When people move to Costa Rica to live or retire I always recommend that they try all of the local foods as part of learning about the country’s culture.
As Semana Santa, or Easter Week, approaches it is the the time of year when the Flor de Itabo flourishes. You can see people along the highway between La Garita and the Grecia turnoff selling these flowers. The plant is very popular among the ticos and is a favorite ingredient of different dishes.
Flor de Itabo is called yucca in English and is a member of the agave family. It is recognizable because of its large cluster of bright white petals. The flavor is similar to an artichoke, but with a slightly bitter aftertaste. The flowers are most commonly prepared in eggs like a tortilla española. Another way in which it is made is in a traditional picadillo, from the verb picar: to mince or to chop.
Picadillo de Flor de Itabo may be served as a main course at lunch or as a light main course at dinner. It also makes a great side dish.
Recipe for Picadillo de Flor de Itabo:
2 cups flor de itabo
2 eggs lightly beaten
4 potatoes cubed and precooked in water with salt
1 onion, chopped
Plus vegetable oil, salt, white pepper, cumin, cilantro
First, pluck the flowers from the stems and remove the centers of each. This part of the flower gives it its characteristic flavor so it’s best to leave some intact. Wash the flowers carefully in fresh water, dry and set aside. Next, in a frying pan, at medium heat, warm the oil and add the onions until transparent but not browned, then add the fresh thyme. Add the flowers until they begin to wilt, about 1Ž4 cup water will help to cook them evenly and avoid browning.
Finally, when the flowers are tender but not overcooked, add the eggs, potatoes, salt, white pepper, and cumin. Garnish with whole leaves of cilantro or finely chopped. Serve with warm corn tortillas on the side.