Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Pico de Gallo

Pico de Gallo

I recently got back from a month-long trip to Mexico. Adjusting to the rhythm of ordinary life (versus the rhythm life takes when you’re on vacation, and you have no worries or concerns) was tough.
The way I finally got over this mental jetlag was going into the kitchen and cooking something. *

One of the things we liked about the restaurants in Mexico was that in almost all of them, a complimentary appetizer of tortilla chips (a.k.a nachos) was offered along with some form of salsa. The term “salsa” was confusing for me at first, since I’m used to it being a red sauce with a paste-like consistency, made mostly of tomatoes and chilies. It is, in fact, just the Mexican word for “sauce”.

During our trip we came across several types of salsa. In the Yucatan area, where we spent about two weeks, it always consisted of Pico de Gallo and sometimes also of Salsa Verde.

In the Chiapas and Oaxaca areas we only got a reddish liquid-like sauce in a varying degrees of spiciness, which I liked a lot less.

Taken at La Parrilla, Playa del Carmen
Tortilla chips with pico de gallo (left) and salsa verde (right).

One of the reasons I enjoyed my Pico de Gallo so much was that it reminded me of an Israeli staple – Salat Yerakot Israeli (Israeli vegetable salad). Borrowed from the Arabic cuisine, it is a finely chopped salad of cucumbers and tomatoes, seasoned with salt, pepper, olive oil and lemon. Sure, you could add some onion, parsley, radishes, olives, lettuce, carrots or what have you, but the basic pairing of cucumber and tomato has to be there. It has to be super fresh, cut by hand. You will also find it at any local falafel stand, as a mandatory pita stuffing.
The salad is also part of my daily supper, ever since I was very young. I even remember that when I was old enough, maybe five or six years old, my father handed me a (rather dull) knife, and let me cut parts of it myself.

I used a recipe from Bon Appétit magazine, and it was quite good. Since I only thought of making this salsa around lunch, the best nachos I got my hands on were Toasted Corn Doritos (they sell them here as “Natural Flavored Doritos”), and they were a relatively decent substitute.

We had this as an appetizer for our lunch and I was immediately flooded with memories of white sand beaches and turquoise waters.

* David Lebovitz interviewed baker Nick Malgieri and credited him with this inspiring quote:
“"Bake'll feel better," he says. Which somehow always seems to work!”

Pico de Gallo

Bon Appétit, July 2000
Stephan Pyles
1 1/2 pounds plum tomatoes, seeded, chopped
3/4 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
3 tablespoons minced seeded jalapeño chilies (about 2 medium) - I omitted these, instead using crushed dry chilies
1 garlic clove, minced

Mix all ingredients in medium bowl. Season with salt and pepper. (Can be made 4 hours ahead. Cover; chill.)

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