In Praise of the California Avocado-and a Recipe for Chunky Guacamole
As an adolescent in Los Angeles, I often prepared a piece of toast, spread with avocado for breakfast or a snack.
When I moved to New York City as a young woman, I sorely missed my California avocados. Yes, there were avocados in New York, but they were avocados from Florida and Puerto Rico, and decidedly different varieties- big, smooth skinned and watery in texture as compared to buttery California avocados. I felt like a kid at Disneyland living in the Big Apple, but this was one of the few complaints I shared with my mother about living in the city. A few months after moving there, she sent a small stash of California avocados jammed packed in a pair of left behind hiking boots I had asked her to send me.
After a couple of years of knocking around working in Manhattan restaurants, I got a full time job in the banquet department of a big convention hotel in midtown. A concoction they called guacamole often appeared on the menus as a dip for crudites. It certainly wasn’t the guacamole I recognized, extended with a lot of sour cream.
A few years down the line, I spent some time working in the kitchen of a catering company, when one day the chef shouted out a request to make some guacamole. There was a young Irish fireman from Queens moonlighting in the kitchen who was about to throw all the ingredients into a food processor to whirr them into a smooth dip.
“No,” I jumped in, “not in the food processor.” The young fireman looked to the chef for an answer. I was overruled by him, and I might add, no small bit of macho energy in the kitchen. The young fireman gloated as he whirred away.
Okay, here it is- guacamole should never be made in a food processor, never whirred to a smooth paste- in fact, it should be mashed in a bowl, or a molcajete (a traditional Mexican mortar carved out of stone) if one wants to be really authentic, to a nice, slightly chunky consistency, and it should never be stretched with sour cream. The taste of the avocado itself should shine prominently.
Guacamole is a dish much beloved by So Cal dwellers who grew up eating Cal Mex food. Now that I’m back in L.A., there’s many a night when my dinner consists only of a big bowl of guacamole and chips (well, that and a Margarita). And my catering staff and I have observed that no matter how much guacamole is served at a party, one is always in danger of running out.
I’m sharing a recipe here for guacamole the way I love it, but you really don’t need a recipe. Outside of the parameters stated above, it’s simply then, a matter of taste.
California Chunky Guacamole
4 large avocados
4 cloves garlic
3 -4 tablespoons red onion
2-3 tablespoons cilantro, chopped
1/2 half jalapeno, finely chopped
1 heaping teaspoon cumin seeds, freshly toasted in a dry pan until fragrant, and ground, preferably in a mortar with a pestle*
Juice of 1 lime, @ 2 tablespoons
* I’m serious about this. Freshly toasted and ground cumin is far superior to pre-ground cumin, and there’s something incomparable about the combination of fresh fragrant cumin seeds mixed with the lime, garlic and salt. The fragrance will gently surprise your nose as the cumin warms in the pan. That’s when you’ll know to take it out and grind it.
1. Mince the garlic and sprinkle a very healthy pinch of kosher salt over it, then mash to a paste with the side of your knife’s blade.
2. Place mashed garlic in a bowl or molcajete, then add the avocado and mash together coarsely. Gently stir in the remaining ingredients. Add more salt, to taste, and that’s it. Simple perfection!
Serve with corn chips, and yes, it’s best enjoyed with a Margarita.
Approximately 4-6 servings