Beginner’s Guide to Mexican Food, Part II: Authentic Guacamole Recipe
Guacamole! I love guacamole! The authentic, flavorful avocado sauce of Mexican cuisine. Along with Salsa Roja, guacamole is amongst my favorite side dishes in the realm of Mexican Cuisine, and I make a damn fine guacamole using a simple, authentic guacamole recipe if I dare say so myself.
Whenever I make this classic, authentic avocado dip for friends, they usually instruct me to make about twice as much as I would otherwise deem a reasonable serving. Yet, still, however giant, the batch seems to disappear mysteriously throughout the course of the meal.
Why? Probably because I take the time and effort to make a perfectly creamy, authentic and flavorful guacamole. To me, guacamole is more than a party dip. It’s a passion and a tribute to half a millennium of culinary history – and it’s certainly something you make from scratch using ripe avocados and all-natural ingredients.
Oh, by the way… If you just got here, you are reading part two of a Beginner’s Guide to more authentic Mexican food. If all you want is an authentic guacamole recipe, you’ll find it at the bottom of this post. If you want even more spice, background and history, Part 1 covers authentic, homemade Salsa Roja, fundamentals of Mexican cuisine and the important differences between Mexican food and Tex-Mex. Future parts will cover such staples as Salsa Verde and homemade corn tortillas as well as more elaborate dishes. For now, though, we’re all about guacamole, guacamole history, and the best guacamole recipe!
Guacamole – the perfect party dip!
Guacamole or, guac as it is sometimes informally known north of the Mexican-American border, received its major international breakthrough as a special occasion party dip in the 1970’s. Not only for Cinco de Mayo, the traditional world-wide celebration of Mexican culture (and a victory over the French at the Battle of Puebla), but also for the All-American sporting event that is the Superbowl. On these two days alone, Americans probably consume more guacamole per capita than any other time of the year. But guacamole is much more than a glorified dip. It’s a several hundred-year-old staple – and it’s not even a dip, it’s a sauce!
Guacamole history: From Aztec Necessity to Superbowl Party Favorite
Long before the Superbowl, there was guacamole. Actually, long before the country that gave us football, the Superbowl and chili dogs, there was guacamole – or āhuacamolli (avocado sauce) as it was known in the local Aztec dialect from whence the name comes.
The history of guacamole dates back some 500 years to when the Aztecs first concocted an avocado-based sauce that was to be known as guacamole using much the same ingredients (alright, exactly the same ingretients!) that we use today. Guacamole, given its superb taste and incredible nutritional value, became an instant hit with not only the Aztecs and fellow Mesoamerican cultures, but also with invading Spanish “explorers”. The Spanish, quite frankly, loved the dish so much that they even tried to bring it back home and recreate it for dumbfounded friends and family. No easy task, I might add, in a pre-globalization world where avocado trees were by no means native to Western Europe.
One can only imagine the avocado-less “guacamoles” that the Spaniards attempted to whip up to impress friends and family, but given that guacamole and not, in fact “Spanish guacamole” is a big hit in Europe today, it stands to reason that they didn’t succeed very well in europeanizing the dish.
One popular use for guacamole is as a dip for tortilla chips. While there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, but guacamole is SO much more. Photo credit: Malou, Klidmoster.dk
Actually, the Spanish achieved so very little in their PR efforts that guacamole for hundreds of years remained a popular staple only within what is now modern day Mexico. The international rise of guacamole only started about a hundred or so years ago when the US lifted a ban on import of avocados (or alligator pears as they were still frequently known back then) and an increasing Latino population started popularizing traditional Mexican recipes.
The first recipes for guacamole are thought to have originated in cookbooks from the 1940’s but it still took decades for the dish to catch on. For strange reasons that were entirely their own, American advertising right up to the 1960’s pushed to associate avocados with the Pacific Islands rather than its more native Middle America. Finally, by the 1970’s America eventually recognized guacamole as an essential side dish to many Mexican and Latin American dishes and since then, no Superbowl party has ever been the same.
Modern guacamole: What guacamole shouldn’t be!
With such a long, glorious culinary history spanning well over 500 years, it pains me to see what guacamole has become in our modern world… In a matter of only about 40 years of American and European intervention, guacamole has become something entirely different from its glorious, natural and beautiful past.
Guacamole to many, these days, is something you buy ready-mixed at the supermarket – either pseudo-fresh or canned. The more adventurous amongst us buy a couple of avocado and a sachet of “guacamole seasoning” and then, on the other hand, there are the rule breakers, the brave souls, the reinventors. Those who forego ready-made seasoning but also traditional recipes and create an entirely new type of dip by inviting such strange guests as sour cream to the party… ¿Por que? Someone please explain to me the nature of this business…
Granted, sour cream in guacamole is not nearly as atrocious of a crime as that one time the New York Times suggested adding peas as a guacamole ingredient, causing even President Obama to condemn their actions… But, sour cream?
Amigas y Amigos, ¿qué mierda? Pardon my Spanish, but you must be lost. There are better ways! And that is the traditional, light, creamy and natural way. Guacamole should taste primarily of avocados, aromatics and herbs – not artificial seasonings or soured dairy products! We’re not only talking hundreds of years of perfected culinary history being completely ignored, we’re talking one of the most remarkable, tasty and beautifully textured, naturally smooth and creamy fruits on the face of this planet… And you were going to mask its flavor with artificial spice mixes or thin its taste and break its texture with sour cream…. And… No… Let’s not even get into the subject of peas!
No, friends, I shall venture the guess that if only you spend a little effort and money on finding perfect avocados and give this authentic recipe a try, you’ll never go back to the overly spiced, heavily diluted stuff. In fact, I’m willing to bet that one of the major reasons why such spice mixes and alternatives were invented was not out of laziness or culinary invention. Rather, it was because the general consumer has a hard time finding perfectly ripe and tasty avocados for the job.
Avoiding guacamole disaster: How to pick ripe avocados?
Spotting a perfectly ripe, ready to eat avocado is not easy. You see, avocado is a strange kind of fruit in many ways, one of the more notable being that it doesn’t ripen on the tree. That means ripening happens only after it is picked – i.e. during transportation and in your local store. Cold slows down the ripening process and so, ripening only really starts to take place once your avocados leave their temperature controlled shipping environment and reach their near final-destination at your friendly neighborhood store.
From then on, you’ve got a window of about a week, during which the avocado turns from rock-solid and inedible over mushy and creamy to brown and overripe. Your job is to eat it at its zenith. But how do you know when time has come?
Well, one popular advice tells us to poke it somewhat gently with our fingers, if it’s soft to the touch, you’re dealing with a ripe avocado. If not, put it back…. Granted, this process sort of kinda, works… With one caveat. Which trick do you think everybody else at the store uses? They happily poke away at every avocado in the store and if it’s not yielding, they poke a little harder in an “are you sure you’re not ripe, Mr. Avocado” kind of way, then pick a few more to poke for comparison. Finally, they’ll pick their perfect specimen and walk away, leaving a nice selection of bruised avocados in their wake.
Avocados (much like people, by the way) don’t much care for excessive poking and while they will eventually ripen regardless of the amount of abuse, some will have been poked hundreds of times in the process, leaving them soggy, bruised and, well, not fun to eat! So, listen to me, brothers and sisters, stop poking avocados! If you must use this method, rest the avocado in the palm of your hand and close your hand, squeezing gently to see if it yields slightly to pressure. It’s a much better way that produces less soft spots, bruises and uneven ripening.
So, now that we know what everybody else does, let’s take a look at what they should be doing. First things first, to find a perfectly ripe avocado that’s good to eat, steer clear of any avocados that bear the marks of excessive poking: dents, bruises and soft spots. Next, look at the color. A darker color rather than a bright green sometimes (but not always) indicates ripeness, so it’s a pretty good initial indicator.
Finally, look at the stem – and by look, I mean give it gentle a nudge. If it doesn’t budge, the avocado is not yet ripe. If the stem budges, you could, ahem, theoretically, nudge it a little more. If the stem comes off and the exposed circle beneath is bright green, then your avocado is ripe. If it’s brown, the avocado is overripe, past its prime and going brown. Put it back, it needed replacement anyway. This, ladies and gentlemen, is the surefire way of spotting a ripe avocado. It’s also the one way that might, theoretically, aggravate store owners ever so slightly. So use this tip at your own discretion.
Perfectly ripe avocados are usually dark in color, always yield slightly to pressure and a shade of green rather than brownish in the area beneath the stem.
Is there a better way of achieving perfectly ripe avocado nirvana? In my opinion yes! If you want perfectly ripe, green and non-bruised avocados – think ahead! Carefully pick a bunch of unripe avocados from the store or other local pusher and simply store them at home at room temperature till needed. They’ll ripen perfectly within 3-4 days and won’t bruise or turn brown or overly mushy from all the senseless poking going on!
Stop senseless poking of avocados, people! Pick your avocados the smart way and you’ll have perfectly ripe avocados every time. And once you’ve done so – why not make perfect, authentic guacamole using this incredibly simple and incredibly flavorful recipe? It’s a lot easier than you think!
How to make authentic Guacamole: Perfect Guacamole Recipe
The secret to perfect guacamole is not in the number of ingredients and a load of spices. It is in the perfect treatment of perfectly ripe avocados and a few other key ingredients. Basically, you’ll want to get perfectly ripe and creamy avocados and you’ll want to treat them with respect: Scoop them out of their skins and mash them gently, don’t blitz or blend. You’ll want a smooth and creamy yet lightly chunky spread. Once you’ve achieved that, add in a bit of white onion, cilantro and garlic, maybe a bit of jalapeño, then season with salt, pepper lime juice and a bit of tomato or salsa roja and you’re good to go.
Go easy on the seasoning, you’ll want your other ingredients to compliment the rich, creamy taste of avocados – not overpower it. Oh, and as far as the garlic goes: Never blend, grate or disintegrate your garlic using a garlic press. Chop it (very) finely by hand, your patience will be rewarded! Blending or smashing of garlic releases a way too strong, sulfuric taste that completely clashes with the delicate, cooling nature of this, the world’s most beautiful dip.
- 4 large, ripe avocados
- 1 lime
- 1 white onion, finely chopped
- 1 clove of garlic, very finely chopped
- 1 jalapeno, seeded and finely chopped (optional)
- 1 tablespoon of Salsa Roja or chopped tomato
- 1 small bunch of cilantro, leaves roughly chopped
- 1 teaspoon salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Halve avocados, remove pith and scoop flesh into a bowl.
- Immediately add juice of one lime.
- Use a fork to mash avocados to desired consistency.
- Stir onion, garlic, salsa roja, jalapeño (if using) and cilantro into the bowl.
- Stir well to combine and add plenty of salt and black pepper to taste.
- Serve immediately or read notes below on storing guacamole
Not just a one trick pony: The many uses for guacamole
Now that we’ve taken the time to make a better, more authentic type of guacamole, it’s time we understand that guacamole is much more than a world class dip. To the Aztecs, guacamole was life: an important source of nutrition and vitamins. To the modern-day foodie, guacamole is a luxury: perfect as a party dip along with a homemade Salsa Roja, of course. But equally perfect as a side dish or topping in both authentic Mexican dishes like tacos or burritos and a variety of Tex-Mex dishes such as nachos and chili con carne. The creamy, cooling texture of the avocado makes it a perfect counterbalance to spicy, chili-driven dishes of Mexican cuisine. Not content with Mexican or border-region fare? Try guacamole in sandwiches, burgers or salads. Want even more ideas check these 21 alternative uses for guacamole.
Guacamole is GREAT on tacos, but tacos are just the beginning, my friends… Tacos are just the beginning!
Whatever you do, use it quickly! Guacamole doesn’t keep particularly well and will turn brown and unappetizing extremely quickly unless you take precautions!
Guacamole tips: How to keep guacamole from browning
Guacamole is best when served absolutely fresh… There’s just no getting around this fact. Not only is fresh guacamole superior in flavor, it’s superior in appearance as well! Here’s the problem with guacamole, though. It turns brown in a heartbeat! Well, okay, maybe not in a heartbeat, but given as little as 30 minutes of air exposure, guacamole (and other avocado-based dishes) will start to change color from a bright, beautiful green over grey to a sad and unappetizing shade of brown.
Why does guacamole turn brown? Because they’re especially prone to enzymatic browning, a process in which enzymes in the avocado react with oxygen, creating an unappetizing brownish hue. You can read the scientific details here or merely think of it as a strange occurrence of food-related rust. How do we prevent this? Simple: By having as little air exposure as possible. The best solution, obviously would be to make the guacamole mere minutes before serving, but for obvious reasons this approach isn’t always optimum, especially not when entertaining guests.
Fresh guacamole is awesome guacamole! There is nothing like digging into a bowl of guacamole just minutes after it’s been prepared. So fresh, so vibrant, so super green!
So what can we do to prevent guacamole from browning? Well, for starters, acidic ingredients help delay the onset of browning, so the lime in the recipe will give us a slight advantage, though not for long! Some tips will tell us to leave the pith of the avocado in the bowl to help prevent browning and this works, admittedly, to some extend! It works for the simple reason that it keeps air away from the top of the guacamole. So an avocado pith would do us some good, too. One could even argue that more avocado piths would do more good for the simple reason that they would cover more surface. But the idea of piling an array avocado piths on top of our precious dip seems a little silly.
Surely, there are better ways? Yes, indeed, I was just made aware of this amusing, little trick the other day. Put your guacamole in an airtight container, leaving a little head space. Pour in water to cover, seal lid and refrigerate till needed. Then drain and stir come serving time. Other than sounding a little silly, I imagine that this procedure would actually work since it creates an airtight barrier across the surface of the guacamole. I’ve never much cared for silliness and watered down guacamole, though, so I’ll leave you with my own personal pro tip instead: Cling film!
Make your guacamole as you normally would, put it into a suitable tightly-sealable air-tight container, grab a piece of cling film, drape it across the top of the container, push down until it clings across the surface of the avocado, taking care to squeeze out any excess air, then put the lid on the container and refrigerate until needed.
This method will keep your guacamole fresh and brightly green for about a day in the fridge so you can make it in the morning or afternoon if expecting dinner guests. It will even keep overnight for use the next day, should you have any leftovers. Just, you know, move quickly. However carefully you cover your guacamole, even the tiniest bit of air exposure will send it downhill fast.
Don’t worry too much, though, if using a proper recipe like this, leftover guacamole is a luxury that few will experience. Should you still need a few suggestions for using up guacamole, keep your eyes peeled for future posts in this series about the wonderful world of Mexican cuisine.