The dead of summer is upon the Midwest and I lounge in my sweltering apartment, sans ac, prostrate on the couch in a veil of my own dew fighting against heat exhaustion. All I desire is a tall glass of ice water, a cold piece of fruit, anything chilled. Meals have consisted of sandwiches and salads. My stomach constricts, my hunger abates and only thirst keeps me in its clutches. I shudder to imagine turning on the oven.
Luckily the heat brings pristine produce. The oranges in the stands sit heavy with syrup, the sweet grapes overflow, now is the time for crisp lettuces, firm cucumbers, glistening tomatoes, and the dense, cool pudding of avocado. When I am languishing in the humid air there is little that can rouse my appetite more than a big bowl of guacamole.
The only sadness that my departure from Arizona brought me was the loss of fresh avocados brought in from Mexico, and readily available southwestern foodstuffs such as hominy, fresh tomatillos, and a wide variety of chili peppers . Oh, how I miss the memory of my friend Maribel and her mother’s tamales, wrapped and steamed in banana leaves, how I mourn the thought of blue corn tortillas laden with spiced beans and green chilis.
Neither of my parents were inclined towards culinary greatness. My mother grew up in California and my father lived there for a decent amount of time, so one could assume they encountered an avocado or two. Yet, they never learned how to prepare a decent guac. As long as I can remember my father’s guacamole reigned in our house and sadly, it consisted of sour cream with flecks of green floating along the surface. I remember my father’s method of preparation, to peel the avocado from the outside like an orange. This time consuming technique bruised the avocado flesh and left an horrendous mess. Luckily, my proclivity towards cooking shows on PBS led me to learn that the proper and quickest way to peel an avocado is to slice it all around the pit, pull the two halves apart, and scoop the flesh out with a spoon. After I learned this I eagerly taught my father who looked upon this method as a revelation. Over time I discovered that satisfying guacamole enlivens the taste of the avocado rather than attempt to drown or mask it altogether.
A good guacamole begins with the essential ingredient: avocado. The avocado is a finicky fruit and the utmost care must be taken in choosing them at their height of ripeness. I’ve often heard, erroneously, that avocados should be chosen when they are very soft and the peel blackened. In fact I remember my mother relaying that very adage when choosing avocados that had already passed their prime. Maybe this is why their flavor had to be extinguished with sour cream. A ripe avocado will give slightly to the touch, it will feel heavy and firm. If you wait until they are completely softened you will cut open the fruit to find the flesh browned and rotted. The browning inside the avocado produces a bitter, unsavory flavor that will completely ruin the guacamole. The most preferable avocado will be a buttery yellow at the center graduating to a bright green near the peel. The ideal avocado will have a rich, lingering flavor and a custard like texture.
Upon extracting the flesh, all of the avocados should be placed in a large bowl and mashed to a creamy paste. Now, this part leaves some room for variation. Traditionally, the avocados are mashed with a molcajete, or mortar and pestle made with volcanic rock. Nevermind if you do not have a molcajete, a sturdy fork will produce a chunky paste if you are partial to bulk, a good ol’ potato masher will also do the trick, or if you are inclined to gadgets, a food processor will quickly get the job done. This paste of avocado is the backbone of your guacamole, all other ingredients come secondary and can be adjusted to taste.
Here is my basic and never changing recipe for summertime guac:
4-6 avocados, depending on shape and quantity desired, mashed to a paste.
2 small tomatoes, or one large, diced.
2 scallions, chopped.
1/2 small white onion, minced.
2-3 cloves of raw garlic, minced.
1/2 cup or 1 bunch of cilantro, minced.
The juice of one lime.
1 tsp sea salt.
2 tsp of cayenne pepper (certainly adjusted to taste, I prefer a kick)
or 1 small jalapeno or habanero, minced.
The above ingredients are simply folded into the avocado paste. I enjoy the guacamole simply on a tortilla, with chips, on burritos, and occasionally straight from the bowl. I have had guacamole prepared with a few capfuls of tequila and found that to add a fantastic depth of flavor. However, I prefer my tequila on the side. After whipping up a batch I like to return to my lounging and siesta with a frosty glass of sangria. Muy delicioso.