccoli cooks much more quickly) separately in well salted and vigorously boiling water. Using a long strainer or tongs, lift the blanched vegetables into a bowl of ice water. If the water is boiling rapidly, the beans should take 4-5 minutes and the broccoli only 2-3. Allow the beans and broccoli to cool and remove them from the water. If you are going to sauté them immediately it is not necessary to drain them well.

Heat the olive oil in a heavy sauté pan, add the garlic and red pepper strips, and cook until the garlic gives off a heady aroma, but has not changed color. Add the green beans and broccoli and toss to mix with the garlic and red pepper. The water on the vegetables should help steam them to hot and they will be ready in less than a minute. Add sea salt and a few grinds of black pepper (I happen to like these kind of peppery) and serve.


I am fortunate enough to get beautiful tender Chinese long beans from Diamante Organico and love how they look on the plate when we knot them just after blanching.

They will take half the time to blanch that normal green beans take.

Chinese Long Beans, 3-4 per person;

2 Cloves Garlic, chopped fine;

Knob of Fresh Ginger (the size of one digit of your thumb), peeled and grated fine;

1 tsp Light Cooking Oil;

1 tsp Soy Sauce;

½ tsp Sesame Oil;

Sea Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper

Blanch the long beans in well salted and vigorously boiling water. Cook for only two minutes and lift from the water and into a bowl of ice water. When the beans are cool, tie them in a classic knot (or knot them twice if they are really long) and place on a plate.

Heat the cooking oil in a heavy sauté pan and add the garlic and ginger, shaking the pan to keep the ginger from sticking. When they are giving off a heady aroma, add the beans to the pan and shake it again to coat them with the garlic and ginger. Add the soy sauce, but do not boil it. Turn off the heat and add the sesame oil, a small pinch of sea salt and a few good grinds of black pepper. Serve immediately.


Another favorite of mine and another marvel from the raised beds at Diamante Organico is greens. These are not greens like one thinks of from the American south; collards stewed forever with fatback and vinegar, though. These greens change weekly and there is a mix of 7,8 and sometimes 10 different varieties in the bags that Marjorie and Bolivar bring me. My mixes do have collards occasionally, but also three kinds of kale, different varieties of mustard, wild spinach, different chois, amaranth, wild onions and more. I love when my guests eat these and then comment on the different flavors they get in the mix.

To braise greens:

Mixed Greens, at least a packed cup per person;

3 Cloves Garlic, finely chopped;

¼ Cup Olive Oil (not extra virgin);

¼ Cup Water;

Sea Salt and Freshly Ground Pepper

Rinse the greens and set in a colander to drip, but not dry. Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan and add the garlic and cook until it releases its aroma, add salt and pepper and the greens, liquid and all. Stir the greens into the oil and garlic, add the water, bring to a quick boil, cover and remove from heat. Allow the greens to steam for at least five minutes without uncovering. Before serving, stir greens again and bring back up to heat. I love the braising liquid mixed with rice but you may wish to drain them well before plating.

Spinach can be cooked this way, as well, but will cook down more quickly and reduce in volume more greatly.


At La Cusinga we get two varieties of choy from our growers. Choy is an Asian variety of cabbage and while one variety we get, bok choy, grows into a bit of head, the other, called China Choy by my growers, is instead, rather leggy with almost no base at the bottom. I prefer to season them as I do the long beans, with ginger, soy and sesame oil, but I cook them to done in one pan, allowing more time for the bok choy. If you are using the bok choy, I recommend splitting it length wise into quarters or halves if small.

2 bok choy (cut into quarters) or 8 slender China choy;

2 Cloves Garlic, chopped fine;

1 Knob Ginger (the size of the first digit of your thumb), peeled and grated;

1 tsp Light Cooking Oil;

1 tsp Soy Sauce;

1 tsp Sesame Oil;

¼ Cup Water;

Sea Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper

Heat the oil in a heavy bottomed wide sauté pan and add the ginger and garlic. Heat them until they begin to release their aromas. Swirl the pan and scrape the ginger to keep it from sticking. Lay the choy on top and toss lightly to coat with the garlic and ginger. Add the water to the pan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, add the soy sauce, cover and steam for 5-6 minutes until the choy is tender. (The bok choy will take slightly longer). Season with a pinch of salt, a few grinds of black pepper and pour the sesame oil over the choy. Swirl the choy in the liquid again and serve.


Now we come to ayote, one of my favorite Costa Rican vegetables to cook and something I love to spring on my gringo diners as something they have not eaten before.

Ayote is in the squash family and while it has the coloration of a zucchini, it has the inner seed structure of a pumpkin. Ayote grow to the size of pumpkins and when they are larger are prized here, cooked with tapa dulce and honey, as a dessert.

But what I focus on when I go to the Feria are the Ayotes Tiernos, literally “tender ayotes”, the small young ones, between the size of a softball and a small cantelope.

I either cut them half. Remove the seeds and then cut them again in wedges or strips for roasting; or will cut them in half, hollow them out and roast an entire half as the base for a vegetarian entrée. Either way, the flesh is rich and delicious when roasted, reminiscent of an acorn or butternut squash, but without the density or overwhelming sweetness.

Roasted Ayote

Preheat oven to 450 degrees

2 Ayote Tiernos; cut in half, seeded and cut in eight wedges each;

1 TBS Olive Oil (not extra virgin);

Sea Salt and Freshly Ground Pepper

Toss the ayote wedges with the oil, salt and pepper and place on one of the cut sides on a non-stick baking tray (or one that you have sprayed with a non-stick oil). Roast for 20 minutes, turn the ayote so that the other cut side is facing down, and cook for another 15 minutes, or until tender. These can be reheated, but are best served right out of the oven.


Preheat oven to 400 degrees

Cut the ayote in half along the hemisphere and using a tablespoon, scoop out the seeds. Cut a small piece of the uncut end of the ayote so that it will stand upright. Brush the inside of the ayote with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast for 40 minutes on a non-stick baking pan or sauté pan until the ayote pierce easily with a knife. Remove from the oven.

1 Small Yellow Onion, diced;

2 Cloves Garlic, chopped;

1 Small Red Bell Pepper, diced small;

2 Green Onions, sliced thinly;

1 TBS Light Cooking Oil;

½ Cup Cooked Rice;

½ Cup Cooked Frijoles Tiernos;

3 Ounces Cheese (I like goat cheese, but a mild white cheese is fine), cut in small cubes;

3 Sprigs Cilantro, chopped;

Sea Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper

Heat the oil in a heavy bottomed sauté pan and add the onion, garlic and bell pepper. Add salt and pepper and sauté until the vegetables are tender; add the green onions and toss with the hot vegetables. Add the rice and beans and heat all the way through. You may wish to add a bit of water to make the heating easier. When the mixture is warmed through, fold in the cheese chunks and the cilantro.

Using a tablespoon, fill the roasted ayote halves with the filling and return to the oven. You may wish to sprinkle some bread crumbs or grated parmesan over the top. Roast 20 minutes, or until the top is browned and the stuffing is hot. Serve over rice with some heated Roasted Tomato Sauce.


Yes, I make Ratatouille here and surprisingly, the vegetables that make this a specialty of the Province region of France do remarkably well here in Costa Rica. The eggplant, the squash, the tomatoes, all grow healthy and flavorful here in the tropics. One of the things I do here that may be a bit different is that I cook all the vegetables separately (except the tomatoes, which I don’t cook at all) and then toss them when they’ve cooled slightly. I prefer to have each of the vegetables in my ratatouille retain its integrity and flavor while still become part of the entire dish. As with the ingredients in the salsa recipes in this book, the cut vegetables for this ratatouille should be of equal size for cooking.

1 Eggplant, cut into ½” cubes, salted and put in a colander with a weighted plate on top, to drain;

1 Ayote, split and seeded, cut into ½” cubes;

2 Large Yellow or White Onions, peeled and cut into ½” dice;

2 Large Red Bell Peppers, cored, seeded and cut into ½” dice;

8 Garlic Cloves, peeled and chopped;

3 Ripe Tomatoes, cored and cut into ½” dice;

1 Cup Good Olive Oil (not extra virgin);

Sea Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper;

10-12 Fresh Basil Leaves

Have ready one or two flat sheet pans for cooling the vegetables.

Heat ¼ Cup Olive Oil in a heavy bottomed sauté pan and when the oil is hot add the onions and garlic to it. Saute until the onions just begin to turn golden and out onto the sheet pan and spread them out to cool. Repeat this step with the red bell peppers and when they have picked up a bit of color from the pan lay spread them out next to, but not mixing them, with the onions.

Heat the pan and another ¼ Cup of oil and add the ayote cubes to the pan. Allow them to stick to the pan a bit to pick up a nice golden color. These will take a bit longer than the onions and peppers, but keep cooking them, stirring occasionally, until they are still a bit crunchy but colored. Turn them out onto a second sheet pan and spread them to cool.

Heat the final ¼ Cup of Olive Oil to almost smoking and after squeezing the remaining water from the eggplant with your hands, add them to the pan. Let them sit on the first side until they begin to color and then stir. Cook the eggplant for five minutes and then turn out and spread on the sheet pan next to the ayote.

When the vegetables have cooled to room temperature, mix them together in a mixing bowl, add the diced tomatoes and mix again. Taste for salt and pepper (the salted eggplant may have given the whole mix enough salt). Serve the ratatouille at room temperature and just before serving, cut the basil leaves into ribbons and toss with the vegetables. This is particularly good with grill meats or fish.

Monday, September 6, 2010





Recipes, well yes, that’s what this is all about, but please remember, none of this is written in stone. I don’t cook from recipes, I cook from ideas and inspiration. I use my trips to the Feria and the visits I make to my farmers as the sources of my recipes. I will substitute when it makes sense, and if and when it works there is great rejoicing; when it doesn’t we all hope to learn from it. I hope that you will feel free to do the same.

I certainly won’t be offended. Look at these recipes as jumping off places.

The only recipes I try to adhere to are those for pastries and cakes. Baking is chemistry; cakes rise and pie crusts hold together for a reason. Admittedly, desserts are not the strongest part of my kitchen “game”, and for that reason I pay close attention to my amounts and measurements. I am not a good enough baker to start making changes.


I began serving a small cup of a chilled soup early on in my time at La Cusinga. I wanted to offer something more than our basic three course menu, but didn’t want to concoct an ever changing roster of bocaditos that would clash with the generally unadorned flavors that our food contains. A cold soup, a pure expression of flavor, was just the thing to cool and greet the hot and well traveled dinner guest before the larger plates arrived. It opens his palate and provides a glimpse of the simplicity and trust in the ingredients that we believe in. There is no dairy in any of these soups; they are simple, rich purees of fresh vegetables.

Roasted Tomato

This basic recipe has become a staple of my kitchen and the core technique of roasting the tomatoes has found its way into a number of other recipes. I adopted this technique when called upon at various times and in other places to have to extract flavor from unripe tomatoes. The process of roasting vegetables (or fruit, for that matter) at a medium high heat concentrates the sugars, causes caramelization and increases and intensifies flavors. It’s as simple as that.

Pre-heat oven to 450 degrees

12 Ripe Tomatoes; cored and cut in half;

2 Large Yellow/White Onions; peeled and cut into ½” rings;

12 Whole Peeled Garlic Cloves

½ Cup Olive Oil

Sea Salt and Fresh Ground Pepper

Pour ¼ Cup of the Olive Oil onto a baking or cookie pan (it will need to have raised edges) and tilt the pan to spread it evenly. Place the tomatoes on the pan, cut side down. Put the onion rings in and over the tomato halves; you want them to be tucked down into the tomatoes so as not to burn. Sprinkle the garlic cloves over all and tuck them down in among the tomatoes as well. Pour the other half of the olive oil over all and put the pan into the oven. Roast the tomatoes for 30-40 minutes or until the tops begin to shrink and turn a golden brown color. Remove the tomatoes from the oven and let them cool.

When the tomatoes are cool enough to work with, transfer them to a blender (or you can use an immersion “stick” blender, making sure to get all the liquids and scraping the pan to remove all the stuck-on bits. Add 1 Cup of Water and puree the soup until smooth. Using a spoon, check for flavor (s&p) and consistency. You may want to wait to add water until the soup “sets”. I like to allow this (and all my) soup to cool overnight to wait for the flavors to develop. This is your basic tomato soup, to be served hot or cold.

There are a number of flavor options you can use to bump up or change the flavor of this soup and the flavors I prefer most are acids. Because you have concentrated the sugars in your tomatoes, you have cooked away the acids and now you can add them back for additional depth.

Because I always serve this soup as a cold first course, I like to give it a bit of a bite and to do that I add the fresh juice of a couple of mandarinas or limes (add the juice bit by bit, it can creep up on you). Or, for a more refined taste I’ll add a couple of dashes of sherry vinegar. Another option is to add whatever kind of hot sauce you like, or combine any of the above flavors.

When I have leftover marinated tomatoes from my salads, I will wait until the next day, when the tomatoes have broken down a bit and then puree them and the marinating liquid into the chilled “set” soup. I also like to add a quarter to a half cup of extra-virgin olive oil to the chilled soup with the blender running, to add a rich suaveness to the soup. The options are plentiful once you have mastered the basic recipe.

Currried Cauliflower

This is quite a simple soup, but the combination of the curry and the cauliflower is a perfect match. When I puree this soup at the restaurant, heads turn as the smell of the curry is so pervasive. The intensity of flavor in this soup is achieved by making sure the curry powder gets cooked.

2 Yellow/White Onions, diced;

2 TBS Light Cooking Oil;

2 TBS Fresh* Curry Powder;

1 Head Cauliflower, rough chopped, green parts removed;

1 Baking Potato or 2 Medium White Boiling Potatoes, peeled and cut in large dice;

Sea Salt

Heat the cooking oil and add the onions, curry powder and salt. Sautee until the onions are bright yellow and appear to have absorbed the curry powder. Add the cauliflower pieces and stir until they are coated and yellow. Add 4 Cups of Water and set heat to high. Add the diced potato to the liquid. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a medium simmer and cook until the potatoes are tender. Let the soup cool until it can be handled without danger and then puree in batches to smooth.

Like all the soups I make, I recommend allowing this to sit overnight before correcting the seasoning (salt) and before thinning. It will need to be thinned, as the starch from the potatoes will thicken it naturally overnight. All you will need to do is stir in water until you reach a consistency you like.

* When I say “fresh” I am referring to curry powder that has not been in your pantry for a year or more.


This is one of my favorites soups both to make and to eat. I love making it because the smell that the cooking ginger and the Thai curry paste are rich and deep when the heat gets to them. As for eating, this soup has such a brightness of flavor that it seems to jump on your palate.

I started this soup off as a simple and classic carrot-ginger puree and it just kept growing. I wanted more color and since I get beautiful organic beets that I pickle for salads, they were always around and seemed so obvious. When I wanted just a hit more complexity of flavor, the Thai curry paste (which we also keep around the restaurant) was right there as far as complimentary flavors. And lastly, after I’d made this a few times I realized that I wanted to amplify the sweetness just enough to catch the eater’s attention, so I began using orange juice and then finally, orange-carrot juice for the pureeing liquid.

2 TBS Light Cooking Oil;

2 Large Yellow/White Onions, diced;

12 Carrots (it is not necessary to peel them), cut into oval rings (oval rings don’t roll on the cutting board);

1 Chunk of Fresh Ginger (about the size of your thumb, or a bit bigger), peeled and grated;

1 Tsp Thai Curry Paste (red or yellow is best, but I also like massaman);

1 Large or 2 Medium Beets, peeled and cut into large dice;

1 Qt. Orange-Carrot Juice (straight OJ is a suitable substitute)

Sea Salt and Fresh Ground Black Pepper

Heat the cooking oil in a heavy pot and add the onions, ginger, curry paste, salt and pepper; sauté until the smell is strong from the curry paste and the onions are translucent. Add the carrots and stir well to coat. Cover the vegetables with 4 Cups of Water (just to cover, you don’t want them swimming) and bring to a boil. When the liquid has boiled, add the cut beets and return to a boil. Reduce the heat to a medium simmer and cook until the carrots are quite tender and the liquid is just at the level of the vegetables. Remove from heat to cool.

When the soup is cool enough to handle without danger, puree it in batches, using the juice to augment the liquid remaining in the soup pot. If it appears that there is lot of liquid left, don’t be afraid to pour a bit off. You want to be able to use enough of the fruit juice to impart some flavor.

Again, I encourage you to let this soup sit overnight for the flavors to “marry”. Although I like it cold (after all, I live in the tropics) I’m certain it is wonderful served hot on a cold night. Apt accompaniments or garnishes to this soup are sour cream or a natural yogurt. I buy a goat’s milk yogurt from the Mennonites at the Feria here that is great with this soup. At the restaurant, however, I serve it unadorned.


I have always liked spinach soups and when I was faced with the bushels of wild spinach (espinaca local) that grow all over our property here at La Cusinga, the soup making decision was an easy one. There is nothing like putting spinach into a soup to help reduce its volume. This soup has a beautiful deep jade green color but to preserve that color, it is important not to cook the spinach too long.

My first attempts at this soup were thin and lacked the body I wanted. I had been using just our big green onions (the size of small leeks) to accompany the spinach and it occurred to me that this could almost be a potato-leek soup (classic vichysoisse) but with huge amounts of spinach pureed into it. I added the potatoes early on in the cooking process and Voila (or perhaps, Ole, here) the potatoes added the starch and thickness that I wanted.

2 Bunch Leeks or Green Onions; sliced in thin rings;

8 Cloves of Garlic, chopped;

2 Oz. Light Cooking Oil

1 Large Baking Potato or 2 Medum Boiling Potatoes, peeled and cubed;

4 Bunches of Fresh Spinach, at least partially stemmed

Sea Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper (this soup will require more salt than you think)

Pour the oil into a large heavy pot and bring to heat. Add the Leeks/Green Onions and Garlic and sauté until fragrant. Add Salt and Pepper and 3 Cups of Water and bring to a boil. When the water is boiling add the potatoes and cook until tender. When the potatoes are tender, add all the spinach and stir it into the hot liquid. Put a lid on the pot and let it stand for at least five minutes. When the soup is cool enough to handle, puree it in batches and tasting for salt content. Allow to cool overnight and retaste.

This is another soup that would take nicely to a bit of sour cream or yogurt if you feel that you’d like something more. If you decide you want to serve this soup hot rather than cold, just barely bring it to heat and do not boil it. If it boils it will become bitter and the color will change.

Roasted Summer Vegetable

Honestly, I developed this soup as a way to use up left-over Ratatouille, the classic Provincal preparation of eggplant, zucchini, peppers and tomatoes. I discovered, somewhat by chance, that when pureed and thinned, it made a great soup. Now, rather than sautéing the vegetables, as I would for the Ratatouille, I toss them in a bit of olive oil and roast them to develop yet another level of flavor.

I use a salting and pressing technique to remove some of the bitterness from the eggplant that you may not need if you have them fresh from the garden or market. After the eggplant are peeled and cubed, toss them with a tablespoon of salt and place them in a colander with a weighted plate on top. The water in the eggplant (which contains the bitterness developed once it is off the vine) will drip out and you can squeeze out more after ten or fifteen minutes of pressing.

Preheat Oven to 450

1 Eggplant, peeled and cut into 1” dice; salted and pressed;

2 Large Zucchini, cut into 1” dice;

2 Red Bell Peppers, cut into 1 “dice;

1 Large Yellow/White Onion, cut into large dice;

3 Ripe Tomatoes, cored and quartered;

12 Cloves of Garlic, peeled

½ Cup Good (not extra virgin) Olive Oil

Sea Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper

Toss all the vegetables with the Olive Oil, salt and pepper and spread them on a sheet tray. Roast in the preheated oven for 30-40 minutes, stirring every ten minutes; or until the vegetables are beginning to get crisp browned edges. Remove from the oven and when cool enough to handle safely, puree in batches using 2 Cups of Water to make the pureeing easier. Let the soup rest overnight and check for thickness and seasonings.

This soup is great hot or cold. Hot, I like it with pesto swirled into it and cold it is great with a drizzle of basil or chive oil (bring a ¼ cup Olive Oil to heat, add chopped herbs, turn off, let cool and puree).



Yes, we get beautiful organic salad greens here in the tropics. It was surprising to me just how well lettuces did down here in Costa Rica when I returned almost two years ago. When I had left, organic greens were sparse and tattered things, poorly brought to market and with a disappointing life expectancy. The only other lettuces available were wilty heads over overgrown generic green leaf. Now, when I go to the market I find firm heads of nice leafy lettuces like red oak and decent romaine. Additionally, arugula thrives here and I have recently been getting very nice organically grown watercress.

My dinner salads at La Cusinga are comprised of these lettuces, as a base, but always contain a number of other components. From the time of my childhood, when my mother would make fabulous green salads packed with other vegetables, I have been a believer in a nicely garnished green salad. Here I pickle and marinate a great many vegetables for inclusion, but also call on staples like ripe tomato (available here nearly year round), avocado, cucumber, hearts of palm and many more.

Basic Dressing

My basic dressing at La Cusinga is an emulsified vinaigrette. That is to say, a slightly thickened dressing that is held together by adding oil into egg and, in this case, Dijon mustard. Each of those acts as a base and when the oil is added to them slowly they will hold it in “suspension” and keep the dressing from separating. This dressing can be made by hand with a strong arm and a good whisk, but I prefer to use either a food processor or a blender.

Food Processor or Blender

1 Whole Egg and 1 Egg Yolk;

1 TBS Dijon Mustard;

2 Oz. Good Red Wine Vinegar;

Juice of 2 Lemons;

6 Cloves of Garlic, finely chopped;

Dash of Hot Sauce, Tabasco, or any other;

Sea Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper

¾ Cup Good Olive Oil (Not Extra Virgin)

¾ Cup Canola or light cooking oil

Put the first six ingredients, plus a good pinch each of salt and pepper into the food processor, turn the motor on and blend them well. With the motor running, begin to add the oil, first in a very slow but steady stream, and then bit by bit, more rapidly. As the oil is absorbed into the egg/mustard mixture you will hear the sound of the motor change slightly as your dressing begins to emulsify.

When the oil is completely added and the motor is still running, add 2 ounces of room temperature water. Remove the top of the processor or blender and taste your dressing. You may want to add more salt, or perhaps a bit more lemon or vinegar depending on how acidic you like your dressing. This will keep, refrigerated, for up to three weeks. I like to keep mine in a water bottle with a squirt top for easy application and also so I can shake the dressing from time to time to keep it mixed.

This basic dressing can be altered in a number of ways to reflect whatever flavors you like.

Caesar Dressing

For a classic Caesar dressing, add 6 anchovies, a bit more garlic, more Tabasco and a heavy dash of Lea&Perrins Worcestershire Sauce to the egg/mustard base before adding the oil.

Emulsified Sherry Vinaigrette

For an emulsified Sherry Vinaigrette, one of my favorites, substitute 3 Ounces of good Sherry vinegar for the red wine vinegar and lemon juice.

Emulsified Citrus Dressing

For more of a citrus flavored dressing, omit the red wine vinegar and use four or five lemons or a combination of lemon and lime. Here at La Cusinga, where we have so many mandarinas, I use them instead of lemons and love the flavor difference.

Passion Fruit (Maracuya) Dressing

The passion fruit is a remarkably acidic, yet richly flavorful tropical fruit and when it is in season, I use it in this, hand whisked and un-emulsified dressing.

Juice of 4 Maracuya; (To remove the juice, cut the Maracuya in half and pour the sacs and seeds into a strainer over a mixing bowl. Press gently but firmly to pass all the liquid through into the bowl.)

¼ Cup Good Olive Oil;

¼ Cup Canola or other light cooking oil;

Sea Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper

When the Maracuya juice is ready, put a pinch each of salt and pepper into the bowl and add the two oils slowly, while whisking. Alternatively, all the ingredients can be put in a plastic water bottle and shaken vigorously to blend. This dressing is best used fresh, the day it is made. I also make this dressing with mandarina or lemon juice when I want a lighter dressing.



Because l am a firm believer in a salad not being merely lettuce, l am fond of adding any number of fresh and/or marinated vegetables to my salads, along with cheeses or crostini topped with cheeses or vegetables. l have been doing a lot of marinating and pickling at La Cusinga and these are some of my favorite recipes.

Marinated/Pickled Beets

l must confess that l was a beet hater until well into my mid-thirties. l blame it all on canned “krinkle-cut” beets as well as my loving mother’s misguided attempts to occasionally induce boiled beets into the dietary regimen of her children. lt wasn’t until l learned about roasting beets, as opposed to boiling them, that l became a convert. Roasting (or baking) beets is as simple as baking a potato and the flavors derived from the oven cooking has helped me to make converts out of numerous beet-haters.

Preheat oven to 400

6 Beets, green leafy tops trimmed off (and saved for cooking).

Wrap the beets tightly in aluminum foil and bake for 70-90 minutes, depending on the size. Put a towel between you and the beets and give them a squeeze to see if they are ready. lf they give a bit, they are done.

Take them out of the oven, remove the foil when they are cool and put them under running water. The skins will slough right off when you rub them.

Trim a bit off either end and cut them into wedges. Put the cooled wedges into a storage container, sprinkle sea salt and a hefty pinch of freshly ground pepper over them and cover with balsamic vinegar. Refrigerate the beets and allow them to marinate for a couple of days before serving. They will get better and better with time and will take on a slightly spritzy pickled flavor soon. The balsamic vinegar can be used over and over again, but it is best not to “marry” different batches of beets.

Roasted Peppers

Roasted Red Peppers are a staple of my kitchen and pantry and l use them alone, atop salads, but also as an ingredient in countless other salads. Roasting and peeling is a simple operation and doing 6-7 of them at a time will yield a jar full of them that will keep for weeks in your refrigerator.

Turn a gas burner on to full flame and place two or three of the peppers around it. Allow them to char and blister completely on one side before turning them. Rotate them fully until they are charred and black all over then put them into a bowl with a plate tightly over the top. Repeat with all the peppers. Allow them to come to cool in the bowl, slough off most of the skins into your garbage and then clean them under running water. Using a paring knife, cut around the top stem, remove it and rinse out the seeds.

Pat the peppers dry and cut them into strips. Put the strips into a jar, sprinkle with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper and cover with a mixture of three parts olive oil and one part of your favorite vinegar. l really like sherry vinegar for this and if l have roasted garlic (recipe to follow) oil in my refrigerator, l like to use that.

Roasted Garlic

l love the subtle but recognizable flavor of roasted garlic and the cooking oil that it can be preserved in. l use it frequently smeared across crisp crostini as accompaniments to salads, and have been know to toss the sweet squishy cloves right in with other salads.

The oil that the cloves are cooked in takes on a deliciously nutty garlic flavor and is great for drizzling over roasted vegetables, adding to the oil for a salad dressing or for just dipping with crusty bread.

Most standard recipes call for whole heads of garlic to be roasted to achieve the creamy spreadable texture desired from the cooked cloves, but l believe that by carefully watching and monitoring the temperature of the oil, once can achieve the same results in less than half the time on the stovetop.

12-24 Whole Peeled Garlic Cloves

½ Cup Good Olive Oil

Place the garlic cloves in a small sauté or sauce pan and pour the olive oil in. Put the pan on a stovetop burner with the absolute lowest flame you can get without it going out over and over. Bring the olive oil to heat and cook the garlic cloves at that low heat for 25-30 minutes until you can pierce them easily with the tip of a knife. Do not allow the oil to reach a boil. lf it appears that it will come to a boil, turn off the flame and allow the oil to cool before relighting the flame to it’s lowest possible point. When the garlic is tender, remove the pan from the heat, allow to cool and store in the refrigerator in a covered jar. This will keep for an indefinite amount of time, but l can never keep it around long enough to find out.

Palmito (Hearts of Palm)

Palmito is a vegetable harvested from the bud and the soft center of certain palm trees, among them the coconut, the acai and the pejbaye, all of which grow here in Costa Rica. Costa Rica is the largest supplier of palmito to the United States and by the time it gets there does it ever get pricy. Sadly, the harvesting of the heart of the palm kills the tree and we try to only harvest here at La Cusinga when we are clearing area around the property.

The heart of palm resembles a small albino tree when it is brought into my kitchen, reaching nearly three feet in length and thickening toward the bottom. The outer part is fibrous and must be cut away, but the core is tender, crunchy and pleasantly mild. l like it because of it’s crunchy texture, because it takes well to a marinade or dressing and because l don’t have to pay $12-14/# for it like l did in the US.

lronically, much of the native Costa Rican palmito is shipped to the US, where it is vacuum cooked in cans, rendering it bland and limp, and sent back to Costa Rica where it is served in hotel dining rooms to unsuspecting tourists. l am so grateful to be able to work with the fresh product.

l have constructed and created a number of hearts of palm salads while at La Cusinga, but keep coming back to this one. What follows is the recipe for the palmito salad that has become a house specialty and is a great introduction to people who have never experienced real, fresh hearts of palm.

1# Fresh Palmito, cut into thin rings;

20 Strips of Roasted Marinated Red Peppers (see recipe above), cut into a small dice;

2 Green Onions, cut across the grain as thinly as possible (l use chives or when l can get them, garlic chives for this recipe; if using them, use 9-10 whole chives cut fine);

Juice of 3 Limes;

¼ Cup Good Olive Oil

Sea Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper

Toss the cut palmito with the lime juice and add the peppers, chives and olive oil. Toss well, season with Salt and Pepper and toss again. Let the salad stand for at least two or three hours and then retaste for salt and pepper. l serve this salad alongside dressed organic lettuces and fresh tomatoes.

Frijoles Tiernos

Frijoles Tiernos are, what is known in the United States as, fresh shelling beans. There are several varieties available to me at various times of the year at the Feria in Perez Zeladon and l love including them, marinated, in salads. One of the greatest things about them, to me, aside from their rich creamy texture, is that, unlike a dried bean, they cook in 35-40 minutes. And when l use them in salads l cook them slightly differently than l do when l intend to serve them hot.

1 # Fresh Shelling Beans;

1 Large Onion, cut in large dice;

10 Cloves of Garlic, peeled;

3 Bay Leaves;

3 Fresh Thyme Stalks;

2 TBS Salt

Combine all the ingredients in a heavy pot, cover with water by four inches and bring to boil. When the liquid has boiled, reduce to a low simmer and cook 35-40 minutes until the beans are tender. lt is important to keep the heat low as the beans will burst easily if cooked too rapidly.

While the beans are cooking, combine;

1 Heaping Tsp Dijon Mustard;

2 Oz. Sherry (or good quality red) vinegar;

Pinch of Sea Salt and a few grinds of Black Pepper;

Add slowly, in a stream, whisking rapidly,

1/3 Cup Good Olive Oil

When the beans are cooked, put them in a colander or conical strainer and pour off the cooking liquid. Run cold water gently over the beans until the cooking liquid is rinsed away. Lay the beans out on a baking tray to cool.

When the beans are cool, combine with the pre-made dressing and mix gently.

To finish the bean salad, l add ½ Cup Chopped Roasted Tomatoes (see recipe above), 10-12 Strips Roasted Red Peppers (diced) and Chopped Green Onion, Parsley, Cilantro or other green herb. Check for salt and pepper and allow the salad to stand for 2-3 hours before serving. l serve this as an accompaniment to dressed organic lettuces at La Cusinga and often top the beans with crumbled fresh goat cheese.

Marinated Cucumbers

We get great cucumbers both from out gardens at La Cusinga and also from our organic growers. They are always crisp and have a very subtle flavor. When l serve them on salads l like to punch the flavor up a bit with some good quality white or sherry vinegar, fresh ground black pepper and, just before they’re served, a couple of dashes of sea salt. lf they are salted too early before serving, they will lose every bit of snap and crispness. These are delicious either tossed or topped with some tangy goat cheese, almost replicating the flavors of a Greek style salad. l discovered one day, when we were out of white vinegar, that the marinating vinegar from a jar of capers gives the cucumbers an interesting “different” flavor, just as the vinegar from a jar of pepperoncini will contribute a bit of heat

4 Fresh Cucumbers, peeled and cut in half lengthwise, seeds removed;

2 TBS Good White Wine or Sherry Vinegar;

3-4 Twists from a Pepper Grinder;

1TBS Thinly sliced Garlic Chives, Chives or Green Onions;

½ Tsp Sea Salt

Slice the split cucumbers into thin half-moons and toss with the vinegar, the chives and the black pepper. Allow to sit, refrigerated, for at least half an hour. Just before serving, add the sea salt and retoss. Drain with your fingers and serve alongside or on top of dressed greens, with or over sliced tomatoes and definitely with fresh goat cheese or feta.


Cherry Tomatoes/Tomato Marinade

As much as l love the flavor of a perfect fresh tomato, seasoned simply with sea salt and a droplet of great olive oil, there are times when the tomatoes have not or will not reach that point of perfection and l use this recipe at those times.

l do love this recipe best with cherry tomatoes as l find them occasionally a bit tough or acidic at times and this helps in both cases. When l use regular tomatoes for this recipe l cut them either in wedges of slices, lay them out in a pyrex or flat sided tray and pour the marinade over the top of them.

1 Cup Cherry Tomatoes (or 6 Ripe Tomatoes), Halved;

2 TBS Sherry, Balsamic or Good Red Wine Vinegar;

Juice of ½ Lemon;

3 TBS Good Quality Olive Oil (if you have a nice Extra Virgin Olive Oil, this is a good recipe to splurge with it on);

10 Leaves Fresh Basil, cut in Chiffonade (thin strips) or 2 TSP Freshly snipped Chives;

2 Good Pinches Sea Salt;

3-4 Grinds from a Pepper Mill

Toss the cut cherry tomatoes with the olive oil, vinegar, lemon juice,salt and pepper. Allow to marinate for at least an hour, add the basil (this is best cut just before adding) or chives and serve alongside or over dressed salad greens.

lf you are using whole tomatoes, assemble the marinade in a bowl and pour over the tomatoes. Add the herb(s) just before serving.


When l can find good bread in these parts, or if l have time to bake my own, l love to serve variations on crostini alongside my soups or salads. Crostini means, literally, “little toasts” and they are made by simply slicing a baguette or other slender bread into thin lengths and toasting them. l like to drizzle the untoasted crostini with a few drops of the oil from my roasted garlic before putting them into the oven for a few minutes to crisp.

All of the above condiments can be chopped and pureed to spread on crostini, and l am particularly fond of the the purees made from the marinated frijoles tiernos served alongside the roasted chilled tomato soup, for example; or the roasted red peppers pureed, spread on the toasted crostini and served alongside the bright green spinach soup.

There are two spreads that l make just for crostini because l feel that they are a wonderful compliment to the freshness of just dressed organic greens. One of the spreads is a goat cheese/roasted garlic/green herb spread and the other is a classic Pesto.

Goat Cheese/Roasted Garlic/Green Herb Spread

4 Ounces Fresh and crumbly goat cheese, set out at room temperature;

8 Cloves Roasted Garlic plus 1 TBS of the roasted garlic oil;

2 TBS Chopped Mixed Green Herbs (chive, garlic chive, tarragon, parsley, basil);

1 -2 TBS Buttermilk or regular milk

Place the softened goat cheese, the roasted garlic and its oil and the herbs in the food processor and pulse until the cheese is starting to smooth and turn green from the herbs. Check for density and softness (you want it to be spreadable), add 1 TBS of buttermilk and pulse the goat cheese mixture. If it feels soft enough to spread on a crisp crostini scrape it out of the processor, and if not, add another TBS of buttermilk and pulse the machine again.

Jungle Pesto

The word Pesto is derived from the Italian word for pestle, as in mortar and pestle, and for generations it has been a disgrace to make pesto any other way than toiling over the pestle, pounding the herbs, garlic and oil together by hand. Since I don’t have an Italian nonna looking over my shoulder, I make my pesto in a food processor and since l have don’t have easy access to the classic pinenuts that are used in Italy, I use sliced blanched almonds.

2 Cups Tightly Packed Basil Leaves;

4-6 Cloves Peeled and Chopped Garlic;

¼ Cup Sliced Blanched Almonds;

2/3 Cup Good Olive Oil;

¼-1/2 Cup Good Parmesan, grated;

Sea Salt and Fresh Ground Pepper

Put the basil, garlic and almonds in the food processor with some salt and pepper and pulse grind for 30 seconds. With the machine running, pour in half the olive oil in a slow steady stream. Turn off the processor and add the grated cheese. Turn the machine back on and add the rest of the oil in a steady stream. The pesto should be a bit chunky. Taste for salt and pepper. Pack the pesto into a plastic container (or freeze in a Ziploc bag) and press clear wrap tight up against the pesto to prevent discoloration. I do recommend freezing any pesto you do not intend to use immediately as freezing will hold the lovely bright green color.



Now we reach one of my favorite areas of cooking. I have a passion for cooking fish and I have a passion for the amazingly fresh fish that we have access to here on the south Pacific coast of this beautiful country.

We are not alone, however, here in Costa Rica in having fresh fish. Air travel has changed the way the world looks at fresh fish and even if you can’t get your fish straight off the boat as I do here, you can find excellent fresh fish if you know where to look. I strongly recommend developing a good relationship with one of the fishmongers at a fresh fish market and then relying on his suggestions. Many of these recipes are interchangeable and will work with more than one type of fish. It is far better to use the freshest fish than it is to use the specific fish called for in these or any other recipes.

Here at La Cusinga we have access to a number of lovely white fish; pargo, dorado, corvina and robalo that, if you cannot find at your market, are easily replaced in these recipes by striped or sea bass, gulf or Pacific red snapper (rockfish), mahi-mahi, halibut or even swordfish. The recipes calling for tuna are best done only with tuna, but tuna is now available in many, many fish markets, in the US and Europe. As I mentioned earlier, find a fish monger you trust, or be brave enough to trust your own nose. Ask to smell any fish you might have questions about. Fresh fish should have little or no smell.

Grilling Fish

One of the few things that make me sad here at La Cusinga is that we have no grill, gas or charcoal, in our kitchen, as very few things rival the taste of fresh fish cooked simply over a hot fire. If you choose to grill your fish for any of these recipes (and I would hope that you would!), there are a few guidelines to follow.

Make sure your grill is clean and your fire is hot but not flaming. It is easiest to clean your grill while the fire is hot so it can cook away any grease or flavors that might be lingering from your last time at the grill. Place the grill over the hot coals and let it heat up to the point where the grease is dripping from it. Brush the grill vigorously with a wire brush and wipe it clean with an old towel dipped in a bit of oil. Follow that wipe with another wipe from an old, but dry towel.

Allow the flames to die beneath your grill while it heats and when the coals are glowing red hot, but not flaming, it is time to put your fish on the grill. Using your oiled towel (but using a clean spot) make another pass over the grill to spread oil it. Lightly brush your fish filets with olive oil and sprinkle them with sea salt and a few grinds of black pepper.

Place the fish across the grill grates at an angle (to achieve a nice pattern on the fish) and allow to cook on the first side for 3-4 minutes or until you can sense a crust forming. Using a good metal spatula, give the fish a half turn and cook for another two minutes. Gently ease the spatula under the fish and without moving it much turn it over. The fish will not require as much time on the bottom side and should be ready in just another two or three minutes. Remove it from the grill, plate it and top it with one of our delicious sauces.

Roasting Fish

Because I do not have a gas or charcoal grilled here at La Cusinga, I have devised a method of first searing and then roasting fish that I find to be a good substitute for the flavors of the grill.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Heat a non-stick and oven proof sauté pan (or better yet, a cast iron skillet) until it either begins to smoke lightly or water beads off it if you place a few drops on the skillet. Lightly brush the fish filets with a light olive oil and season with a sprinkle of sea salt and a few grinds of black pepper. Place the lightly oiled fish, seasoned side down into the skillet and allow to crisp for two or three minutes. When the fish has crisped and turned a golden brown (you can peek to see), flip it over with a spatula and put the pan and fish into the oven. l have been known, about three or four minutes into this process, to splash a little white wine, stock or water into the pan just to make sure the fish stays moist.

Roast the fish filets for 5-6 minutes, pull the pan from the oven, plate the fish and top it with one of our delicious sauces.

Cooking Tuna

l only cook tuna on the grill or in a cast iron skillet, as l prefer that my tuna be rare. The Yellowfin Tuna that we get here in Costa Rica is a very lean fish and the meat dries out very easily if cooked much past medium rare. l recommend using this method for tuna steaks that are an inch thick or more (two inches is preferable). lf you are using thinner steaks, cut the cooking time substantially.

Heat a cast iron skillet until it either smokes, or the bottom of it turns gray. Season the tuna steaks with a good amount of sea salt and about 1/2 tsp (for each steak) coarsely ground black pepper. Press the salt and pepper into the fish. Use a non-stick oil spray to coat the bottom of the cast iron skillet and put the tuna steaks into the skillet. Allow to cook 2-3 minutes without moving and then using tongs, grasp the steaks and turn them over to sear on the other side. After three minutes on the down side l prefer to remove the tuna from the pan and eat it gloriously rare with a great spicy sauce, but you may wish to put the whole pan into a 450 degree oven for another minute or two to allow the tuna to cook to medium rare.



l buy and serve organic free range chicken at La Cusinga, bought from only one source, for two reasons. The first, is that sadly, it is difficult to find organic chicken here, and the second is that the chickens l do get are just so good. l buy them from Mauren and Ademar and when l first met them l went so far as to visit the farm to see what the chickens ate. The meat is moist and flavorful. lt tastes like chicken should.

lf you are reading this in the US you will have access to good free range organic chickens and l urge you to avail yourself of them. The difference in flavor is substantial and anything that can be done to put a dent in the sales of mass produced chickens is a good thing.

Buy whole chickens and break them down yourself. lt isn’t at all difficult and the bonus is that you end up with good quality bones from which to make stock. l prefer chicken on the bone for more flavor so no matter how you break your chicken down, these recipes will work for you. At La Cusinga l roast the breasts so that they retain their moisture and l braise the legs so that they stay juicy but become fork tender.

Cooking Chicken Breasts

To cook bone-in chicken breasts, preheat the oven to 450. Sprinkle both sides of the breasts with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Put an oven-proof sauté pan on medium high heat and cover the bottom with a thin layer of light cooking oil. When the oil is close to smoking, carefully put the chicken breasts in the pan skin side down and cook for 6-7 minutes until the skin is crisp and golden. Remove the breasts from the pan, pour out the oil, return the chicken to the pan, skin side up and put the pan in the oven. lf the chicken breasts have all the bones still attached, roast them for 15-16 minutes. lf you have partially boned them allow 10-12 minutes for roasting.

When the chicken comes out of the oven, put it on a plate, and pour whatever liquid is in the pan into a cup. Put the hot pan on a burner and add some chopped garlic, chopped fresh herbs (l like thyme and/or oregano) and a splash of white wine. Allow the wine to boil and reduce and when it is nearly gone, add 4-6 ounces of good chicken stock plus the liquid from the cup and bring to a rapid boil. You now have a lovely light sauce for your chicken, or the base for something more. At this point l will often add a big spoonful of the roasted tomato mixture, or a fruit glaze, like my Salsa de la Jungla, bring it to heat and pour it over the chicken.

Cooking Chicken Legs

I am a leg man. Give me a chicken and I immediately begin to scheme on a way to serve the legs; umm, love that thigh. I used to have a girlfriend who would only eat the white meat of the chicken and it drove me crazy so I devised a cooking method that even she liked.

The best way to cook a chicken leg, to my thinking, is to braise it. Yes, crisp the skin, flip it over, splash in some wine and stock and pop it in the oven for about 45 minutes until it is meltingly tender. I have won over numerous “white meat only” people with this recipe. When served over mashed potatoes, risotto, or a good rice, this is tender and delicious.

Braised Chicken Legs

Preheat oven to 400

4 Full Chicken Legs (thigh and drumstick);

½ Cup Dry White or Red Wine;

1/2 Cup Chicken Stock or broth;

3 Cloves Garlic, chopped;

1 Cup Chopped Tomatoes (or better yet, home roasted tomatoes)

Salt and pepper the chicken legs, dust them with flour and crisp them in a bit of cooking oil, skin side down in a sauté pan you can put in the oven. Take them out when the skin is crisp and pour out the oil. Return the pan to the flame and add the garlic. Pour in the wine and allow to reduce by half. Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Add the tomatoes and the chicken legs, letting them settle into the liquid. Put the pan in the oven and cook for 45 minutes.

Remove the pan from the oven and remove the legs from the pan. Pour the liquid into something that can be easily skimmed and remove the fat from the top. To serve, return the chicken and the sauce to the pan and put them back in the oven for ten minutes.