Is there anything better than perfect guacamole and chips, or carrot sticks if you’re in paleo mode, at the end of the day alongside an icy margarita or beer to chase them down?
Not for me.
Guacamole tastes like pure decadence and yet it is easily one of the healthiest snack foods around, since it is based on the lovely avocado with its glorious monounsaturated fats – the same found in olive oil.
Great guacamole is easy to make, and anyone can do it.
My favorite recipe for this beloved chip dip and taco topper is incredibly simple. The focus is on the buttery richness of gently mashed, ripe avocados, amplified only with a touch of salt and lime, possibly a bit of green bell and jalepeño peppers, and punctuated with a few onions and some tomatoes.
I’ve been to places where guacamole is made table-side, which I never quite understood. And I’ve seen recipes advising the addition of such aggressive spices as American chile powder (the dark kind used to make Super Bowl chile), which misses the point altogether. I have seen recipes advocating use of a blender, which is so wrong it makes my skin crawl.
Don’t do those things.
Problems in making great guac happen when people A) do not use perfectly ripe Haas avocados, and B) overthink their recipes.
YOU NEED FRESH, RIPE HAAS AVOCADOS
Great guac starts with fresh Haas avocados – it is just plain impossible without them.
I learned this back in Indonesia where I was living years ago. Initially I was excited by the ready availability and low prices of local avocados. They did not look the same as the ones I knew and loved in the US – they were larger, smoother, shinier. But I was young and naïve and figured, let’s try this. Well, my excitement turned to feelings of betrayal when I cut open my first purchase to discover a watery mass, riddled with stringy fibers that were nothing but annoying to parse. All that work produced, in the end, a weakly flavored mush. These same avocados turn up sometimes in the markets in Bangkok too. But I know better now. It was a lesson I only needed to learn once.
So they need to be Haas, and they need to be ripe, not 1 day over and not unripe or they just will not work. Avocados are unforgiving that way. If you buy them early, Avocados can ripen on their own on your shelf, but you need to accept that avocados are not available anytime that you, on a whim, decide you want to eat one. The best plan is to plan. And assuming you can be ready anytime to enjoy them, on toast or in salads, this should not be a problem.
To gauge ripeness you have to be OK with fondling the fruit in the market. Find a dark green, but not black, avocado and press gently on its skin. If it leaves a small indent with your thumb or forefinger that’s a good sign. The skin itself should also be pliant, not brittle as that implies an overripe, skanky interior. If you can too easily press on the avocado, that is also a bad sign. To be safe, I normally overbuy. If you hit the jackpot and each one you open is perfect, that’s one of those “good” problems to have.
The key takeaway about timing and the avocado is this: the avocado is in control. It will choose when you eat it, not the other way around. If you buy ripe ones, you may have a window of a day sitting on your shelf. You can try to extend that by another day by popping them in the fridge. Just don’t push it or you’ll be tossing those babies out. And that’s sad.
THE HARD PART IS DONE. NOW FOR THE EASY PART
You need to treat your ripe Haas avocados gently and enhance the beauty they already possess.
- 1/3 cup white onion, minced
- 2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lime juice
- 4 perfectly ripe Haas avocados (see above)
- ½ green bell pepper, 1/4 inch diced (optional)
- 1/2 fresh jalapeño (or 1/4 teaspoon jalapeño powder), minced, or to taste (optional)
- 1 big, juicy tomato, diced
- 1/2 – 3/4 teaspoons sea salt
Put the minced onions in a small bowl, about the size of 1 cup. Add the lime juice and stir. Set aside. This will de-flame (take the edge off their sharpness) the onions while you are preparing the other ingredients.
So back to the blender thing. Avocados are sensitive – and an important part of making good guacamole is in the handling. Avocados respond well to a gentle touch. Blenders and other electric appliances should not be involved. Blenders whip in air, which escalates the oxidation process. This will change your bright green goodness into rusty brown sludge. Guacamole is low tech food – the only equipment needed is a fork, a knife and a bowl.
You want to cut and peel your avocados.
Here is my favorite way to do that:
Cut a circle all the way around avocado vertically, as though you were going to slice it in half, except cut around the pit leaving it in tact. Then set your knife down and gently twist the two haves in opposite directions until they come apart. One side will contain the pit. Then take you knife and cut the pit-less half into another half – a quarter of the whole. Then cut the half with the pit down the center in half, again, vertically, around the pit. It is now easy to pull out the pit from the quarter that contains it.
Then take one of your quarters and peel the avocado skin from the the top, just like a banana. Repeat with the remaining 3 quarters.
Place the four peeled avocado quarters in the bowl. Gently mash the avocado against the sides of the bowl with a fork. Don’t be bothered if some chunks are big – you don’t need uniformity. Getting a big bite of avocado in your guacamole is a prize.
Repeat with the remaining 3 avocados.
Next, add your chopped green bell pepper (if using) and jalepeño (if using). Now pour in the onion with the lime juice it has been soaking in. Add salt. Taste, and adjust with more lime if needed. But be careful, as you do not want this to taste limey, just bright.
Finally, gently fold in the tomatoes.
Taste again and add more salt if necessary.
Sample on a chip to see if it has the right balance of bright (lime), salty, creamy richness of the avocado and, if you added it, a bit of zip from the jalapeño. If yes, you are done.
You can now put a piece of plastic wrap directly on the guacamole, allowing no air between the guac and the plastic, and chill it for 4-24 hours without worrying about it going brown. That’s it. You have a great bowl of guacamole that you can replicate anytime.
At least, anytime a ripe, Haas avocado chooses you.