Mawi Tortillas’s Gallo Pinto Becomes Part Of The New Orleans Beans and Rice Tradition
It started with a tortilla.
Then a pupusa, followed by a birria taco and ultimately a Central American restaurant with a full menu.
But first, that tortilla.
Expanding Their Tortilla Empire
Will Avelar started Mawi Tortilla with his father Carlos and brother Fernando in 2017 as a wholesale tortilla bakery.
During COVID-19, Mawi Tortilla business was down due to most restaurants’ reduced operations, so the company began making and selling pupusas (inspired by Carlos, who is from El Salvador) and then birria tacos, which went viral on Instagram.
“Since then, we realized this location would probably benefit more from doing retail food than just wholesale tortillas,” says Will. The production of tortillas is now in Kenner.
The Spotted Rooster Rice
One of the restaurant’s popular dishes is Gallo Pinto, which translates roughly as “spotted rooster.”
A New Orleans native, Will spent time in Costa Rica, where his mother’s family lives. In Costa Rica, “black beans are a big part of their rice dish,” he states in a Camellia Beans video. “Most Costa Rican homes have a pot of Gallo Pinto and rice. It’s that much of a staple item that you always have it.”
Crafting the Gallo Pinto
The dish starts by boiling the beans. “You can soak them to speed up the process, but it’s not necessary,” says Will.
“From there, you take the cooked beans and strain the liquid, but keep it. Then in another pot — or once you’ve cleaned out the same pot — you sweat the aromatics like onion, bell pepper, garlic, and cilantro in olive oil or butter,” he says.
“Add uncooked rice, toasting it a little bit, then add the bean liquid to cook the rice, and add the cooked beans, stir to combine, and bring to a boil. Taste the liquid to ensure the seasoning is good,” he says.
“Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes.”
Gallo Pinto pops up as a special, sometimes as part of a Costa Rican-style breakfast served with eggs, cheese, some sort of protein, and plantains.
Red Beans Versatility
The restaurant also uses small red kidney beans to make refried beans and sopa de frijoles, a traditional bean soup, which is cooked with fried pork rinds and served with rice, boiled eggs, and avocado.
Another specialty that is more New Orleans in style, but with a Central American twist, is the restaurant’s version of red beans and rice, served on Mondays as a special.
It starts as traditional red beans and rice, prepared using Camellia Red Kidney beans and using the “trinity” (celery, onions, bell pepper), garlic and bay leaf. But it is a meatless version, made as a “way to cater to our guests who want a meatless option,” says Avelar.
A new addition are the sides of two pupusas served with curtido [pickled cabbage] and salsa, which “are two things you must have when eating pupusas,” says Avelar.
Freshly sliced avocado is also added, which may seem unusual. But there is a reason.
“My father always adds avocado to any beans he’s eating so I thought of putting that on our red beans and rice as something that our guests would like to try because it’s unique to the way he eats his beans.”
Avelar said he created this dish with the purpose of connecting both Louisiana and El Salvador on one plate.
“It represents traditions I identify with in my cooking and upbringing,” he says.
Blending Culinary Influences
If Will Avelar’s name sounds familiar, it’s because he has been involved in four of Chef Emeril Lagasse’s restaurants, working his way up through the ranks of Emeril’s, NOLA, Delmonico, and finally, as the opening chef for Meril. In addition to running Mawi Tortillas, he recently became the corporate chef for Hufft Marchand Hospitality.
“It’s the flavors that I’m familiar with, techniques I grew up learning in my career, but also incorporating that into the traditional foods that we have in Central America,” Will says of Mawi Tortilla’s dishes. He likes to experiment — crawfish pupusas, for example — but also keeps traditional favorites on the menu, sometimes adding a bit of Louisiana flair with Camellia Beans.