What's Cooking in... Nicaragua

By Sandra Scott
This item appears on page 52 of the August 2016 issue.
Chef Lorena Alvarez with burritos.Photos by Sandra Scott

My husband, John, and I have been to Nicaragua several times since our first visit in the ’90s. We returned in December 2015 and stayed on the island of Ometepe, home to twin volcanoes connected by a narrow isthmus. 

The island is popular with nature lovers and can be accessed by ferry from the city of San Jorge. Many visitors like to climb the volcanoes, but we preferred walking on the beach, where there were more horses than people. 

We also enjoyed a visit to the Museo el Ceibo (www.museoselceibo.com), which was started by a local man and includes the multitude of artifacts he has amassed over the years. The museum (located on the road between the ferry dock and our hotel) covers the island’s history over thousands of years to the present day. 

I found the boot-shaped burial urns fascinating. The guide told us the shape is representative of the womb — a return to the womb after death. 

A separate building houses the owner’s Nicaraguan numismatic collection. I was especially intrigued by the money issued during the short reign of William Walker, an American.

While little is known in the United States about William Walker, every schoolchild in Central America learns about him. He invaded Nicaragua with his private army in the 1800s and became president of Nicaragua, serving from July 1856 to May 1857.  

Adding green pepper to the Gallo Pinto Nicaragüense.

On Ometepe, John and I stayed at a hotel on the isthmus that has views of both volcanoes: the Xalli Ometepe Beach Hotel (Calle Principal, Playa Santo Domingo, Communidad de San Fernando, Altagracia, Isla de Ometepe, Departamento Rivas, Nicaragua; phone 505 2569 4876, www.ometepebeachhotel.com)

For one night in a room with a lake-view porch, we paid $102, including breakfast (and Wi-Fi). 

The restaurant at Xalli, whenever possible, buys organic and locally grown produce. This insures freshness and helps the area’s farming community.

I loved the mini chicken burritos and asked the cook, Lorena Alvarez, to share the recipe with me. She showed me how to make the burritos as well as gallo pinto Nicaragüense, a traditional dish of rice and beans. Pedro Centeno, the manager, acted as the translator. 

Mini Chicken Burritos
1 large tomato, diced
1 small green pepper, diced
1 small onion, diced
1 tsp cilantro, chopped
2 tsp olive oil
1 tsp lemon juice
12 ounces cooked chicken, shredded or diced
¾ cup cheese, shredded (cheddar or white Nicaraguan cheese)
Salt and pepper
6-8 small flour tortillas    

Mix tomatoes, green peppers, onions, cilantro, oil and lemon juice in a bowl; add salt and pepper to taste. On each tortilla, place two tablespoons of chicken, two tablespoons of veggie mix and top with cheese. Fold. Lightly oil a pan. Cook burritos about one minute on each side.
Assembled burritos can be made ahead of time and refrigerated for several hours before cooking. Serve with gallo pinto and/or sour cream.
Gallo Pinto Nicaragüense
1½ cups uncooked rice
1 tbsp olive oil
1 cup onions, finely diced
1 can small black or red kidney beans
1 green pepper, finely diced
Salt and pepper to taste    

Cook rice and set aside. In frying pan, add oil and sauté the onions over medium heat until they’re translucent. Add beans with liquid. Mash beans a little to add aroma and color. Add green pepper. Sauté about two minutes. Add rice, and sauté two to three minutes. Serve. This can be refrigerated and reheated for later use.

Sandra Scott can be reached by email c/o ITN.