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.
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!
"From My Mexican Kitchen" by Diana Kennedy
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
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.
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