Cinco de Mayo isn’t exactly around the corner. But hey – you can never have enough salsa, right? Fresh, crisp, and so flavorful, pico de gallo, also known as salsa fresca, is a raw version of salsa. Like any dish that is made all over the world, there are many variations of pico de gallo. This recipe is very simple, using a base of sweet tomatoes, tangy onions, hot herbaceous chilies and aromatic cilantro, all mixed with a splash of zesty lime juice a a generous quantity of salt.
All the ingredients used in pico de gallo will vary widely in size, flavor, intensity, and water content from day to day, region to region, in and out of season. So mix all the ingredients together, taste, and adjust. Taste again and adjust again. This basic recipe is so versatile that it can be tailored to suit any taste. Add mango for a touch of sweetness; fire-roasted chilies for a smoky flavor profile; garlic for an extra pungency. Let you imagination run wild with this delicious and versatile delight.
This fresh salsa works not only as a topping for corn chips, but also as an amazing filling for wraps. I put one together with smoked tempeh, fresh arugula, guacamole, and a generous serving of the pico de gallo. Delicious! Add some quinoa and you’ve got an incredible summer salad. Fold it into an omelet and you’ve got yourself a filling breakfast. Who says that pico de gallo is limited to only Mexican foods?
Tips for Making the Best Pico de Gallo
Tomatoes – the key to amazing pico de gallo is using the freshest and most flavorful tomatoes you can find. Plum tomatoes are the best because they have a lot more ‘meat’ to them than seeds and gel. They also seem to hold up a bit better after they’ve been salted. The next best option are cherry tomatoes or grape tomatoes. It’s better to start with less juicy tomatoes rather than seed juicier tomatoes as a way to control the liquid. Tomato seeds contain three times more flavor compounds, called glutamates, than the tomato flesh. So when you throw out the tomato seeds, you throw out a lot of the flavor too.
Onions – while using whatever type of onion you already have won’t ruin your salsa, using the right one will definitely make your salsa taste better. The most commonly used onions in Mexican dishes are white onions. Their crisp texture and pungent, tangy flavor makes them perfect for salsas, chutneys, and in other raw preparations. Another great option for raw dishes are sweet onions, such as Mauis, Walla Wallas, and Vidalias, which are milder and really do taste sweet.
Chili peppers – for chili peppers, I prefer medium-spicy jalapeños while my husband prefers spicy serranos. Jalapeños and serranos are the two most popular fresh chilies in the US and Mexico. However, you can experiment with other peppers and chilies. For mild pico de gallo, try yellow or orange bell peppers instead of hot peppers. For fiery hot pico de gallo, go with habaneros. To control the heat, remove the seeds and membranes, which are the spiciest parts of chilies.
Cilantro – fresh, finely-chopped cilantro is one thing that can improve any pico de gallo. The combination of cilantro and tomatoes is one of the most traditional and popular condiments in Latin America. However, some people hate cilantro. In a genetic survey of almost 30,000 people published by Cornell University, researchers were able to pinpoint a variation on the genes of those who admit to finding the herb repulsive. So consider whoever you’re going to be serving the pico de gallo to. Some prefer more, others less (or none).
Limes – hands down, key limes are the way to go. Of a Mexican origin, key limes impart unique tanginess and authentic flavor. If you can’t find key limes, any limes will do. Just keep in mind that limes vary in tartness so first try half of the lime juice called for in the recipe.
Salt – of course we need to add salt. Chefs love their kosher salt and so do I. However, in this recipe I prefer finely ground sea salt because it dissolves quickly compared to the grainier kosher salt.
Chop by hand – sure, all of the ingredients could go into a food processor and get pulverized into a delicious sauce but that would be cheating. Properly chopped, the ingredients retain a fine texture and truly come alive on the palate. Accompanied by the salty, tangy seasoning, it’s a beautiful balancing act. Though a bit more tedious than loading up the food processor, the fine hand chopping makes a huge difference in the final product.
Deflame the onions – in Mexico, people will often deflame onions before adding them to salsas and other raw dishes. Some will blanch the onion while others simply run the onion under water. But my favorite method of deflaming onion is one I learned from a chef who specializes in Mexican cuisine – Rick Bayless. Rick dices the onion and puts the pieces in a sieve. Then he places the sieve in a bowl of water and adds about two teaspoons of vinegar to the water (I usually use 2 tablespoons of lime juice). The onions sit in the water/vinegar mixture for a few minutes while chopping the other ingredients. Deflaming takes away some of the onion’s bite without diluting the flavor.
Use a glass bowl – since cilantro binds to metal, it is best to use a glass bowl when making this recipe. Store the finished salsa in a glass jar, ideally a mason jar.
The measurements are just a guide – add more or less of the specific ingredients as you prefer. Once you’ve tasted authentic Mexican salsa there’s no going back. The fresh flavor will linger in your memory even longer than it lingers on your tongue. After you see how quickly and easily this pico de gallo comes together, you’ll never again buy flavorless jarred salsa!
Tools You’ll Need
1. Cutting Board (12″x 9″, Midori Way, Bamboo) | 2. Knife Set (6 Pieces, Utopia, Stainless Steel) | 3. Mixing Bowls (Set of 3, Pyrex, Glass) | 4. Measuring Cups (Set of 6, Bellemain, Stainless Steel) | 5. Measuring Spoons (Set of 6, 1Easylife, Stainless Steel) | 6. Scraper (Oxo, Stainless Steel)
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