Tico cuisine is naturally low in fat, sodium and calories. The locals use very little fat in their cooking. They eat their vegetables fresh, steamed, or lightly sautéed. They don’t refry their beans in lard or bacon grease as is done in Mexican cooking. A “casado tipico” consists of rice, black beans, avocado slices, fresh veggies, a slice of cheese, a fried plantain, and sometimes a small portion of meat. In addition to the casado tipico, there are other types of Tico meals that are fun, easy, and very tasty, such as picadillo, arroz con anything you want, tortillas, empanadas, tamales (virtually greaseless!), patacones, and tortas de avena (oatmeal patties that end up tasting like latkes).
Most Ticos do not use measuring spoons or cups. All cooking is done according to feel and taste. For that reason, there is not a huge selection of Costa Rican cook books out there. To get the “real” flavor of Costa Rican cuisine, I highly recommend you find a Tica grandma in your neighborhood to teach you how to cook. Pay them a few dollars per hour for their time in addition to the cost of ingredients. You will find this to be an action worth doing!
My friends Cheryl and Sylvia did this a few weeks ago and loved it. Inez, the mother of a Tica friend, lives in Bajo del Tigre. We all went over to her house and she taught us how to make picadillo (with no dairy or oil!), tortas de avena, and tortillas. With all 3 dishes the only fat she used was a tiny bit of oil and a pat of butter. She hardly used any salt either. The results were delicious and healthy. We have scheduled another cooking session with her later this week, where she will teach us to make sweet and salty empanadas as well as patacones (aka tostones). I will report our findings afterwards!