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Costa Rican Olla de Carne Recipe

Costa Rican Olla de Carne Recipe

Olla de carne is a Costa Rican hearty stew composed of beef ribs, squash, corn, sweet potato, chayote, and a handful of herbs and spices. It is commonly served with a side of white rice and flour tortillas.

Literally translated as a pot of meat, olla de carne is traditionally slow-cooked over an open flame for days at a time. It is considered a comfort food and is a staple in most Costa Rican households. These days, olla de carne can be prepared in under 3 hours on the stovetop and the slow cooking method has become slightly less popular.

Origin & Cultural Significance

Olla de carne dates back to the Spanish colonization of Costa Rica when settlers arrived on the island for the first time. It is derived from the Spanish dish Olla Podrida which the settlers brought over and originated in the Middle Ages.

With time, olla podrida transformed into olla de carne thanks to the influence of indigenous flavors from local ingredients. Now, the plate is considered a marriage between the Spanish culinary traditions and those local indigenous flavors, creating the unique flavor profile that characterizes the dish.

The word ‘olla’ refers to the terracotta pot in which the dish was originally cooked above a fire. 

The dish is still a staple part of Costa Rican households and is considered one of the most important dishes in the country’s culinary heritage. Olla de Carne is said to bring people together during both the preparation and eating of the dish.

It is often prepared on special occasions such as family reunions, birthdays, over the Christmas period, and in times of hardship or loss, as a go-to comfort meal. 

Costa Ricans consider the stew to be a symbol of the pura vida lifestyle enjoyed in the country (translated as pure life or simple life).

Olla de Carne

Costa Rican Olla de Carne Recipe

Yield: 6
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 3 hours
Total Time: 3 hours 20 minutes


  • Beef (bone-in cuts like shank or ribs work best)
  • 1 onion, chopped - 2 lb
  • Garlic (minced) - 3 cloves
  • Carrots (sliced) - 2
  • Potatoes (peeled and diced) - 2
  • Yam or sweet potato (peeled and diced) - 1
  • Plantains (peeled and cut into chunks) - 2
  • Corn (cut into thirds) - 2 ears
  • 1 chayote squash, peeled and diced - 1
  • Celery stalk (chopped) - 1
  • Bell pepper (chopped) - 1
  • Tomatoes (chopped) - 2
  • Fresh cilantro - 1 bunch
  • Cumin - 1 tsp
  • Oregano - 1 tsp
  • Salt and pepper - to taste


  1. Heat some oil over medium-high heat. Add the chopped onion and garlic, and sauté until cooked. 
  2. Add the beef to the pot and brown it on all sides. Season with cumin, oregano, salt, and pepper. Don’t skip this initial step; it's crucial for building flavor in the stew.
  3. Once the beef is browned, add enough water to cover it by two inches. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer for about 1.5 to 2 hours or until the meat becomes tender.
  4. After the meat has simmered for a while, add in the carrots, potatoes, yam, plantains, corn, chayote squash, celery, and bell pepper. Continue to cook until the vegetables are tender, this should take about 30-45 minutes.
  5. Finally add the tomatoes and fresh cilantro (best in a bundle). Simmer for an additional 10-15 minutes. 
  6. Taste and adjust the seasoning with more salt and pepper if needed. Remove the cilantro bundle.
  7. Serve hot, garnished with fresh cilantro leaves. It's customary to serve Olla de Carne with a side of white rice and tortillas.
Nutrition Information:
Yield: 6 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 351Total Fat: 4gSaturated Fat: 1gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 2gCholesterol: 12mgSodium: 103mgCarbohydrates: 75gFiber: 10gSugar: 24gProtein: 11g

Nutrition is provided and calculated by Nutritionix. It is for general information purposes and is only a rough estimation.

Photo credit: Aleat88

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