Saturday, February 5, 2011

Pico de Gallo and Guacamole - YUM!


This isn’t a meal, but it’s yummy. Oh, I absolutely love Pico de Gallo—the freshness of tomatoes, the clean flavor of cilantro, the cool, crisp wonderfulness of it all.

I’ve always had trouble making Pico de Gallo. For the longest time I mistakenly assumed that tomatoes were its chief ingredient, and the rest of the elements were just there for subtle flavor. Whenever I’d try (unsuccessfully, it turned out) to make Pico de Gallo, it went something like this: Chop a whole bunch of tomato. Add a tiny bit of onion, a couple of spoons of chopped cilantro, a teeny-tiny spoonful of fresh jalapeno, a bunch of lime juice and a ton of salt. And it wasn’t good. Ever. And I’d cry over my tortilla chips. Oh, how I’d cry over my tortilla chips.

But then I met Anna. She’s my only Mexican friend. Not that I wouldn’t want more friends from Mexico if I could have them, but I just don’t encounter that many people in my daily life, let alone people from other countries since I moved to Wisconsin. But oh, Anna is divine. She lets me practice my Spanish on her and she giggles at everything I say and she makes the most wicked Mexican food I’ve ever had, not the least of which is absolutely perfect Pico de Gallo.

Here’s the most important thing I learned from Anna about P. de G.: the tomatoes are only one part of the ultimate product. The jalapenos, the cilantro, the onions—they require equal billing with the tomatoes to make Pico de Gallo work. Just watch Anna in action and you’ll see what I mean. And I promise you’ll be drooling for "Pico and Chips" by the time you reach the end of this post.
The Cast of Characters: Five plum (Roma) tomatoes (firm, not soft), 1/2 large or 1 small onion, 3 jalapeno peppers, cilantro, lime juice, and salt. These quantities are approximate; you might need to increase or decrease the numbers, depending on the size of the vegetables you find.
Begin by cutting the ends off the jalapenos and chopping them into a small dice.
Keep going until you have a nice-sized pile.
Throw ‘em in a bowl, seeds and all. Surprisingly, this quantity of jalapenos did not add unbearable heat to the finished product. If you’re nervous about spiciness, you could decrease this amount at first, adding more later if you think you can handle it. Or, you can scrape the seeds from the jalapenos and discard them, as that’s where a lot of the heat resides.
Now begin dicing the tomatoes. First cut them lengthwise into thin wedges.
Then rotate the wedges 90 degrees and slice them into a fine dice.
Keep going until they’re all diced…
Then throw ‘em into the bowl with the jalapenos.
Stir together with a knife if you’re cool like Anna and don’t need a spoon.
Now it’s time to dice the onions. First turn the peeled onion on its side and make vertical slices.
Then rotate the onion 90 degrees and slice downward to dice.
Keep going until it’s all done…
And throw it on top of the jalapenos and tomatoes.
Stir together with a knife if you’re cool like Anna and don’t need a spoon. Did I just say that?
Now chop up a nice-sized bunch of cilantro. Don’t be stingy here! You can cut off the long stems before you start, but there’s no need to peel the leaves from the stems.
Chop until it’s relatively fine, but not minced.
Throw it into the bowl with the other yummy ingredients.
Then squeeze half of a small lime into the bowl. (If you have a double-jointed thumb, it helps!)
Add salt to taste. A couple of shakes should suffice. You might need a bit more, but keep in mind that your chips (or other accompaniment) will likely be salty.
Stir together.
And here it is—Pico de Gallo, baby! Notice how the tomatoes are only a part of the beautiful melange of ingredients? There’s plenty of jalapenos, onions, and cilantro to add to the diversity of taste and texture. Now it’s all ready to go on tacos, inside quesadillas, atop steamed fish, or OF COURSE, with tortilla chips.

Pico de Gallo won’t keep very long in the fridge—probably 24 hours or so. After that, the sugars start to break down and it turns into a soupy mess. So it’s best to make it the same day you’ll want to serve it, though you certainly could do so several hours before.

Now, one of the yummiest things you can do with Pico de Gallo is use it to make…

Guacamole! Allow Anna to demonstrate.
Start with buttery-soft avocados. Halve them lengthwise and remove the pits.
Scrape the meat onto a large plate.
If you get some on the side of the plate, it’s okay. (I apologize to all my obsessive-compulsive-ish readers who will spend the rest of today bothered by that small piece of avocado on the side of the plate. )
Anna likes to mash the avocado with the bottom of a (very clean) plastic cup.
Or you could mash it with a fork. Either way, be sure to leave it relatively chunky.
Add salt to taste. Just a couple of shakes will do.
Now throw a pretty generous helping of the pico de gallo you just made over the top. Don’t skimp; the guacamole should be chunky.
Fold together.
Squeeze half of a small lime over the top.
And fold together until it’s all mixed. You may want to add a little more pico de gallo if the guacamole isn’t chunky enough for you.
Hello, Gorgeous. I love you more than words can say.

Guacamole most certainly does not keep long in the fridge. If you press a layer of Saran Wrap all over the surface and prevent air from reaching it, it might go 24 hours. But guacamole is generally a same-day thing.

NOTE: If you do happen to leave your Pico de Gallo in the fridge for a couple of days and it’s no longer good enough to eat with chips, it still works wonderfully in the guacamole. If it’s just you, just mash up one avocado, add a couple of spoons of Pico, and have a little south-of-the-border fiesta in your kitchen. Or call me. I’ll come over.

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