Pico de gallo para Cinco de Mayo


Hola, and happy early Cinco de Mayo! Having worked in many kitchens, I’ve had the pleasure of cooking alongside a number of Hispanics, especially Mexicans, so this contemporarily Amerianized holiday holds a special place in my heart.

I love the food, cerveza, music and festivity this holiday promotes, and although it can be misidentified as the day of Mexican independence, which was actually on Sept. 16, 1810, Cinco de Mayo is really a celebration of an archetypal David fending off Goliath that occurred decades later.

The short of it is that France, England and Spain loaned money to Mexico and wanted to collect. President Benito Juarez asked for more time, but Mexico’s investors were impatient and decided to intervene with naval blockades. Realizing that France desired a full invasion, Britain and Spain pulled out, leaving French forces to march toward Mexico City alone.

President Juarez retreated to the U.S./Mexico border, and it was at the central town of Puebla that Mexican forces successfully routed the greatest land military force of the time under the command of Texas-born General Ignacio Zaragoza on May 5, 1862.

As the American Civil War came to a close in 1865, the U.S. was free to assist Mexico in their continued struggle against the French. After returning to Mexico City, President Juarez declared May 5 a national holiday in 1867. The city of Puebla became Puebla de Zaragoza to honor the general who defied Napoleon III.

The full story is much more complicated, but thankfully this recipe isn’t. Also called salsa fresca (fresh sauce), pico de gallo consists of seven ingredients and there’s nothing to cook! Everything’s fresh and accessible — even the utensils needed are minimal.

Pico de gallo is great on tortilla chips, tacos and taco salads. The best part — yes, there’s an even better part! — is how customizable it is. I chose poblanos as my pepper because this gringo likes his food spicy, not necessarily his topping. I chose yellow onion because I like the sweetness, but some swear by reds or whites. If you don’t like cilantro, parsley is a great substitute. Play around with what works for you — at worst, you’ll have a lot of pico de gallo to share.

Start up the mariachi and heat up the tortillas, it’s pico time.

Let’s … cook? No, not this time. Let’s prep and mix.

Prep time: 20 minutes

Mixing time: 1 minute

Set time: 4+ hours (see note)

Total time: 21 minutes

Serves: 8


Kitchen knife

Cutting board

Mixing bowl

Spoon for mixing


6 diced Roma Tomatoes, about 2 cups (see note)

1 onion

2 poblano peppers (see note)

3-4 cloves of garlic

1 bunch of Cilantro

juice of 1 Lime

1 tablespoon of Salt


Cut the tomatoes, onion, peppers, garlic and cilantro, and add them to the mixing bowl (see note).

Roll the lime on a cutting board with the palm of your hand to loosen up the fibers, allowing the juice to squeeze out more easily. Cut the lime in half and squeeze the juice into the mixing bowl.

Add salt to the mixing bowl.

Stir well and taste. If you think it needs more salt, cilantro or lime, add more to taste.


El tiempo es necesario: Time is necessary. Of course, fresh veggies and lime are delicious right after mixing, but to really let those flavors set in ideally takes at least four hours, and up to 24 hours.

Resoundingly Roma: Experts agree — Roma tomatoes have less juice and more meat, making for a more solid, chunky mixture. Some people leave the seeds and minimal juice in their pico; I find that, with the lime juice, it’s just too much so I scoop mine out. The power is yours.

Heat versus sweet: Regarding peppers, the Scoville scale is a great reference. If you’re not that into heat, Anaheim and poblano are fantastic — they have a bit of heat and have a similar sweetness to bell pepper, which can be used for pico de gallo if heat is not an option at all. For more heat, use jalapeno or a combination of peppers, but anything higher on the Scoville scale is probably going to mask the flavor of the food your pico is topping.

Consistency is key: With so many options and variations, it’s easy to overlook the cut size. The onion, tomato and pepper cuts should be similar in volume — you don’t want a giant chunk of onion sprinkled with tomato shards in your bite. Pico de gallo is best when these three ingredients are cut in a consistent size. 

Ian Hilton can be reached at [email protected].

Tags: pico de gallo, salsa fresca, Scoville scale, Cinco de Mayo, Mexico