ABCs of Guacamole

Cinco de Mayo has nothing to do with Mexican independence, which falls on Sept. 16; instead, it commemorates Mexico's victory in battle against the French in Puebla, on May 5, 1862, some 42 years after declaring independence from Spain.

But it's a good reason to drink and eat cocina Mexicana, and one of the easiest things you can to do to celebrate is make guacamole.


A Hass avocado, ready for guac. (Kim O'Donnel)

Originally known in the Aztec empire as ahuaca-mulli, which literally means avocado sauce, guacamole goes way back in history because the avocado is an ancient fruit, originating in Mexico somewhere around 5,000 B.C. For the better part of a millennium, the avocado was known as the ahuacatl, which is said to be the word for "testicle," which would explain why the fruit was considered an aphrodisiac. When the Spanish conquistadores got wind of this luscious fruit in the 15th century, apparently they had a difficult time with Aztec pronunciation and renamed it to "aguacate." A similar story applies to the etymology of "guacamole."

To make a gorgeous guac, you need only a few ingredients, and if you're planning to whip some up for Cinco, you better hightail it to the market today in pursuit of ripe avocados. Without a ripe avo, you won't have guacamole. Period. In this country, there's a 95 percent chance that the avocado you'll buy will be of the Hass variety, a year-round avocado grown mostly in California. Once you leave these borders, you may encounter the other 499 varieties, in other warm spots such as Florida, Mexico (claro), the Caribbean, South Africa and New Zealand.

The additional of lime is optional, not necessary, and does not prevent the guacamole from turning brown. I agree with Mexican cooking doyenne Diana Kennedy, who in her many books, suggests simply to make the darned thing just before serving. If you must do anything in advance, chop the onion, chiles and tomatoes, but the best guac is one made to order.

Although unnecessary, it is great fun to use a molcajete, a Mexican mortar and pestle made from volcanic rock. Alternatively, use a wooden spoon to mash, but whatever you do, don't put the stuff in a blender.

I really like Kennedy's version, below, which calls for making a "paste" of onion, chiles and cilantro, before mashing in the avocado. This is raw food at its best, flecked with texture and co-mingling in flavor, like a beautiful mural.

Even Kennedy, who's an ardent traditionalist, acknowledges there are many ways to make guacamole. So, go on, share your favorite way to eat the green stuff, or yet another recipe to celebrate Mexican heritage.

Have a delicious weekend!

Guacamole
"From My Mexican Kitchen" by Diana Kennedy

Ingredients

2 heaped tablespoons finely chopped white onion
4 serrano chiles, finely chopped, seeds included, or to taste
3 heaped tablespoons roughly chopped cilantro
salt to taste
3 avocados (or about 1 pound)
About ½ cup finely chopped, unskinned tomatoes

Method
Mash onion, chiles, cilantro and salt in a molcajete or in a mixing bowl, until you have a paste.

Cut avocados in half, remove pit and scoop out the flesh. Mash avocado roughly into the paste and mix well, but maintaining some texture. Stir in tomatoes and sprinkle with more tomatoes, onion and cilantro, if desired.

By Kim ODonnel |  May 4, 2007; 8:41 AM ET Culinary History , Entertaining
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Comments

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I cheat and use salsa - just not one with a lot of liquid - saves time!!

Posted by: cheater | May 4, 2007 11:48 AM

Inspired by the El Vez restaurant in Philadelphia, my fiance made a guacomole variation replacing the onions and cilantro with pistachios, goat cheese and roasted peppers. It isn't traditional, but it was delicious.

Posted by: Brent | May 4, 2007 11:48 AM

Guac is one of the first foods I ever loved, and the first thing I learned how to make. I like mine chunky and robust (some might call it junked up) with plenty of minced onion, a little tomato, lots of cilantro, salt, lime, serrano chiles (minced with salt, which I find draws out their oils and makes the spicy flavor mingle faster). Of late, I've also been enjoying the following additions: a pinch of cumin, one garlic clove, pressed, and a pinch of sugar which does something wonderful but subtle to the flavors.

Posted by: Rita | May 4, 2007 2:03 PM

For those who are looking to make guacamole a little healthier, you can try adding lima beans as a substitute for up to 1/2 of the avocados. I don't even notice the diffference, and the recipe still tastes great!

Posted by: Stacey | May 4, 2007 6:09 PM

Kim, tell us what's happening over at the Eastern Market. Will we see "normal" soon?

Posted by: Hungary | May 5, 2007 7:38 PM

Rita,

I agree, the fresh garlic is a must. I also like to add a little cinnamon.

Posted by: Ann | May 6, 2007 11:34 PM

Stacey, making guacamole "healthier" is an oxymoron. Avocadoes are a "wonder food" in terms of health. The fat in avocadoes is monounsaturated, aka "a good fat."

See http://www.oldwayspt.org/foods.html#avocados for more information.

Posted by: J | May 7, 2007 9:33 AM

I also like garlic but I usually take a clove and rub it into my molcajete. It sort of dissolves and then there is all the garlic flavor but not a chance of getting a stray piece that didn't get mixed in. Also, even though it isn't exactly traditional, finely chopped red onion adds a nice color dimension.

Posted by: Gavin | May 8, 2007 5:44 PM

I made up my own guac recipe years ago, strictly based on my own likes (garlic) and dislikes (tomatoes). I love it, and so does anyone to whom I've served it. Mince one shallot and five cloves of garlic; toss in a bowl. Add an avocado and mash with a fork. I sprinkle on a little lime juice, and salt and pepper to taste. That's it!

Posted by: cheyennigans | May 24, 2007 11:39 AM

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