Salsa is Spanish for sauce, which covers a huge variety of Spanish and Mexican sauces. But, as a kid in the Northwest, the only salsa I knew was tomato salsa, and it came in little plastic containers from Taco Bell. No one ever mentioned salsa’s close cousin, Pico de Gallo, much less Melon Pico de Gallo.
When I started eating at better restaurants and making my own salsas, the flavor was a revelation. But even then, for many years, salsa meant tomatoes (or tomatillos), chiles, onions, cilantro, and lime to me. I did finally run into a simple and delicious Pico de Gallo made with tomatoes, cabbage, and chiles.
That got the wheels turning. What else can go into this type of condiment? How about fresh or roasted peaches, nectarines, plums, melon, watermelon, apples, pears, pineapple, bananas, mangoes, papayas, corn, jicama, fennel, beans, peas, artichokes, mushrooms, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, or eggplants? These days, you can create Pico de Gallo or salsa with a wide variety of vegetables and fruits. Mix and match to your palate’s delight.
But wait, what’s the difference between salsa and Pico de Gallo?
Salsa is generally wetter, smoother, and spicier than Pico de Gallo. It can be uncooked (Salsa Fresca or Salsa Cruda) or cooked, but it’s usually pureed or crushed to some degree.
Pico de Gallo, on the other hand, is almost always a mixture of diced or coarsely chopped uncooked vegetables and/or fruit. It’s chunky and not too wet. It can have some heat but is usually not as spicy as salsa.
Both of these sauces are used predominantly as condiments. They are superb as dips for chips, embellishments for tacos or quesadillas, and accompaniments for grilled or sautéed fish, chicken, pork, or prawns. In short, no matter what they are called, I can’t imagine cooking without a wide assortment of these colorful, flavorful sauces.
Melon & Pepper Pico de Gallo (AKA Melon Salsa)
This refreshing, colorful sauce (more of a condiment actually) hits a perfect balance between sweet, hot, acidic, and salty. You’ll appreciate it best in the heat of summer with local, ripe, juicy melons.
Ingredient Note I can’t decide if I like this sauce best with or without tomatoes. It’s great either way, but the tomato variation (recipe below) is a bit more complex.
Serving Note Pico de Gallo is best served within an hour of making but will keep for a day in the fridge if necessary. The flavor will fade a bit, but you’ll still be glad to eat it.
1 cups ¼-inch diced honeydew melon
1 cups ¼-inch diced cantaloupe
½ cup ¼-inch diced red bell pepper
½ cup ¼-inch diced yellow bell pepper
½ cup ¼-inch diced poblano chile
½ cup minced red onion
¼ cup minced Jalapeno chile, without ribs or seeds (1 medium chile)
¼ cup minced cilantro
1 large clove garlic, peeled and minced
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice, or to taste
½ teaspoon fine sea salt, or to taste
Home-Fried Tortilla Chips (recipe below)
- Place all ingredients in a medium bowl and toss gently to combine.
- Let stand for at least 10 minutes before serving.
- Season to taste, adding more salt and lime juice as needed.
- Serve with homemade or home-style corn tortilla chips.
Makes about 4 cups.
Melon, Tomato & Pepper Pico de Gallo
Add 2 diced tomatoes (red or yellow), one clove minced garlic, and 2 tablespoon lime juice to the ingredients above.
Home-Fried Tortilla Chips
I know I’m being a purist here, but packaged chips from the supermarket should never accompany a homemade salsa or Pico de Gallo. They are so much more authentic and so much tastier when you fry them yourself. Luckily, it’s an easy task, and you can make them hours in advance if you like.
But if you are pressed for time, consider grabbing a big bag of freshly fried tortilla chips from your favorite Mexican restaurant. I’ve never had a restaurant refuse to sell me just their chips.
twelve, 8-inch diameter corn tortillas (8 ounce package)
vegetable oil for frying
fine sea salt, to taste
- Cut the tortillas into quarters or 1-inch wide strips (in which case, you will have a handful of scraps from squaring up two parallel sides of the round tortillas).
- Arrange the tortillas, a few layers of paper towels, salt in a grinder, and tongs next to the stovetop.
- Set a 10-inch diameter, 3-inch deep saute pan over medium high heat, and add enough oil to fill the pan to a depth of between ½ and 1 inch.
- The oil should be ready in 3-4 minutes, so don’t walk away from it. To test, drop one tortilla piece into the hot oil. It should sizzle, rise to the surface almost immediately, and become a shade darker in color in 1-2 minutes.
- When the oil is the right temperature, drop in enough tortilla chips to cover the surface, and with tongs, turn them several times as they are crisping in the oil.
- As soon as the tortilla chips are a shade darker than their original color, remove them with tongs to the stack of waiting paper towels.
- While they are still glistening with oil, grind salt over them.
- Repeat with the remaining batches.
Makes a heap of chips; Serves 2-4 as an appetizer.
More Pico de Gallos & Salsas from LunaCafe
- Smoked Sockeye Salmon Cakes with Chipotle Aioli & Green Apple Pico de Gallo
- Fresh Corn & Chipotle Soup with Prawn, Avocado, & Lime Escabeche
- Chocolate Shortcake with White Chocolate Crema, Strawberry Lime Sauce & Strawberry Lime Salsa
- Fried Banana Split with Mexican Chocolate Sauce & Strawberry Lime Salsa
Cookin’ with Gas (inspiration from around the web)
- Difference Between: Difference Between Pico de Gallo and Salsa
- How Sweet It Is: Mojito Melon Salsa
- Serious Eats: Watermelon Pico de Gallo
- Smitten Kitchen: Cantaloupe Salsa
- The Pioneer Woman: Watermelon Pico de Gallo
Copyright 2013 Susan S. Bradley. All rights reserved.