Making salsa? Cool onion’s burn by soaking first

 <span class="cutline_leadin">Give it a try-o:</span> Fresh pico de gallo is always better than store-bought.
Give it a try-o: Fresh pico de gallo is always better than store-bought.
Lisa Larson-Walker / Slate

Side dish

Pico de Gallo

Yield: About 4 cups (16 to 20 servings)

Time: About 10 minutes

1/2 medium white or yellow onion, chopped

1 1/2 pounds ripe tomatoes, chopped

1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro

2 medium fresh jalapeños, seeded if desired and minced

Juice of 1 lime

Salt and black pepper

Put onion in a small bowl and add enough water to cover. Let onion sit for 5 minutes, then drain and pat dry with a paper towel. Put onion, tomatoes, cilantro, jalapeños and lime juice in large bowl; season with salt and pepper and stir to combine. Taste and adjust the seasoning, and serve. (Store leftover pico de gallo in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a few days.)


Like many other dorky kids of my microgeneration, I was first introduced to pico de gallo by the song “Pico de Gallo” on Trout Fishing in America’s Big Trouble, the best children’s music album of the early 1990s and also possibly of all time.

I was tempted, in lieu of an introduction to this week’s recipe, to just reprint the lyrics to the entire song, but I’ll restrain myself and offer you just the chorus:

“Pico de gallo / You ought to give it a try-o / Even if you’re from Ohio / It’ll get you by-o / Don’t get it in your eye-o / Unless you want to cry-o / So come on, don’t be shy-o / Eat some pico de gallo.”

There are also two glorious verses, and without spoiling anything, I’ll tell you that one of them takes place by a bayou on Cinco de Mayo. (Seriously, listen to the whole thing.)

It is pure folly to buy jarred tomato salsa — homemade pico de gallo is fresher tasting, can be tailored to your palate, and is done in 10 minutes flat. All it takes is some chopping and a bare minimum of stirring (more like halfhearted folding, really).

The first thing you chop should be your onion, so you can give the onion pieces a chance to soak in room-temperature water while you’re chopping the other vegetables. Unsoaked onions have a tendency to make everything in their vicinity taste like burning; soaking pulls away much of their acridity, leaving only a mild allium flavor behind. While the onion is soaking, chop your tomatoes, cilantro and jalapeños.

Here’s where you can tailor according to your palate: If you first separate the relatively mild jalapeño flesh from the spicy seeds and pith, you can then customize the heat level of your salsa. Add back none of the seeds for mild salsa, half of them for medium, and all of them for hot.

Most raw tomato dishes you want to eat right away and never refrigerate, but with pico de gallo you have a little leeway. The citric acid in the lime juice has preservative properties, so you can keep this in the fridge for a few days without ill effects.

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