Gallo Pinto [Vegetarian Dinner]

Since I’ve been focusing on cooking healthy and eating healthy this month, I thought it would be a good time to share one of the reasons why I find cooking healthy a bit challenging. Below my story, you’ll find a recipe for one of my favorite healthy meals, Gallo Pinto, a Nicaraguan dish of rice and beans that I first found out about from this recipe by Seasonal and Savory.

Gallo Pinto is a Nicaraguan dish of rice and beans that is sometimes topped with a fried egg.

My grandparents were meat-and-potatoes people. They raised my mom to be a meat-and-potatoes girl. And she raised me.

Cooking in The Meat-And-Potatoes Way is therefore easy for me. It’s automatic. The motions, the timing, all of it has been genetically passed down to me, or maybe I just breathed it in along with the smell of pot roast in my Baba’s kitchen.

Eating in The Meat-And-Potatoes Way makes me happy. Big meat, squishy potatoes, a slide of gravy. I’m comforted. I’m full. I’m satisfied.

Or at least eating that way used to make me happy. Lately there’s a sprig of guilt on my plate.

I’m pretty sure that this is a guilt my Baba never felt. I don’t think she knew that The Meat-And-Potatoes Way was bad for her heart, bad for her husband’s heart or that it was a less-than-ideal habit to be sharing with her children. For her, the satisfying food on her table meant she was taking good care of her family. And she was.

I’m also pretty sure that my mom didn’t feel this guilt when I was a child. She was proud that she cooked meals for us from scratch and she was sure that this was the best thing for us. Interestingly, she does worry about The Meat-And-Potatoes Way now. Her and my dad focus on vegetables, healthy grains, beans and very small meat portions, like a Friday night treat of a shared filet mignon.

But when we were kids, this healthier way of eating was not on her mind.

I don’t think it was on any parent’s mind.

It is now.

I worry that every time my kids breathe in a pot roast breath they’re getting closer to having The Meat-And-Potatoes Way imprinted on their soul; they’re coming to expect that all meals are big meat, a pile of potatoes, small veg.

And so I’ve been making changes.

It hasn’t been easy.

When meal-planning I can no longer do a simple jot down of “Monday: Chicken & Rice, Tuesday: Pork & Noodles, Wednesday: Beef & Mash, Thursday: Chicken & Noodles, Friday: Beef & Baked.” Instead, I need to search the internet, scour my cookbooks, brainstorm and work hard to avoid my easy groove.

When cooking I can no longer rely on my automatic cooking instincts. I need to think more about the items in front of me, carefully reading recipes and the directions on packages (last week I fished the quinoa box out of the recycling bin twice because I kept forgetting how long quinoa needs to cook), concentrating on the flavors in the vegetables and coming up with ways to make them into a more memorable dish.

When eating I can no longer count on meat-and-potatoes to deliver that comforting, full, satisfied feeling. I instead consciously tell myself to not miss the vast quantities of meat, to appreciate the beautiful vegetables that cover my plate and to enjoy chewing those unsquishy brown carbs.

So yes, it’s hard. But I know why I’m doing it and the reasons are good ones. I’m doing it for my own health, for the health of my husband and for the health of our kids. I’m doing it so that they grow up with different food habits from my own and end up better meal-planners, better cooks and better eaters than I am. And I’m even doing it for our planet (did you know that if a family of four skips steak once a week for a year the impact on our climate is like taking a car off the road for 3 months?).*

Those reasons make it worth it and I’m determined to keep at it until this new way of cooking and eating is automatic and has become tasty and fulfilling. And I’m o.k. with the bit of extra work and with finding different ways to feel satisfied.

But one thing bothers me.

I miss that pot roast air flowing through my kitchen reminding me of my Baba. And I’m sad that my kids won’t have that same memory trigger for my mom. Or for me. I’m sure that when they’re adults the scent of kale roasting in the oven will bring their minds back to my kitchen. But that kitchen, that smell, isn’t really me. Even if I’ve escaped from The Meat-And-Potatoes Way I will always be a meat-and-potatoes girl. It’s part of who I am. And that part of me is sad that it won’t be part of them.

*Statistic from the Meat Eater’s Guide to Climate Change and Health by the Environmental Working Group.


Gallo Pinto is a Nicaraguan dish of rice and beans that is sometimes topped with a fried egg.

Now, let’s start cooking healthy: Here’s the Gallo Pinto recipe.

Gallo Pinto

Gallo Pinto, a Nicaraguan dish that I first learned about from the Seasonal and Savory blog, is not something that my Ukrainian Baba would have cooked. Nor is it something that my mom would have made for us when we were kids. But with its comforting mix of rice, beans and egg it has become a go-to meal in my kitchen. I've made it so often that I find myself wondering if the smell of rice and beans cooking with chili powder will be to my kids what the smell of pot roast is to me. If it is, I think that will be o.k. with me. (Note that this is not an authentic version of Gallo Pinto (as far as I know). It is instead how I have altered the Seasonal and Savory recipe to fit with what I tend to have in my pantry and in my fridge.)


  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 cup shredded carrots
  • 1 small sweet onion, chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 2 cups long grain white rice
  • salt
  • 3 and ½ cups water
  • 1-14 ounce cans of chickpeas (garbonzo beans), drained
  • 4-6 eggs


  1. In a medium-sized saucepan that has a lid warm 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the carrots, onion and bell pepper. Cook stirring occasionally for a few minutes until everything is nice and soft. Add the garlic and the chili powder and stir and cook for 30 seconds. Stir in the rice, ½ teaspoon of salt and the water.
  2. Increase the heat to high and let it come to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover the pot and simmer it for 16-20 minutes until the rice is tender.
  3. Stir in the chickpeas. Remove the sauce pan from the heat and replace the lid so that everything stays warm.
  4. Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a non-stick skillet over medium heat. Crack in the eggs. Cook to desired doneness. While the eggs are cooking, taste the rice mixture and add more salt if needed. Serve rice topped with fried eggs.

Now head on down to the comments and tell me: What do you find most challenging about cooking healthy?

Happy Meat Escaping from Christine






10 Responses to “Gallo Pinto [Vegetarian Dinner]”

  1. Sean Doyle — July 15, 2017 @ 10:18 pm (#)

    As a vegetarian going on almost 25 years, I cut meat out as young teenager when I was introduced to Hinduism, and all I can say is thanks to the internet and folks like you, my meals are always interesting and exciting, keep up the good work and I wish you best on your meatless meals, just make sure you keep posting the recipes for me to try.

    • Christine Pittman — July 18, 2017 @ 8:59 am (#)

      Sean, So happy you like this one. It’s a definite favorite around here! Thanks for letting me know.

  2. Katerina — January 23, 2013 @ 12:42 pm (#)

    It’s been a year now that my husband and I have changed our eating habits firstly to control our weight but now as way to stay healthy! I love the meat-potato combination and I don’t think I will ever get it over with. It is like a drug or something, I always crave it, but my knowledge and logic prevail now and I keep it on the safe side. Your Gallo Pinto looks absolutely perfect!

  3. Sommer@ASpicyPerspective — January 23, 2013 @ 10:06 am (#)

    What an inventive breakfast! Love all the texture.

  4. a farmer in the dell — January 22, 2013 @ 9:05 pm (#)

    I grew up in a meat and potatoes family as well. I am not a vegetarian but my husband and I eat a mostly plant based diet now. (we are vegetable farmers) I think it takes time, but you are doing really well. Your recipes sound fantastic. I find that I don’t miss meat very much anymore. There are so many delicious and comforting meatless meals out there!

  5. Suzanne — January 22, 2013 @ 5:44 pm (#)

    I always have to make a consious effort to include vegetables in my diet. Growing up, we would just defrost a box of frozen vegetables, and they never tasted that great. So I feel like I’m overcoming a vegetable handicap.

  6. Liz — January 22, 2013 @ 10:34 am (#)

    Something to think about: Animal food consumption has been decreasing steadily over the last 40 years, but obesity and diabetes has been steadily increasing. Meat has been in our diets forever and contains nutrients that are necessary–nutrients that most people are deficient in these days (like vitamin D and B12). On the other hand, polyunsaturated fats (vegetable oils) and refined carbohydrates (sugar, wheat) make up a much larger part of the diet these days and are easily tied to metabolic issues.

    I followed a vegan diet for years–I’m not trolling, just adding another point of view! You know I’m a big CTS fan :)

    • Christine Pittman — January 22, 2013 @ 11:49 am (#)

      Interesting point! I’m not trying to cut out meat entirely though. Just trying to decrease how much of it we eat AND decrease it’s central role in the meal. Ideally, I’d like to think of meat as a seasoning that we use to make our vegetables and grains taste even better. Also, I *really* want to start trying to have more whole grains in our diet. We eat potatoes, white rice (like in the Gallo Pinto above, even), bread that while it claims to be whole wheat often contains a lot of white flour, and white pasta. And I don’t think we eat enough fruits and vegetables either. We get a nice-sized portion at dinner but quite often the rest of the day is lacking. So it’s a bigger change than just cutting out meat. It’s cutting down meat, increasing fruits and vegetables, reducing (or eliminating) the white stuff and increasing the whole grains. I guess it’s sort of on the way to Paleo but I’m not yet giving up the grains or the dairy…hmm…or the beans. Is that right?

    • Liz — January 23, 2013 @ 10:00 am (#)

      It’s all about eating real food, right? I don’t eat meat every day, and it definitely doesn’t make up most of my diet. Some days, my protein is eggs–ever since your post on fried eggs over asparagus, that has been one of my favorites (sometimes over carrots, too)! I’ll have that or homemade chicken stock with vegetables and butter. When I do have beef, it’s always grass-fed, which doesn’t contribute to the environmental disaster that factory-farmed cows do (along with the antibiotic-resistance problem). *sigh* Eating is so complicated these days! lol


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