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.

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