Pico de Gallo is a fresh, no-cook salsa that is delicious with corn chips, or as a topping on fish, meat or poultry.
On my recent trip to Mexico, I tried freshly made pico de gallo for the first time and fell in love with the bright flavours. I had only had soggy, store-bought pico de gallo before, and I didn’t think it was anything special. The fresh stuff is so much better! Luckily, it’s also a cinch to make! I’m going to talk about the drama that happened on my trip first, but you can skip ahead to the recipe if you want to.
Every couple of years or so my parents, brother and I like to escape to somewhere hot, and enjoy a week of quiet relaxation. This year, we headed off to Mexico for the first time. We booked a nice resort through my parents timeshare, and anticipated a fun week of sun and good food.
Unfortunately, Mexico wasn’t all that we had hoped it would be…
Someone from the resort had emailed my dad, warning him to avoid the salespeople at the airport who might try to get us to buy into another timeshare or vacation package. The person said to look for a resort representative that was wearing a white shirt and tan pants, and they would be holding a sign with our resort logo. That seems easy enough, right?
So we got off the airplane, collected our luggage, and walked into a room that should have just been a hallway leading to the exit. Instead, it looked like we had walked onto the trading floor of New York Stock Exchange. People wearing various shades of white, beige, tan and brown called out to travellers as they entered the room. Oh, and everyone was carrying signs with (what looked like) the resort logo, too.
We managed to dodge the first few sales guys, but soon realized that the closer you got to the exit, the more aggressive the sales people would become. Several of them stalked us around the room, corralling us like cattle, until we had no choice but to stop at a particular desk. At one point, when I tried to walk away to see if I could at least see where the exit was, another sales rep grabbed my arm and told me to go back to the desk.
After 20 minutes of talking to this sales rep, who was friendly and assured us that he was the person we were supposed to talk to, we realized he was indeed trying to sell us something. We said no thank you, probably about 8 times before he finally took no for an answer, and then made a beeline for the exit. We eventually found the right person, and got a cab to the hotel, but the entire experience was frustrating (as you can imagine, I’m sure).
You know what I don’t get? Why didn’t the rep say that the person we were looking for would be OUTSIDE of the airport? That small detail would have made a big difference, because then we wouldn’t have paused to try to find the right person in the chaos inside.
Things didn’t get much better at the resort. After checking in, another resort rep pulled us aside to “welcome” us to the resort, and invite us to their free breakfast/resort presentation. We’ve been booking vacations through timeshares for years though, so we know what these presentations are like. Usually, you eat breakfast with your family and have to sit through a 1-hour presentation where they tell you how awesome their resort is, and encourage you to buy into it.
We politely declined, but it seems that no one who works for this resort knows how to take “no thanks” for an answer. The lady eventually offered us an upgraded room, as well as restaurant and spa coupons, so we agreed to the presentation. They’re boring, but we figured if we could save a few dollars on this trip (the resort isn’t all inclusive) then we could deal with losing an hour of our vacation time.
Long story short, we went to breakfast and then (strangely) the rep told my brother and I to go back to our room, because they only wanted my parents in the presentation. We left, and my parents went to what was supposed to be a 90-minute presentation. We told them we’d meet them back at the room later. Only, they didn’t show up after 90 minutes. 2 hours went by, then 3, and we wondered what the hell had happened.
I didn’t know until we came home, and I did a quick Google search (I didn’t have internet access there). It turns out that this resort company is notorious for keeping people in the presentation room for hours if they refuse to make a purchase. When my parents refused to buy from the first sales rep, they brought in a rep who has a similar cultural background, who could connect with my parents as a “friend” and make them feel secure out their purchase (which they did end up buying, unfortunately). It wasn’t until much later that we remembered that they had asked us about our cultural background at the breakfast – sneaky!
We had an unfortunate experience, and I’m purposely not mentioning the name of the resort company, because we’re still trying to figure out what’s happening with that contract that my parents signed. But be warned! Timeshare and resort companies are becoming more and more aggressive in their sales tactics, so don’t let yourself get caught when you’re on vacation.
It wasn’t all bad though. We did manage to have a few good experiences, despite all the of the drama. We ate some good food, and found that the staff who drive the cars, work in the restaurants, clean the rooms and tend to the gardens were all very friendly. I’ve been keeping in touch with one staff member who was really friendly, and all we talk about is food! He has given me one of his family recipes to try, so hopefully I will have that ready for you to check out soon!
Ok, let’s talk about the pico de gallo recipe.
What is Pico de Gallo?
Pico de gallo, sometimes referred to as Salsa Fresca, is a fresh salsa made with raw tomatoes, onions, serrano chili peppers, cilantro, lime and salt. That’s it! We had it served with tortilla chips and guacamole at the resort, but it’s also tasty when served as a topping for fish, chicken or steak. I’ve been told that it’s good with eggs too, although I haven’t tried that.
I managed to find serrano peppers in the produce section of my local Walmart, but if you can’t find them you can use jalapeño peppers instead. Keep in mind though, that serrano peppers can be quite a bit hotter than jalapeño peppers. So you might want to leave the seeds and membranes in the jalapeño peppers to get more heat out of them, whereas doing so with the serrano peppers might make the pico de gallo too spicy for you. It really depends on your personal heat tolerance.
For the tomatoes, you need to use the best quality tomatoes that you can get your hands on. This might mean that you can’t make this dish in the dead of winter here in Canada, when our tomatoes truly suck. In the middle of summer though, any tomatoes will do. I used little Campari tomatoes in this post, because they’re my favourite, but I’ve also made pico de gallo with hot house tomatoes which works just as well.
Some people like to salt their tomatoes (which pulls the moisture out of them), let them sit for a while, then drain them. This can help improve the texture of the tomatoes – but I don’t think this step is necessary. If you put your leftover pico de gallo in the fridge, the salt will pull the moisture out, and you will need to drain the mixture (and probably re-adjust the seasoning) before eating it again.
Pico de gallo is a great recipe for using up leftover bits in your fridge. I had half of a white onion leftover from school, and a piece of red onion (the rest was used for pizza) in my crisper, so I chopped up both and threw them in. Although white onion is more traditional for this recipe, red onion works just as well.
If you’re not a fan of eating raw onions (I’m not), you can soak the chopped onion in a bowl with ice water in 10 minutes or so, then strain before using. This helps to reduce the “bite” of the onion. The lemon juice in the recipe will also help to balance out the sharpness of the onions.
Lastly, I know that cilantro is not everyone’s favourite herb, but it really does go well in this recipe. If you don’t have the gene which makes cilantro taste like soap, I encourage you to give it a try. Start with a small amount at first, and see what you think of it. Traditionally, I think the cilantro is supposed to be roughly chopped and then added to the pico de gallo, but I like it when it’s chopped finely because the flavour is more subtle.
As for the seasoning, it’s really up to you. I’ve seen pico de gallo recipes without any lime, but that’s honestly my favourite part of the flavour profile. You also want to add enough salt to bring out the flavours of the vegetables. My Mexican friend likes to add garlic and black pepper to his mix, which is also yummy but totally optional. As always, play around with the recipe and decide what you like the most!
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Pico de Gallo
Pico de Gallo is a fresh salsa made with raw tomatoes, onions and serrano chili peppers. It is delicious with tortilla chips, or served as a topping on fish, chicken or steak.
- 1/2 cup white onion, finely diced
- 1 serrano chili pepper, finely diced (seeds and membranes removed for less heat)
- 2 cups tomatoes, medium diced (about 4 medium tomatoes)
- 1/4 cup cilantro, finely chopped
- 1 tbsp fresh lime juice
- 1 clove garlic, minced (optional)
- salt, to taste
- black pepper, to taste (optional)
Add all ingredients into a large bowl, and stir to combine.
Adjust the lime, salt and pepper (if using) to suit your taste.
Serve immediately, or refrigerate for up to a few hours. Best served the day you make it.
To take the "bite" out of the raw onions, add them to a bowl of water with ice cubes, and let them sit for about 10 minutes, then drain before combining with the other ingredients.
Salt will draw the moisture out of the pico de gallo, so you may find that your pico de gallo is very watery after you take it out of the fridge. You can just drain the mixture and re-adjust the seasoning before serving.
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