I had heard rumours that Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast had the best cooking in the whole of Costa Rica. As it turns out, the rumours were true.
On our very first night in Puerto Viejo, we fell into an empty soda where a local Afro-Caribbean woman cooked us a traditional meal like nothing else we’d tasted in Costa Rica. Rice and beans stewed in coconut milk, fried plantain fritters, and a flavourful veggie sauce warmed our bellies. We were hooked, I had to learn how to cook like that.
Eating in Puerto Viejo
Puerto Viejo is a small Caribbean coastal town that is rich in natural, organically grown foods and cafes that boast vegan and raw food on funky chalkboards. On Saturdays there’s a small farmer’s market where locals and expats sell veggies, herbs, spices, cacao and chocolate, natural soaps and so on. Of course, if you want to eat some good Caribbean cooking, then the local sodas are the best places to go – if there’s no vegetarian option on the menu, just ask the cook and they will always be happy to cook up a veggie version, sin carne.
Vegan Caribbean Cooking Class at Veronica’s Place
Forget eating out, I wanted to do some vegan Caribbean cooking for myself! That’s when we met Veronica, the loveliest woman you’ll ever have the pleasure to meet and a delicious cook. She found us wandering around outside her hostel, looking for a place to stay. After a quick chat with her, we ended up in her cabins, which are attached to her family home. When we heard that she also ran vegetarian and vegan cooking classes, we couldn’t resist and signed ourselves up straight away!
Our cooking class began with a tough coconut and a machete. We were going to make coconut milk from scratch. This first involves hacking the skin off of some brown coconuts, which is no easy task. Fortunately, Veronica herself is so good at it that, as her husband says, she can take the skin off coconuts without even looking. After that, the coconut is grated and mixed with some water, then the coconut milk is squeezed out and ready to cook with. This was hard work to say the least but very satisfying. It was a really warm day and we gladly went inside where Veronica had set up one of the recommended portable air conditioner’s to help us westerners survive the heat during the class.
What Did We Cook?
Of course, there is one signature dish to be made with coconut milk here on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast: coconut rice and beans. Cooking coconut rice and beans is a slow process. Pre-cooked red beans are mixed in with the coconut milk, which is then simmered for 15 minutes. After this the white rice is added and the pot is left to boil for 20 minutes or so. The process is sticky and can cause the pan to burn, so you have to be careful. During Veronica’s cooking class we also learned how to make green plantain and oat patties (recipe to follow!), a thick vegan gravy from leftover scraps and ends of veggies, and star fruit and ginger juice with fruit straight out of her garden.
Recipe: Green Plantain + Oat Patties
Luke and I have made veggie burgers before, usually from chickpeas, beans or red lentils. Though we’ve had a few successes, we usually hit that burger problem that all vegetarians will know: the patties are either too mushy from the beans, or too dry and crumbly to hold their shape during cooking. Veronica’s green plantain and oat patties are perfect. The gumminess from the plantains kept everything sticky and moist (no egg or flax egg needed) and the oats swelled from the liquid. Cooking them was a crumble free success!
2 Green (unripe) Plantains
2 Large Cups Whole Oats
1 tbsp Soy Sauce
3 Garlic Cloves, chopped
1 tbsp White Onion, diced
2 tbsps Red Pepper, diced
1 tbsp Celery, chopped
½ tsp Fresh Chilli, diced
3 tbsps Basil
1 tbsp Thyme Leaves
Parsley, good heap
How to Cook Them
Slice the veins off the sides of the plantains, then grate the whole plantain with the skin on. While the fruit of the plantain contains protein, the skin is a good source of fibre so no need to waste it. Mix all the ingredients together, knead and squeeze firmly so that everything combines. Once mixed, form small falafel sized balls and flatten slightly. To cook, heat oil in a non-stick pan and shallow fry for a few minutes on each side.
Sustainable Cooking & Healthy Eating
Veronica’s personal ethos is very similar to mine and Luke’s. She believes in promoting health and sustainability through using locally sourced food (most of her produce is grown on her permaculture farm), cooking vegetarian and vegan food with what the earth give us, and reducing food waste. Veronica everything from the fruits and vegetables she cooks with. The scraps, like the stalks of herbs and left over onion, are used to make sauce. Anything that is not used for cooking is composted. Throwing out leftovers and not cooking with all of the vegetables (stems, stalks, skins and leaves too!) instead of putting them good use and not bothering to compost natural food waste are things that are so often overlooked.
Details: Veronica’s Vegan Caribbean Cooking Class in Puerto Viejo
Even if you’re not a vegetarian or vegan, Veronica’s cooking class is so fun and the food so tasty that I would recommend it to just about anyone.
Times & Booking: If you’re not already staying at Veronica’s, the best way to book a class is to call by and ask her directly. There aren’t any strict times for classes as Veronica just fits them in with family mealtimes. You can check Veronica’s website for extra details and reviews on TripAdvisor (but these are mixed in with reviews of the hostel!)
Cost: A half-day class costs $30 per person.