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Okay, so it's only famous with my friends and family.

One afternoon when I was in college, I set a study date with a girl that I was hot for.  I have no idea what we were studying, and, no, I never hooked up with her, but I remember this day for one important reason:  I tasted my first salsa fresca.  One of the other residents of her apartment was studying to be a chef (and was also hot for her, I think), so he offered to bring us some of his fresh pico de gallo for munchies while we worked.  The mixture of ecstasy and jealousy stuck with me for weeks.  I vowed to make such a magnificent, girl-enticing concoction of my own one day.

Of course, that day came well after I had enticed my current wife, but I figure there are still those out there that could use this recipe to catch their future significant other.  I hope to live vicariously through you!

The key to excellent pico de gallo, which can also be called salsa fresca or salsa mexicana, is the freshness of the vegetables and the combination of acids from both tomatoes and lime juice.  There are a lot of vegetables to dice, so your knife skills are also important to making the finished product more than just a bowl full of roughly chopped stuff.  I'll provide the recipe first, then I'll talk about the techniques I have learned for easing the process of chopping so many vegetables.

Recipe for Monkey's famous Pico de Gallo.  Can also be called 'salsa fresca' or 'salsa mexicana'.

Makes approximately 2 quarts.

6 medium tomatoes
8 tomatillos
2 red bell peppers
3 green (or other) bell peppers
2 medium white onions
2 limes
1 bunch cilantro leaves
1/4 cup roasted green chilis, minced

Heat oven to 325-350 degrees.  Roast 1 tomato, 1 red pepper, and all of the tomatillos.

While roasting, dice all other vegetables and combine in a large bowl.  Add zest and juice of limes.  Remove stems from cilantro, chop leaves, and add to bowl.

Smash the roasted tomatillos for their juice and innards.  Discard rinds.  Add to bowl.

Remove the skins from the roasted tomato and pepper.  Dice and add to bowl.

Add chilis, salt, and pepper to taste.  Stir thoroughly, cover, and let rest.  May be eaten immediately or within a couple of days if not jarred.

For some tips, let me start with selecting good tomatillos.  I was surprised to find that my new home is not as flush with tomatillos as Tucson was, even though there is a significant hispanic population in Florida as well.  So, I give this advice to those that don't have access to the best.  

Tomatillos have husks that have to be removed before cooking.  It is important that when you buy them that the husks are not completely dry and disintegrating.  However, if the husks are too tightly attached to the fruit, they are under-ripe.  You want the husk to feel like it will peel off easily, but not flake apart in your hands.  Also, I have found that the smaller tomatillos roast much better than the larger ones.

If you have ever had a salsa verde, you know what tomatillos bring to the party.  They have a tartness like a crab-apple when raw, but roasted, they have a deep umami that works great paired with tomatoes.

I struggled for quite awhile when I was first learning to cook with how to properly cut a tomato without loosing everything.  I used to try to core it, but I lost all the juice.  I tried cutting them into wedges, then removing the pithy stem, but I felt like a lot was wasted.  Now, I cut them into slices, stack the slices and cut them into strips, then dice the strips.  There will only be a couple of diced pieces that have the stem bits; discard those and you have saved both juice and flesh.

Like with the tomatoes, I used to waste a lot of my pepper bits while trying to rid myself of the ribs and seeds.  I tried cutting off the tops and bottoms, then cutting through the ribs such that I had one long sheet of pepper.  I found that I get more from each pepper if I cut down through the ribs instead.  You usually end up with 4 or 5 slices of pepper that can easily be diced and the core with the stem, seeds, and ribs all still attached to it.  Waste not, want not.

Cut the onion in half and remove the end that is least tapered.  You will need to hold the tapered end to get the most out of your onion.  Cut horizontally to the cutting board as close to the end as you can.  You should be able to get at least two cuts like this on a medium onion.  Cut vertically into the onion evenly spaced.  Then, when you cut on the remaining axis, you will have a perfect dice.  I tried to find a video to demonstrate this, but I seem to have forgotten who I learned it from.  Sorry.

I like to make salsa not only because of the beautiful flavor of fresh vegetables lightly pickled in lime juice, but also because it allows me to practice my knife skills.  Watch your favorite cooking shows and try their techniques for chopping tomatoes, peppers, and onions, then try it yourself.  Salsa is not likely to be a fail unless you over season it somehow.  And if you make ugly work of it, just put it all in the blender for a bit; your family (or future family, wink-wink) will never know that your knife skills suck.



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