After I graduated from college, I moved to Houston and became a bilingual teacher. I had the most amazing group of students, and was lucky enough to be their teacher for three years in a row: kindergarten, first grade, and second grade. We spoke Spanish almost all day, except for an hour or so of ESL. Their kindergarten year was my first year of teaching, as well as my first year living far away from home. While those things made it a difficult year for me, my kids and their families were absolutely fabulous. A lot of people may say this, but I truly think I could not have asked for a better group of students. They worked as a team almost from the beginning--embracing me, each other, and all the new students that trickled in (and sometimes out, and sometimes back again) over the course of our three years together. They were unbelievably kind, patient, tolerant, bright, and hilarious.
At the end of three years, I had learned a huge amount of Spanish (I had thought I was fluent before taking the job, but the Spanish spoken in Texas is so different from what I'd practiced while studying abroad in Argentina that I had to learn new words for much of what I wanted to say). Most of them had learned a huge amount of English, and had learned to read in both languages. I had also learned so much about teaching, about children and families, and about life. I know that sounds very expansive, but it was a foundational experience for me, and I think of those kids and their families almost everyday. Shockingly (to me, because it makes me feel so old), they're in middle school now, and I'm happy to still be in touch with several of them.
Several of my students' mothers used to bring me delicious food. At one point, I lost a decent amount of weight, which I was thrilled about. They were concerned, and started bringing even more food: gorditas, mole, arroz con leche, and one day, pico de gallo de frutas. The mother who brought it told me that this spicy fruit salad--not the ubiquitous fresh salsa served in Mexican restaurants across the U.S--, is the real pico de gallo. The version she brought me had pineapple, cantaloupe, strawberries, and big chunks of fresh coconut, and was dressed with lime juice, chile powder, and salt.
I went home and immediately tried to make some myself, with disappointing results--something was wrong with the chile. I mentioned it to my student's mother, and she then brought me a huge amount of powdered chile in an unlabeled plastic container so that I could make my own pico de gallo. It wasn't until several years later--last week, actually--that I realized the mistake I had made: I was using chili powder, a common spice blend that contains garlic, salt, cumin, and oregano, instead of pure powdered chile.
The week before Cinco de mayo seemed like the perfect time to recreate this salad for the blog. You can use almost any kind of fruit: papaya, mango, canteloupe, pineapple, watermelon, cucumber, coconut, or whatever you like. I chose kiwi, jicama, and strawberry so I could make the salad match the colors of the Mexican flag. Kiwi may not be the most authentic choice, but it is definitely delicious. You could also use unpeeled cucumbers or Granny Smith apples if you're looking for a different green fruit. Enjoy!
Pico de gallo de frutas
Prep time: 10 minutes
Yield: 4-6 side dish or dessert servings
4-6 kiwis, peeled and cut into bite-size pieces (1-2 cups chopped)*
1 pound jicama, peeled and cut into bite-size pieces (1-2 cups chopped)*
1 pound strawberries, hulled and halved or quartered (1-2 cups chopped)
Juice of half a lime, or to taste
Sea salt, to taste (I used Maldon)
Ground cayenne pepper or other ground chile (chile en polvo), to taste**
Lime wedges, for serving
*I have this set of peelers, and found it easiest to peel the kiwi with the serrated one. However, the vegetable peeler (smooth blades) is best for peeling the jicama. Jicama is sold at some Whole Foods stores, and many Asian and Hispanic markets.
**Any pure chile powder will work in this recipe (chili powder as sold in the U.S. is not the same thing, because it contains several additional ingredients like garlic and oregano that do not complement the fruit well). I tried both cayenne and chipotle pepper and preferred the cayenne. You could also try ground ancho chile or chile de árbol.
Place the chopped fruit and jicama in a large bowl, and toss with lime juice to taste (if you want to serve the finished salad in a Mexican flag design, toss each kind of fruit in a separate bowl, then arrange on a platter). Sprinkle some sea salt and cayenne pepper on top of the salad, or provide small dishes of salt and cayenne and let each person add the desired amount to their own serving. Serve cool or at room temperature. This salad is best right after it's made, but leftovers can be stored in the refrigerator and eaten the next day. My salad was still delicious, although not as vibrant, when I ate leftovers the day after.
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