I just returned from 10 days in this beautiful country and quickly realized that Pura Vida is more than just a phrase, it’s a greeting; farewell; positive response, but moreover a way of life. So, it wasn’t much of a surprise to learn that Costa Rica contains one of the world’s five classified Blue Zones – The Nicoya Peninsula. A Blue Zone is a region of the world where people commonly live past the age of 100 years. The five Blue Zones all have common lifestyle factors, such as getting seven hours of sleep a night, incorporating exercise and movement into daily activities or work and creating strong social networks. However, it was the common dietary factors that interested me most and I wanted to share with you. Diets in the Blue Zones are rich in whole grains, legumes, nuts, vegetables and fish. These are all foods that I’ve discussed here over the years and their importance to individuals with SCI as they contain fibre, magnesium, lean protein, B-vitamins, vitamins C and healthy Omega 3 fatty acids to help ensure consistent bowel management routines, maintain skin integrity, increase energy levels, enhance immune function and support cardiovascular and nerve function respectively.
The good news is you don’t have to travel to Costa Rica to enjoy its cuisine and reap the multitude of health and longevity benefits. Here is the recipe to a dish I ate on the Nicoya Peninsula that includes many of the Blue Zone ingredients listed above. Pura Vida everyone!
- 1 cup uncooked jasmine rice
- 2 cups broth (or water)
- 1 (15oz) can black beans
- 3 chicken breasts
- 2 large plantains (very ripe)
- 1/3 cup cilantro, chopped
- 3 cups mixed greens
- salt and pepper to taste
- 3-4 tbsp coconut oil
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tbsp paprika
- toppings: pico de gallo, avocado
In a medium size pot, combine the rice and broth (or water), season with a pinch of salt and pepper. Cover, bring to a boil. Once boiling, turn the heat down to low and simmer for 20 minutes, until all of the liquid is absorbed. Remove from heat when done and stir in the chopped cilantro.
While the rice cooks, prepare the chicken. Preheat a large cast iron skillet over medium-high heat, and add the olive oil. Chop up the chicken breasts into bite size pieces, then season with the paprika, salt, and pepper.
Add the chicken to the pan in an even layer (you may have to work in batches in order to not crowd the pan), and let it cook for 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Once the chicken is golden brown and cooked through, remove from the heat and set aside.
Rinse and drain the black beans, then add them to a saucepan with a few tbsp of water. Season with salt and pepper, turn the heat to low and let them slowly heat through as you cook the plantains.
Lastly, prepare the plantains. Peel and slice the plantains on a bias, then preheat the skillet over medium heat. Add the coconut oil, then add the plantains. Let them cook on one side for about 3 minutes, season with a pinch of salt, then flip and cook for another 2-3 minutes. You want the plantains to turn golden brown. Work in batches so that you don’t crowd the pan, then set aside.
To assemble: lay down a handful of greens on a plate, then spoon the rice, beans, and chicken over the top. Add a few pieces of plantain to the plate, then top with your desired toppings (pico de gallo, sour cream, avocado, more cilantro).