Making Homemade Costa Rican-Style Beans

When a lot of people cook using beans, they just open a can that is already prepared. But in other parts of the world like Costa Rica, making homemade beans is a time-honored tradition. We’ve been living in Costa Rica since 2013 and have been making beans ever since. There are tons of different ways to do it. Many locals flavor with meat. We usually make ours vegetarian and season with spices. No matter what you use, cooking homemade beans is a great way to infuse flavor, and although it involves a little planning, it’s super easy. Below is our recipe for making homemade Costa Rican-style beans.

Homemade Bean Recipe Costa Rica


1 bag of dried black beans or small red beans. We use red beans in this recipe, but they can be harder to find outside Costa Rica. Black beans are more readily available and work just as well.

Fresh, whole garlic cloves (crushed) – 4 large or 6 small. If you can find the smaller locally grown type of garlic, these usually have more flavor.

1/4 cup good extra virgin olive oil – This will make the beans have a nice, decadent sauce.

Spices – We like to use cumin for some Latin flavor and also thyme, but you can use oregano or whatever you prefer. A little bit of herbs goes a long way so start with about 1 teaspoon and add more later if you think it needs more flavor.

Salt and pepper


The day before, dump the dry beans into a large pot (6 quarts) and sort. You want to remove any beans that look bad or out of the ordinary. This could mean they are shriveled up or have small holes in them (sometimes bugs may have eaten them in the field). Rarely, you may find a few small rocks that snuck through because they are the same size as a bean.

Cover the beans with water, overfilling by several inches. Cover the pot and let sit at least overnight, up to around 24 hours. People here say the longer the better to make beans that are easier to digest.

Drain and prepare for cooking. You will want to rinse the beans well then put them back in the pot. Cover with fresh water. Add garlic cloves, olive oil, spices, and black pepper. Be generous with your pepper – remember, you’re seasoning around a pound of beans. Don’t add the salt yet. Cover beans and bring to a boil on high heat.

Cooking Homemade Beans Costa Rica
Our son helping with the stirring

Once they come to a boil, remove the lid and reduce heat to medium low so that they maintain a steady boil. Cook uncovered. At this point, you may see some white foam starting to form on the surface. This is normal. It’s the part of the bean coming out that causes unpleasant gastrointestinal side effects (aka gas), so you will want to skim off as much of this as possible. Leaving a little is just fine.

Beginning stages of cooking homemade beans
Skim off that top foamy layer that forms when the beans start to boil to make them easier to digest.

The beans will need to cook for anywhere between 2-3.5 hours. The drier they are to start, the longer it will take. Keep checking on them periodically and stirring to make sure there is enough water. The beans should always be well covered with water, but don’t add too much towards the end. You’ll want to have a nice thick sauce to go along with the beans. Again, make sure to cook them uncovered especially at the end to achieve a nice sauce. 

When the beans begin to soften (around 1.5 hours into cooking), add the salt. People say to wait to do it until this point so that the beans don’t get tough. You will need a good amount of salt. We use around 1 teaspoon, but start with 1/2 teaspoon and add more if you think it needs it. If you are finding that the beans don’t have enough flavor, you probably need more salt.

Cooking Homemade Beans in Costa Rica
Adding salt once the beans have been cooking for a while. Notice the sauce starting to thicken.

You can tell when the beans are done when you test five or six of them and all are nice and soft. Often times, a couple will be soft but the next one you try will still be crunchy. Just be patient and keep checking. When the beans are soft but still firm and not mushy, they are done and ready to eat!

Cooking Red Beans Costa Rica


Once you have your beans ready to go, you can serve them simply on a bed of white rice.

Another popular way to eat beans in Costa Rica is in a traditional dish called Gallo Pinto. This is super simple. All you do is sauté some chopped onions and bell pepper with a clove of garlic and mix together with the rice and beans.

Gallo Pinto Costa Rica
Costa Rica’s traditional breakfast, gallo pinto, is good any time of day

Then to make it really say Costa Rica, top with a little fresh cilantro and Costa Rica’s famous Salsa Lizano or Chilero hot sauce, and you’re good to go!

Beans also freeze well so if you have extra, just throw them in some ziplock bags with a little of the bean sauce.

We hope you enjoy your homemade beans. A lot of people think cooking beans from scratch is a lot of work, but once you have done it, you realize that it’s really not that hard.

Have a question about making homemade beans? Ask us below.

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Looking for more information about Costa Rica? Check out these posts:

Traditional Foods of Costa Rica: Learn about six more of Costa Rica’s typical foods.

Life in Costa Rica: Interested in moving to Costa Rica? Check out our Life in CR section for details on getting residency, cost of living, buying a car, and more.

Simple Spanish for Visiting Costa Rica – Learn the basics from greetings to ordering in a restaurant with this handy guide.