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Pico de gallo can be superhot

Hagerstown woman makes salsa-like dish with fresh ingredients

Hagerstown woman makes salsa-like dish with fresh ingredients

September 09, 2007|By TIFFANY ARNOLD

The smell of the lime and cilantro is the first thing you notice in Lois DeLisi's Pico de Gallo.

DeLisi, 63, of Hagerstown, placed a bowl of it on the table, beside the tortilla chips and mouth-cooling cubes of cheddar (for the hot peppers in the Pico de Gallo).

The fragrant, salsa-like dish earned her short-haired calico, Fancy, banishment to an out-of-reach room upstairs after Fancy twice leapt onto the tabletop and nudged her nose over the bowl.

Suffice it to say DeLisi's Pico de Gallo is hard to resist.

It's also easy to make.

Garden-grown Roma tomatoes and jalapeos with coarsely chopped scallions, garlic and cilantro are left to soak in lime juice and zest.

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After a few hours of letting ingredients share flavors in the fridge, you've got Pico de Gallo, a Mexican condiment that can be used as a marinade for meat and seafood (just add a bit of olive oil), a taco topping, a sauce for eggs and omelets - or, as it was on the day DeLisi was interviewed, a late afternoon salsa paired with tortilla chips.

But before any chip dipping began, DeLisi issued a warning for those who don't like spicy foods: "If you bite it, it will bite you back."

For those who can handle heat, there's just enough spiciness to warm the mouth and tickle the tongue. (Neither the Herald-Mail reporter nor DeLisi sought the aid of cheese after dipping.)

That might be because DeLisi cored the jalapeos before putting them in, toning down the heat level. But this step is optional, she said. Those who like it super-hot can skip the pepper coring.

DeLisi said she got her first taste of Pico de Gallo and other Southwestern-style foods while living in San Diego as an Army wife. She also has enjoyed food in Mexico.

DeLisi, now divorced, has since developed an affinity for fresh food from scratch.

When she's not whipping up fresh salsa, she's nurturing herbs and peppers in her garden. She is also an avid canner - with fruit jellies and meats among the things she likes to put by.

"You name it, I've canned it," she said.

Other than "fresh," DeLisi, a church secretary for a Baptist Church in Winchester, Va., describes her cooking style as "experimental."

"One of my favorite things to make is the 'open my refrigerator and say oh, gee, what do I have in here' soup," DeLisi said.

No recipe is too much for DeLisi to attempt, but she did say that there are some she had yet to master - like bouillabaisse, a European fish stew.

"You have all these ingredients in it, but seafood is best when it's not cooked too long," she said. "Have I tried (to make) it? Yes. Have I mastered that one? Not quite yet."

DeLisi sat down recently to answer some questions about her cooking influences.

Q:You mentioned that you grew to love Southwestern food.

A: One of my favorites was pork verde, but now I'm a chicken person, so chicken verde. It's made with tomatillos - they're not tomatoes, but they're those little green things you see at the grocery store. You can buy verde sauce ready-made, but I make mine myself.

Another one of my favorites: In Mexico, a street vendor would have these containers of fruit and he'd sprinkle cayenne pepper on it. Cayenne pepper on top of the fruit!

Q: Cayenne on fruit?

A: Oh yes. Hot and sweet is a good combination.

Q: There's some sweet and spicy in the Pico de Gallo.

A: It's also very good for you. There's not one thing in here that's not good for you. No worm would ever live in your stomach; no bug would ever hit you after eating this.

There are a lot of foods we can use to heal ourselves. I've got lots of books on what you should and shouldn't eat ... . I'm also a huge honey person. Around here, they've got the best tupelo and buckwheat honeys around. When I'm out in San Diego, I get avocado honey and mesquite honey.

Q: Avocado honey? What does that taste like?

A: It's greenish in hue. What does it taste like? It tastes like honey. All honeys taste alike, but there are some subtle differences (she says as she walks to the kitchen and comes back with jars of citron, macadamia blossom and mesquite honey). I have many different kinds.

Pico de Gallo

Juice from 2 medium-sized limes

1 tablespoon lime zest

6 medium-sized scallions, chopped coarsely

2 cups chopped Roma tomatoes

1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro

1 tablespoons minced garlic

6 chopped jalapeos (remove seeds to reduce spiciness)

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix until blended. Cover and refrigerate for at least four hours before serving.

- Courtesy of Lois DeLisi of Hagerstown

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