Sunday, February 1, 2009

Recipe: Chunky Pico de Gallo

Well, it's Super Bowl Sunday, the national non-holiday so many people wait for after the traditional run of holidays in November and December. Though I am not the biggest sports fan (and didn't really know who was playing in this year's Super Bowl until last Friday *gasp*), the viewing parties are usually a fun time for all. In honor of this "holiday" I thought I would post a simple recipe that goes well with all those chips and crackers most folks will be having, as well as the Spicy Shrimp Quesadillas I posted about last night: my Chunky Pico de Gallo.

As a certified tomato addict, it always amuses me that there are so many people who claim they hate tomatoes yet love tomato products like ketchup, marinara sauce, and salsa. It's my belief that most people will eat tomatoes in some way, shape, or form. Though this may be a bit closer to an actual tomato than most haters like, I promise this is far better than any jarred salsa you will ever have. No offense to the cooked salsas of the world; I'm just of the opinion that a fresh salsa offers more in the way of flavor and texture. Pico de Gallo is essentially just that: a fresh salsa. The only difference is that the ingredients are chunkier than in a traditional salsa. Fresh tomatoes, crispy onions (I prefer red over white for a good Pico though they both work fine; yellow onions are too strong for this), cool cilantro and tangy lime juice is all chopped and tossed together for bliss in a dip. You could easily go from a Pico de Gallo to a Salsa Fresca in no time with a few more chops of each ingredient and a little more liquid. I find Pico de Gallo a bit more versatile because of its heartier nature - there's more substance, more texture, so it's easier to use as a dip, topping, dressing, etc.

Which brings me to my next point: do not think of this as something reserved only for chips! There are many times that I use a good Pico de Gallo to add zesty flavor and texture to: salads, rice dishes, quesadillas, soups, you name it. It's a great variation of the traditional bruschetta, holding up just as nicely on a crusty piece of baguette as its Italian & Mediterranean cousins. And of course, who can resist the perfect food trifecta: cheap, tasty, and good for you? With some keen shopping for a good deal on hearty tomatoes, red onions, and cilantro (subliminal message: hit your farmer's market), you can easily make a giant bowl that will serve several party guests for about $4. A large jar of Pace picante sauce could cost you about the same, yield less product, and does not hold up as sturdily on top of a giant, crispy tortilla chip.

And did I mention it's pretty to look at? :)

Chunky Pico de Gallo (yields about 3 cups; Total Cost of recipe: about $3.50)

5 medium tomatoes, ripe but slightly firm
1/2 red onion (or a whole one if it's small)
1 small bunch of cilantro (about 15 individual sprigs)
1 T freshly squeezed key lime juice (regular lime is fine; do not use lemon as it changes the flavor)
1/4 t crushed garlic
1/4 t sea salt
1/8 t ground black pepper
Couple dashes of cumin (optional)
Pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)

Gently rinse all veggies & tomatoes and pat dry. Dice onion so that your pieces are about 1/4" in size and put in a large bowl. Finely chop cilantro, leaves and stems, and add to onion (the stems have even more flavor than the leaves, and offer a nice texture). Core the tomatoes and chop them coarsely, so that each piece is 1/2" - 3/4" in size. Add the tomatoes and all of the juice to the rest of the veggies along with the garlic, salt, lime juice, pepper, cumin, and cayenne, and mix together completely. Check for seasonings and adjust accordingly, keeping in mind that this is NOT supposed to be salty. The salt should be used only to bring out the flavors of the tomato, onion, and cilantro; you should be tasting them and the lime juice more than the salt.

Make ahead of time and chill covered in the fridge for a more enhanced flavor, stirring together before serving. Serve with chips or on top of the Spicy Shrimp Quesadillas. If there are leftovers, put them in a jar or plastic container and use later to top anything you can imagine! Enjoy!


  1. Lovely recipe! I serve something very simiiar (but also including cucumber) to accompany either chilli or curry.

  2. Try adding a some vinegar. Traditional Mexican pico de gallo has about 3 oz of vinegar to the amounts in the recipe (and no cumin or cayenne, plus diced jalapeƱo or serrano chillies). If that's too much vinegar, at least give it a dash. No strong flavors: use simple white vinegar, never use balsamic (it overwhelms the rest of the flavors).

  3. Ooh, thanks for the tip, Mazamora! I'm going to have to try that next time I make this. And I know there's not usually cumin in it, I just happen to put it in almost everything.

    Thanks again!

  4. i am one of those people that doesn't like tomatoes in their purest form. but for me, it's not a flavor issue as much as it is textural. i have a really difficult time with the gelatinous seedy portions of the tomato. i do love salsa, but shy away from pico de gallo due to the large chunks of tomato.

  5. There are a couple of quick fixes for that problem, Patti! You can simply scrape out the seed portion of the tomato and use the regular flesh for the pico de gallo. Or if the flesh also bothers you, you can give the pico de gallo a couple of VERY quick pulses w/a hand blender until you have a smoother salsa. You get all the flavor but the texture is different. Hope you give it a try!

    :) Kimberly



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