Fresh and Chunky Guacamole

I made some guacamole yesterday and brought a tub of it into work. Everyone seemed to like it and several people asked about the recipe. Guacamole is kind of a thrown together food and so I didn’t have a recipe, but I decided to write one up for anyone who wanted it. You can read my rambling explanation or just chop everything into bits and mix it in a bowl.

2-3 large avocados
3-4 small, ripe tomatoes.
2 small or 1 medium yellow or white onion
1 Anaheim pepper (can be substituted)
1-2 golf ball sized bunches of fresh cilantro
Lime juice
Salt & pepper
Splash of white wine or vodka (optional)

When choosing the tomatoes, make sure you get hydroponic or vine ripened tomatoes and make sure they are ripe. They should be slightly soft to the touch and actually smell like tomatoes. The cheapo tomatoes that every grocery store sells are picked before they are ripe for shipping and then artificially ripened with ethylene gas. Since tomatoes stop ripening when they are chilled, all artificial ripening does is make green, under-ripe tomatoes turn red. They still have no flavor and the hard texture of a green tomato. Spending that whole extra dollar or two on good, ripe tomatoes will make everything taste a lot better.

Chop up your tomatoes. I don’t bother with removing seeds or skin for this, just cut them in quarters, remove the hard part where the stem was attached and hack them into odd sized chunks. I like some texture to my guacamole so that it’s more like a salsa instead of a thick, homogenized spread you usually find when you buy thepre -made stuff. Once they’re chopped up, put them in a bowl and hit them with some wine, vodka or other lightly flavored alcohol. This is completely optional, but tomatoes are chock full of flavors that are alcohol soluble and are only released after a soak in some hooch. If you choose to use it, find something with a either a mild flavor or something you wouldn’t mind your guacamole tasting of, hit them with a shot or two, mix them and let them soak while you cut up the rest of the veggies.

Chop up the onion, and add it to the mix. Unlike the tomato, I usually do a nice, small dice here. Most people don’t want to bite into a huge chunk of unexpected onion, so do a nice small chop or dice.

For the peppers, I use an Anaheim variety – a long, thin and bright yellowish green pepper that has a low to medium heat. You can use a green pepper if you want your finished product to be very mild, but with proper preparation, Anaheim peppers are quite mild. I clean the pepper by removing the top and tip and slicing along the side, then pulling out seeds and ribs. The heat of any pepper is mostly in the seeds, ribs and a thin membrane on the inside of the pepper  so if you remove those ribs and seeds and scrape lightly on the inside of the pepper with your knife, then rinse, you’ll get a very light heat but still have the wonderful fresh flavor of the actual pepper. Whatever pepper and method you use, I usually take the time to chop this up very finely, especially for a hotter pepper, to spread the flavor out evenly.

Chop up the cilantro very finely and add some into the mix. Cilantro is a great flavor but can be quite strong and overpowering so add half first and make sure you taste it before adding more.

Give it a squirt of lime juice (or juice a fresh lime into the bowl) and add a couple pinches of salt and a few grinds of pepper and mix the whole thing together. Let this sit and marinade while you prepare the avocado. I actually let mine sit for a good ten minutes or more just to let all the flavors blend. Once you add the avocado, which is quite fatty, you’re basically coating it all in a waterproof container and the flavors won’t mingle as readily, so letting the oils from the cilantro and pepper mingle with the juices from veggies couldn’t hurt.

On avocados, I should mention that you need to use them when ripe or just skip the whole thing. They are expensive, at least here in the upper Midwest, and using them while they’re still hard and flavorless means bad guacamole and quite possible a severed finger when trying to cut the damn things. If you can’t get them ripe you can leave them in a bag with an apple for a day or two. The ethylene gas from the apple will accelerate ripening. Unlike tomatoes, avocados will soften and still have a good flavor if artificially ripened like this. To tell if they are ripe, just push on the skin. If there is a little give, like you’re bruising it, buy that puppy. If it’s too hard or, even worse, if it feels like a bag of pudding, steer clear.

If you’ve never cut up your own avocado, it’s really easy if you’re careful. Take a sharp knife and slice into it along the side, longways from the tip where the stem was to the bottom. Holding the knife still, carefully rotate the whole fruit around while still on the blade of the knife. There’s a huge seed in the middle that will act like an axle – you are basically making a slice around that seed through the whole fruit. Once you have it cut, put the knife down, grab each side and twist. You should have a half an avocado with a seed sticking out of it and a half with a crater. To remove the seed, hold the half with the seed sticking up. Using the knife, carefully hit the seed with the sharp part of the blade. The seed is hard but has a little give to it and so the knife should cut into it slightly. Now just rotate the knife and the seed should come out, still stuck to the edge of the knife.

Before anyone showed me how to remove the skin from an avocado, I tried to clean it like I was peeling an orange or potato. There is one common kitchen implement that will save you when removing avocado meat from it’s skin (as well as peeling ginger). Just use a spoon to scoop out the meat. Don’t be too careful about getting it all out in one go: scoop out the majority and then scrape the skin afterwards for the remainder. If you try to get everything out nice and cleanly, you may mangle the skin and will have to pick bits of it out later.

Some people blanch the avocado to make sure it stays a bright green. To me this is an extra, time consuming and messy step that takes some of the texture and flavor out of the fruit. The citric acid in the lime juice you added will deter oxidation which keeps the avocado from ‘rusting’ or turning brown.

Chop the avocado into small chunks and add it to the mix. Using a wooden spoon or a strong whisk, mix it all up, crushing the avocado to make paste. Don’t mash it too fine. Leave some chunks and texture.

Taste it, adding salt, pepper and cilantro to flavor. And don’t even think of using stale chips!

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