Salsa, in Latin American cuisine, can mean any kind of sauce, from mole to guacamole. But for many of us, when we hear the term "salsa" we think of pico de gallo. Pico de gallo (Spanish for "rooster's beak") is a fresh salsa made primarily of tomatoes, chiles, onions, cilantro and lime juice.
It's the iconic salsa that often sits on a Mexican restaurant table alongside a basket of hot tortilla chips. While it makes the perfect chip partner, if you're using pico de gallo only as a dip, you're definitely not making the most of this versatile dish.
As a cooking teacher, I've made this dish many times. I like to teach it because it's delicious and refreshing and an important dish to know for anyone who wants to cook Mexican food. It's also fun because I can show my students how to use it to transform a number of other ingredients.
Add it to your favorite low-fat ranch dressing and you have a creamy salsa dressing. Top a toasted slice of baguette with it and you have a Southwest bruschetta. It always creates a fun sort of "Wow — Look! There's more!" moment in the class.
One of the most useful examples of the power of pico de gallo is guacamole. Once I've made the salsa, all I have to do is mash up a couple of avocados, stir in a little pico de gallo and viola! I have guacamole. Want Black Bean and Corn Salad? Just open a can of black beans, add some frozen corn and toss together with a healthy serving of the fresh salsa and you're done. Or combine all three in a flour tortilla and you have a Black Bean, Corn and Guacamole Wrap. Talk about an easy way to impress your friends.
Pico de gallo is ideal for the family, too, because it can be made to suit your family's taste by using as much or as little of the minced chiles as you like. A note about chiles: The heat is mostly found in the interior veins or ribs that hold the seeds in the middle. If you like the taste of chile, but want to tone down the fire, just cut the outside flesh off the veins and use only the flesh in the recipe. It still might be hot, but it won't be as hot.
If you find you're having trouble convincing your kids to give it a try, just tell them they're eating rooster's beak. That'll pique (or, in this case "pico") their interest.
Meredith Deeds of Edina is the author of "Everyday to Entertaining" and "The Big Book of Appetizers." Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @meredithdeeds.