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CEDAR FALLS – Stan Engel listened carefully as Luann Alemao Johnson explained the steps for adding seasonings — turmeric and coriander — to a sizzling pan of onions and garlic cloves. Along with Nona Wessels, Engel was in charge of preparing flavorful beans and rice for a Costa Rican supper.

“A visit to Costa Rica is on my bucket list; at least it’s on my horizon. That’s why I’m here, to learn more about the food and seasonings,” Engel said. It was his first cooking class with Alemao Johnson, food and nutrition educator and host of “Get Fit” TV, who is known for teaching healthy cooking courses with Blue Zones-inspired menus.

The cooking class was an opportunity for Alemao Johnson to share what she’d learned on a recent visit to Costa Rica. One experience she particularly enjoyed was joining a Costa Rican family for dinner. Her hostess had written a cookbook and Alemao Johnson was eager to sample her dishes. “The meal was wonderful, and homes in Costa Rico are modest but comfortable,” she said.

If you think Disney World is the “happiest place on Earth,” Mickey and Minnie Mouse haven’t visited Costa Rica. This Central American country with coastlines on the Pacific Ocean and Caribbean is home to tropical rainforests, beaches, volcanoes, protected wildlife and some of the happiest people on the planet, according to National Geographic.

Costa Rico also has been a focus of Blue Zones founder Dan Buettner because of its number of centenarians. Most residents enjoy a diet built around rice, beans, fruit and vegetables with very little meat, said Alemao Johnson.

She shared some of the recipes she brought home with her cooking class in the UnityPoint Health kitchen at Prairie Parkway. Students prepared savory rice and beans flavored with turmeric, mango turmeric sauce, hearts of palm salad and cinnamon pineapple.

Students also made homemade tortillas under the tutelage of Ana Rodriguez and Esmeralda Garcia of Rancho Chico Mexican Restaurant in Cedar Falls, and sampled Costa Rican and Central American coffees with Jed Vander Zanden of Sidecar Coffee.

“I actually liked the coffee from El Salvador best because it was a little sweet and not bitter,” says Ruth Ann Shriver of Cedar Falls. “I’m interested in going to Costa Rica, too, and I thought it would be fun to hear Luann’s program and have hands-on experience making dishes and sharing a meal.”

Savory Costa Rican Rice and Beans with Coriander

2 cups cooked beans (pintos, black beans or red beans)

1 cup brown rice

½ onion, chopped

2 to 3 cloves garlic, crushed

1 tablespoon green or red pepper

1 to 2 tablespoons coriander, smoky paprika or ancho chili powder

1 teaspoon turmeric

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce (optional)

Sauté onions with garlic in saucepan over medium heat. Add rice and cook until rice tests done, about 40 minutes. Add beans, spices and peppers. Cook until warmed through and flavors are mellowed, about 3 to 5 minutes.


Mango Turmeric Sauce

2 ripe mangos, peeled and sliced

2 tablespoons fish sauce

2 tablespoons chili sauce

2 tablespoons brown sugar

3 garlic cloves minced

1 tablespoons lime juice

¼ teaspoon turmeric

¼ to ½ teaspoon dried and crushed chili pepper

Use the food processor to all ingredients until smooth. Taste and adjust seasoning. Place in saucepan and heat slightly before serving over rice and beans or meat.


Hearts of Palm Salad

10 cups baby greens

1 14-ounce can hearts of palm, sliced

2 medium avocados, sliced

2 tablespoons chopped olives, Greek or black

Avocado vinaigrette, see recipe below

Place greens in a salad bowl. Toss in hearts of palm, avocados and olives. Pour vinaigrette over the salad and serve chilled.


Avocado vinaigrette

1 avocado, halved, seeded, peeled and chopped

3 tablespoons lime juice

1 tablespoon sherry vinegar

1 teaspoon sugar

2/3 cup olive oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

In a food processor or blender, combine avocado, lime juice, vinegar and sugar. Cover and process or blend until combined. With processor or blender running, add olive oil in a steady stream until mixture thickens. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste. Serve immediately.


Cinnamon Pineapple

1 pineapple, peeled, cored and cut into spears

Sugar, to taste

Cinnamon sticks

Toasted coconut

Macadamia nuts, chopped

In a saucepan, cook pineapple with sugar and cinnamon sticks over low to medium heat until pineapple is somewhat softened. Stir to dissolve sugar and until pineapple is golden. Remove cinnamon sticks before serving. Garnish with toasted coconut and macadamia nuts.


Arts/Special Sections Editor

Special Sections Editor for the Courier

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