Last year there was a lot of talk and controversy about green pea guacamole, and, well, let’s just go ahead and leave it there, if you don’t mind, in the last year. If you want to mash green peas with ingredients you perceive as enhancing them, be my guest. But guacamole, which literally translates from the Nahuatl, “avocado sauce,” is mashed avocado, plain and simple. In fact, the plainer, the simpler, the better.
I learned to make guacamole, I mean really learned to make real guacamole, about 15 years ago, when I spent a month in the kitchen of my step-grandmother, my grandfather’s widow, a lovely woman and wonderful home cook who goes by the Garcia Marquez-ian name, Josefina Figueras Viuda de Carreño. Over the course of that month (which I wrote about here for Saveur), Josefina taught me everything from complicated dishes of my ancestors, such as Pork in Guajillo Chile Sauce to favorites from Josefina’s native Oaxaca and, at my request: guacamole. When I asked Josefina to teach me how to make that last item, she chuckled. The whole process took her less than five minutes, including explaining time, and it was the best dang guac I ever had.
Until Josefina taught me how it’s done, I, like every other gringa (or media gringa as it is), made making guacamole into a chopping project: chop the onion, chop the garlic, chop the tomatoes, chop and then mash the avocados. But in fact, making guacamole the right way, is also, you’ll be glad to know, the easier way. If you have a molcajete, it’s a mashing project, and seriously: who can’t mash? (Everything you need to know about a molcajete is here.) If you are more partial to a mini food processor, it’s a pureeing project. In either case, the first thing you do when making your perfect avocado sauce is forget about putting tomatoes or garlic in it. Just. For. Get. It. Meditate on it. Tie your hands. Do whatever it takes. Just don’t put them in. Next, make sure to plan ahead so you have ripe avocados to work with. You’ll never make flavorful avocado sauce out of a flavorless (unripe) avocado. Now follow the road to guacamole victory. And go Chargers! Oh, wait…
Guacamole, Plain and Simple
2 to 4 serrano chiles (depending on how dangerously you care to live), halved and seeds removed (jalapeños work in a pinch, but given the choice, reach for the smaller, slimmer, and infinitely tastier serrano).
About 1/8 of a white (by which I do not mean yellow) onion, roughly chopped
4 ripe Hass avocados, halved, pitted, and scooped out of the peel
1 or 2 limes (preferably Mexican, aka key limes)
Salt (I like kosher salt or sea salt; use what you have)
To make the guac using a mini food processor, throw the onion and serranos into the bowl of your mini food processor. Sprinkle with salt. Pulse the machine until you have a fairly smooth paste but nothing even resembling juice. You may want to stop and scrape down the sides of your food processor from time to time so that you don’t juice some ingredients while the others wait on the side of the bowl for their turn at the blade.
Dump half of the paste out into a bowl large enough to hold your avocados. Add the avocados, lime juice, and a generous amount of salt and smash the avos with a fork, potato masher, or whisk until the avocados are 1) smashed, and 2) integrated with the paste and salt. Add more of the serrano paste, more lime juice, and more salt until the guac tastes exactly as you want it to. Just when you think that your guacamole is perfect, add some more salt, and serve with tortilla chips.
To make the guac using a molcajete, start by grinding the onion and salt together until you have an acid green paste. Then add the serranos and keep grinding until they’re one with the onion paste. Add the avocado to the molcajete, season with a generous amount of salt and the lime juice, and use the pestle to gently mash the avo and paste together until they are integrated. (If you want to live on the safe side, take some of the paste out of the molcajete, then add the avos, and add more of the paste back if you find you want it.) Add more salt. I’m sure it needs it. Really. Trust me. It does.