El restaurante Mexicano-Style Pico de Gallo (Fresh Salsa)
Fresh Pico de Gallo is the best! Eat it with tortilla chips, pile it on tacos, burritos, tostadas, enchiladas, and quesadillas, or serve it over pinto or black beans as a side dish. It’s addictive!
Childhood Dining Experiences
Memories of dining out with family and eating authentic south-of-the-border foods served cafeteria-style are among my favorite recollections from childhood dining out experiences. In so many ways, those times helped shape my love for ethnic tastes, dining entertainment, and family gatherings around food.
The iconic Tucson restaurants I most remember are Pancho’s Mexican Restaurant and La Fuente, among others. Though opening in the 1940s, unfortunately, both have long since ceased to exist, as I’ve discovered thanks to Google. But in their heyday, they served the most delicious Mexican entrees amidst a great atmosphere I’ve never forgotten. The destinations gained popularity and repeat customers with uniquely decorated buildings and rooms of adobe, copper accents, old-west paintings, even a seven-foot dripping candle (at Pancho’s), and lively mariachi bands that wove past the tables as people ate. All greeting and offering local diners and tourists alike a tremendous south-of-the-border authentic food experience.
Like many restaurants we wish were still open, of the thousands of memorable ones that have come and gone in Tucson over the years, the menus of these Mexican restaurants always began with bowls of complimentary warm tortilla chips with fresh salsa.
The Best Tomatoes for Pico de Gallo
While you can use any tomato for making fresh salsa, I think firm, fleshy tomatoes are best for developing the rich tomato taste and a thick salsa that stands up on your chip. For this reason, I always choose a mixture of Romas and dead-ripe fleshy tomatoes with a low seed and water content.
While you’ll obviously get rid of the stem, use tomatoes that, when coarsely chunked, give you more flesh than seed and ones that aren’t very juicy for the best consistency.
Ideally, fleshy tomatoes with thick walls will make a thick salsa. You want tomatoes that will mix in, providing an ample, saucy aspect to the salsa. On the other hand, Juicy tomatoes will make your Pico de Gallo thin and watery, and you don’t want that!
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How to Choose the Best Peppers for Fresh Salsa
My advice for choosing the best peppers for fresh salsa is to select your peppers according to your salsa taste. Mild peppers such as sweet bell peppers (in ripened stages from green to yellow, orange, red, or purple) and poblano peppers make excellent mild salsas. Medium peppers such as green jalapeños will give the salsa a hotter taste. If you like your salsa with a good amount of heat, use mature ripe, deep red jalapeños or Serrano peppers to add the spicier flavor and bite you’re craving. If you like salsa with less heat, you’ll want to remove the ribs and seeds from hotter peppers. When doing that, you may also want to set aside some of the seeds to add in later if you feel the sauce needs a little more heat.
Remember that the oils in jalapeño and chili peppers can cause discomfort to the skin on your hands and other bodily parts, especially if touching your eyes (or other sensitive parts) for several hours. For that reason, you may consider wearing disposable prep gloves or rubbing a little olive oil on your hands before handling (to protect your skin) and washing your hands thoroughly with soap and water after handling.
How to Make and Store Fresh Salsa
Picture the recipe step-by-step...
Homemade fresh salsa is super easy to make. You’ll need only a few standard kitchen items, such as a large bowl, cutting board, sharp knife, and a large spoon for mixing. To make the salsa, roughly chunk the tomatoes, dice the peppers and onion, mince the jalapeño, chop the parsley or cilantro if you prefer, and add everything to the bowl with the garlic, one-to-two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar, a little kosher Salt, and the juice of one lime. Stir lightly to combine. Taste and make any adjustments necessary; then, once satisfied with the taste, cover it and let the salsa mixture sit (at room temperature or chilled) for 1-2 hours for the flavors to blend and develop before serving.
The Pico de Gallo should last about 3-5 days when refrigerated. It’s important to note that because this salsa recipe is made with fresh ingredients, the longer you store it, the more the vegetables will lose their fresh taste.
Pico de Gallo vs. Salsa
Potato, patatoe, tomato, tomatoe – is Pico de Gallo and salsa the same?
While the two dishes look somewhat similar, include similar ingredients, and are often used interchangeably when eaten with tortilla chips or to accompany and flavor south-of-the-border foods, there are a few fundamental differences between Pico de Gallo and salsa.
The first noticeable difference is that Pico de Gallo is always served fresh. It’s raw fresh salsa, also known as salsa Fresca (fresh sauce), salsa cruda (raw sauce), or salsa Mexicana, made with “only” fresh ingredients. Additionally, each chopped component is distinctly visible. Beyond that, you won’t find any canned or cooked tomatoes in this fresh salsa. You’ll also notice that the tomatoes are chunked or largely diced in the mixture to add wonderful texture and a chunky quality to the sauce, which has a lot to do with how Pico de Gallo got its name.
On the other hand, Salsa has a thinner consistency with more liquid than Pico de Gallo. While it can be made chunky, the tomatoes are often cooked down, blending in with the other ingredients to become more pureed with a smoother consistency. Additionally, there are many types of salsas, from red salsa (salsa Roja) and green salsa (salsa Verde or tomatillo salsa) to non-tomato-based salsas made with different fruits and vegetables; as we’ve included in these recipes:
Why it is Called Pico de Gallo?
Sharon Tyler Herbst, a well-known food writer and author of Food Lover’s Companion, writes that Pico de Gallo means “rooster’s beak,” and it is so named because of the mixture being eaten by pinching it between the thumb and forefinger.
The origin of the saucy mixture is also alluded to in the book Authentic Mexican: Regional Cooking from the Heart of Mexico by Rick Bayless and Deann Groen Bayless, where the authors speculate that the name comes from the likeness in texture and appearance of the mince of bird feed known as chop.
Still, other references cite its belief that Pico de Gallo’s name originated from the serrano pepper, which resembles a rooster’s beak in shape. The fiery “bite” of the rooster is supposedly like the spiciness of the salsa.
Swaps & Substitutions
Feel free to switch things up depending on your tastes and the ingredients that you have on hand.
Can’t find fleshy tomatoes? Remove as many seeds as possible and drain or squeeze out the juices of the tomatoes you have before adding them. I’ve also used cherry tomatoes in a pinch when the fresh salsa craving strikes, and that’s all I have!
Don’t Like Spicy Salsa? Use only one jalapeño, or leave the hotter peppers out altogether. There’s nothing wrong with concentrating on including only sweet peppers to enjoy this delicious mixture of fresh veggies!
Are You a Purist? While traditional recipes for Pico de Gallo uses the herb from the fresh leaves of the coriander plant called cilantro, I, like many people, think it has a soapy flavor, so I prefer using parsley instead. If you don’t have parsley or cilantro, feel free to omit either or swap it out for what you have on hand.
No Red Onion? This recipe can easily use any onion (white, yellow, red) or scallions.
Do You Only Have Jarred Garlic? If you must use it, you can use roughly ½ teaspoon of jarred garlic to replace one fresh garlic clove.
Are You Lacking a Lime? Because this recipe includes apple cider vinegar to help preserve the salsa, you could omit the lime altogether. That said, fresh lime adds a boost of fresh flavor in addition to maintaining freshness. But if lemon is all you have, feel free to use it instead!
To make the best Pico de Gallo choose tomatoes with a low seed and water content with thick fleshy walls; roughly chunk the tomatoes and dice the peppers, making them distinctly visible. Mix them in a large bowl with the remaining ingredients, seasoning everything to taste before covering. Let the salsa mixture sit (at room temperature or chilled) for 1-2 hours for the flavors to blend and develop before serving.
Lastly, if you don’t eat it right away, any remaining amount should last about 3-5 days when refrigerated. But because this salsa recipe is made with fresh ingredients, the longer you store it, the more the vegetables will lose their fresh taste.
I hope this recipe will inspire you to use the freshest tomatoes, peppers, and onions from your garden (if you grow one) or shop at a local farmer’s market to make this simple salsa recipe. Enjoy!
After you try this Pico de Gallo, check out a few of our other always gluten-free recipes that include fresh salsas. Let us know which ones are your favorites, keep following along for more great recipes, and let’s make food GfreeDeliciously together!
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How to Make Homemade (Pico de Gallo) Garden-Fresh Salsa
- 1 Large bowl
- 1 Cutting Board
- 1 Utensils (Cooks Knife, Measuring Cups & Spoons, Large Spoon)
- 2 to 3 medium fresh fleshy tomatoes about 1-1/2 pounds stemmed and coarsely chunked
- 1 medium Green Bell Pepper chopped
- 1 medium Red Bell Pepper chopped
- 1 medium Yellow bell Pepper chopped
- ½ medium Red Onion chopped
- 1 large handful of curly-leaf Parsley chopped (can substitute Cilantro)
- 2 Jalapeño Peppers stemmed and seeds removed, then minced
- 2 cloves of fresh Garlic minced
- 1-2 tablespoons Apple Cider Vinegar
- 1 teaspoon Kosher Salt +/- more to taste
- Juice of 1 lime
Prep the Ingredients
- Coarsely chop the tomatoes, sweet peppers, onion, and parsley, adding each to a large bowl. Then mince the jalapeños using disposable prep gloves or wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water after handling, avoiding touching your eyes (or other sensitive parts) for several hours. Add the minced jalapeño to the bowl, then the minced garlic, one tablespoon of the vinegar, kosher salt, and the lime juice. Stir lightly to combine.2 to 3 medium fresh fleshy tomatoes, 1 medium Green Bell Pepper, 1 medium Red Bell Pepper, 1 medium Yellow bell Pepper, 1/2 medium Red Onion, 1 large handful of curly-leaf Parsley, 2 Jalapeño Peppers, 2 cloves of fresh Garlic, 1-2 tablespoons Apple Cider Vinegar, 1 teaspoon Kosher Salt, Juice of 1 lime
Taste & Adjust
- Remove a small amount of the salsa mixture for tasting with a spoon. Add more salt and vinegar if necessary and adjust the overall heat of the salsa.  Once satisfied with the taste, cover and let the salsa mixture sit (at room temperature or chilled) for 1-2 hours for the flavors to blend and develop before serving.1 teaspoon Kosher Salt, 2 Jalapeño Peppers
(Nutritional values are an approximation. Actual nutritional values may vary due to preparation techniques, variations related to suppliers, regional and seasonal differences, or rounding.)
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