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Pico de Gallo - Concept cooking

 
gardener
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I always have a problem with sharing food ideas, as I do not use recipes. I'm a concept cooker, and that's hard to explain. A quick example is if the recipe calls for vinegar, it needs an acid to make it work, therefore, lemon juice, buttermilk, tomato juice, kombucha, or sour wine all will work there, to one extent or another. How much do you use of anything? "Enough." Really hard to share recipes that way.

I was in Mexico years ago, the place we ate breakfast had awesome pico de gallo, best I have ever had. I don't eat it as a condiment, I eat it as a salad, and kept ordering bigger and bigger bowls of it. One day the waiter said "The abuela in the kitchen ("grandma", respectful title for older women) wants to meet los gringa who is eating all her pico de gallo!" So I went to the kitchen. Her English was as scanty as my Spanish, but we both cook, and we waved our hands a lot, and a busboy helped with a few things. She taught me how to make the pico de gallo that was so good. And it's not the recipe, it's how it's done. So start with a random recipe you like to get amounts of ingredients.

Chop up your onions, dump them into a bowl, sprinkle about 3/4 of the salt for the whole recipe on them, and all the lime or lemon juice. If you are using fresh garlic or any fresh hot chile, chop it, and mix it in. Let it sit while you chop the rest, or do something else for a bit. If you are making it ahead of time, toss the bowl in the fridge, or let ferment on the counter for a day or two, the longer it sits the mellower it gets, if you have hot chile and people who are wimpy, let it sit longer to calm it. What this does is the salt and the acid of the juice slightly pickles and mellows the sharp ingredients. Chop your tomatoes, layer them on top of the onion mix with all their juice poured in, sprinkle on the rest of the salt. Again the acid of their juice is adding to the pickling effect. Again, you can stop here for a while if you want to. I often take it to a party like that, with everything else I'm going to add separate, and mix it at the last minute. At the last minute, add your cilantro and any other ingredients, stir it all well, and serve. Expect it to go fast :D

What else do I put in it? Oooh, anything that's holding still to be chopped!! :) The basic idea here is a lightly pickled or fermented base with the non-pickled things mixed in later. Cucumbers, squash, carrots, any fresh veggie or herb, cooked meats, boiled eggs, and cooked potato are all things that I know work well in it. Any acid you like can do the pickling, the salt helps but could be omitted. I suppose a sweetener could be used, but that's heresy in my book, so I have never done it :)

A neat version I took to a party: Onions, a bit of ginger, lemon juice, tomatoes, tons of basil, purple bell peppers, salt. Put it on multigrain crackers the size of my hand, added cheese, broiled it till the cheese was done, served hot. That went over REALLY well.

A version I make a lot in the summer: Onions, tomatoes, Chinese cabbage, red chile, rice or red wine vinegar, cilantro, any other green herbs I can find, salt. Let sit on the counter to ferment a few days. I keep it around to dump on top of whatever green salad type stuff I have, instant yummy food! Is it pico de gallo? Is it kim chee? It's just ... concept cooking at my house, it's always different, it's always good.
 
master pollinator
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In Missouri you might be able to grow Hardy Prickly Pear.  I'm really getting into cooking with Nopales (Prickly Pear pads) lately, and they would definitely go in Pico de Gallo.

https://nature.mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/field-guide/eastern-prickly-pear

The "spineless" variety is easier to handle, but the trick with any of them is to harvest the very young pads, before they develop the hard spines, and blanch them before preparation.  Blanching removes the tiny hair spines (glochids), making them safe to handle and eat.

Be sure to harvest with tongs.  I just picked some this evening by hand and got slightly spined....

 
Pearl Sutton
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Tyler: I moved here from New Mexico :) Yes, nopales are excellent in it. We usually singed off the thorns. (That word looks weird or wrong. Burned them off with fire, singe)
Forgot on my list of things I have put in my pico: apples, pears, berries, mangoes, fish, nuts, coconut, and sweet vinegar (like balsamic or pear) go well with those. Red onions look pretty with the fruity ones. Still the same thing: pickle any of it that needs it, toss the rest in last, 2 part salad, basically.
 
garden master
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Oooh, this is so useful to me!  In the summer time I have ever so many cherry/small tomatoes (too small for good sandwich slicers) with a lot of tough skin/textures due to the rough Oklahoma growing conditions.  Likewise all the small sweet peppers and cukes that I grow.  Basically everything here that thrives in my garden is little; if it gets big, something eats it before I get it.  

Plus, I have dental issues that make chewing tough veggies a challenge sometimes.  So in the summer I eat a lot of what I conceptualize as "chopped salads" because I am a terrible gringo.  Chop everything up pretty small.  I do what I think of as a "fast pickle" with vinegar/salt on hot diced onions.  You can see I was already edging in on this pico notion.  But you've given me so many more directions (concepts) to go with it!

I also have little prickly pears all over the property.  Even have one nice one I dug up and put in a glazed pot in my kitchen herb garden just for fun, and to see the flowers.  I know the nopales are edible but I haven't found them yummy enough to be worth the processing hassle.  But I am a huge believer in adding "one more ingredient from my kitchen garden" when I can, and the notion that I could grab a few new pads now and then and bung them into the daily mix is attractive.  

Thanks to you both for all the new ideas.
 
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Great post!  
All the best cooks I've ever known never really used recipes.  I've eaten plenty of pico but have never made it so didnt realize that it is partially fermented.  Thanks for the inspiration.

Dan,
Those cactus (nopales) flowers arent just pretty to look at, they're also edible.  The blossom pods are called 'tunas' before they open and are much more flavorful than the pads are.  Just sayin . . . You should look onto it.
 
Dan Boone
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Vernon Inverness wrote:Dan,
Those cactus (nopales) flowers arent just pretty to look at, they're also edible.  The blossom pods are called 'tunas' before they open and are much more flavorful than the pads are.  Just sayin . . . You should look onto it.



Vernon, I am no linguist, but per the Wikipedia entry for prickly pear cactus species (opuntia) nopales is the word for the pads of the cactus and tunas is the name of the fruit.  Not trying to contradict or correct you, just trying to reduce confusion, of which I have plenty!

I had not heard of eating the flowers, but that makes a lot of sense -- in general with plants that have a lot of edible parts, the flowers are also edible and often tasty.  My problem with edible flowers is that in my experience it's often very difficult to find/harvest/clean them in such a way that they aren't full of bugs, which is the natural state for a flower to be discovered in.  Not a problem if I were genuinely hungry, but as my Mom taught me to say, "I'm not that hungry yet..."  However eating the buds before they open seems clever! That's the best part of the daylily, for instance. Do they have the glochids on them?

Edit/update:  This sent me down a Google rathole.  I found a ton of sites with one or two line throwaway suggestions that the flowers are edible (which only makes sense) but I didn't find any detailed discussions or ethnographic references to anybody harvesting, preparing, or opening the flowers or unopened buds.  I was hoping to find photos of people prepping these by the bucketful!

While looking, I did find some other pretty comprehensive discussions of Opuntia uses:

http://sfp.ucdavis.edu/pubs/brochures/Pricklypear/
https://www.foragingtexas.com/2008/09/prickly-pear.html

The Foraging Texas site had a notion I quite want to try:


Peeled pads can also be seasoned with your favorite beef/venison jerky spices then dehydrated into "vegan jerky".

 
pollinator
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Awesome!  Thank makes a lot of sense, what OP said on first post.  We started making a 'pico de gallo' out of garden fresh tomatoes and radishes and herbs and such and it's AMAZING.  I never thought about the pickle effect; but what we do is literally mince homemade pickles and mix them and some pickle juice in with minced onions, then mix our fresh veggies into it.  
The first time my partner experimentally made it I was like "WOAH WHAT IS THAT?!"  
And the first time we made some for some friends they were like "WOAH WHAT IS THAT?!"  
Haha, it's funny when you say "basically pickles, onions, and some fresh veggies".  Because it tastes AMAZING
 
master pollinator
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Two days ago, I made a raspberry pico de gallo that we both loved! We agreed - more raspberries, next time,  but it was a fun, pretty twist. I love it with pineapple, mango, nectarines, or strawberries, too. With those options, I usually just swap out the tomatoes, in favor of the fruit, but sometimes add in sweet corn &/or black beans, &/or or chunks of avocado with the tomato, if the 'cado is firm enough to hold up to it. Some other ones I want to try, maybe this season; adding nuts or seeds (peach & pecan, anyone?), blackberries, apples, bananas, plums, cucumber, radishes, anything else that occurs to me, lol
 
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