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Mexico One Plate at a Timeby Rick Bayless
Was there ever a fruit as sensual as an avocado? So rough-hewn, dare-to-touch-me masculine on the outside, so yielding, inviting, soft spring green and feminine inside? Writers have proclaimed that the avocado, tomato and chile are among Mexico's gifts to the world. And they name guacamole, where all three come together, as a perfect work of art.
It's no wonder that this perfect fruit begs to be mashed to enhance its melting, naturally spreadable quality. Early Spanish settlers called guacamole "the butter of the poor." The Aztecs recognized its possibilities when they coined the word "guacamole": "guaca" for avocado and "mole" for sauce.
Mashed avocado invites you to add flavors — think flavored butters here. Yet, considering how perfect it is in itself, the challenge is to exercise restraint. There are Mexican purists who stop at a sprinkle of salt on their avocado mash and call that guacamole. But I think you can employ a little creativity, setting some limits: no mayonnaise or sour cream. Avocado flesh by itself has an unctuous quality and subtle flavor — no need to dilute it. As for the add-ins, these flavor pinpoints seem more welcome when the guacamole is intended for chips. On the Mexican side of the border, guacamole's role is more as a salsa, something you spread on a taco. A smooth version blended with tomatillos can be a delicious drizzle over practically anything edible.
The second recipe here, the contemporary one, produces guacamole that is boosted with roasted poblanos, roasted tomatoes and roasted garlic. Roasting heightens sweetness, yielding a deeper-flavored guacamole. Though this contemporary version is good in and of itself, it is a perfect sauce for salmon steaks or grilled chicken. Whether you choose traditional or contemporary, feel free to pare these recipes down or add to them. They're yours to make your own.
Traditional benchmark: In my opinion, the best guacamole is a simple one — one that glamorizes the flavor of really delicious avocados, plain and simple. That starts with hand-mashing thoroughly ripe avocados to a chunky-smooth texture, then underscoring the avocado's natural richness with a little tang from lime juice, perhaps a little perfumy cilantro, maybe some crunchy onion and a hint of hot green chile. And tomato, too, might go in to boost the flavors with sweetness — though that's not always necessary.
When to think of these recipes: Guacamole is tremendously versatile. It almost defines the phrase "casual party food," but it's so simple to make that there's nothing to keep you from whipping up a batch for Wednesday night dinner, to spoon, say, onto a simple soft taco or over grilled chicken or fish. Guacamole in a warm corn tortilla is a favorite (if not totally balanced) lunch of mine.
Advice for American cooks: Decent avocados are quite readily available, but they're not always ripe. You may have to buy them a few days before you need them to ensure that they'll be soft-ripe.
Makes about 2 1/2 cups, serving 6 as an appetizer, 8 to 10 as a nibble
Fresh hot green chiles to taste (about 2 serranos or 1 jalapeño), stemmed
1/2 medium white onion, finely chopped (about 1/3 cup),
plus a little extra for garnish
6 ounces (1 medium round or 2 plum) tomatoes (you want
these ripe, though absolute red ripeness isn't as important
here as it is, say, for chopped tomato salsa)
1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro, plus a little extra
3 medium-large (about 1 1/4 pounds total) ripe avocados
1 to 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
A few slices of radish for garnish (optional)
1. Roasting the chiles. Lay the chiles in a small ungreased skillet set over medium heat. Turn them every minute or so until they have softened (they'll darken in spots), 5 to 10 minutes. Mash them into a coarse puree, using a mortar, or finely chop them. Place in a large bowl.
2. More flavorings. Scoop the chopped onion into a strainer and rinse under cold water; shake off excess water and add to the bowl with the chiles. Chop the tomatoes into small bits — skin, seeds and all is my preference. You should have a scant cup. Add to the bowl along with the cilantro.
3. The avocados. To cut an avocado in half, you have to negotiate the large egg-shaped pit in the middle. Make a cut down the length of 1 avocado straight through to the pit. Continue cutting all the way around the pit until you wind up where you started. Twist the two halves in opposite directions and pull them apart. Scoop out the pit (the hueso, or bone, in Spanish) with a spoon. Then scoop out the avocado flesh from the skin and add to the bowl. Do the same with the remaining avocados. Use an old-fashioned potato masher or the back of a large spoon to mash the avocado flesh into a coarse pulp, mixing in the other ingredients as you go.
4. Seasoning the guacamole. Taste the guacamole and season with salt, usually a scant teaspoon, then add some of the lime juice and taste again. Continue seasoning with lime until the guacamole has enough zip for you. Cover with plastic wrap, placing it directly on the surface, and refrigerate until you're ready to serve.
5. Serving. Unless you're serving guacamole dolloped on tacos or the like, the classic way to present it to your guests is in a Mexican lava-rock mortar (molcajete), sprinkled with chopped onion and cilantro. Sliced radish, if you have it, looks pretty here, and to the Mexican eye completes the very popular, patriotic red-white-and-green motif.
Working Ahead: Guacamole is good when freshly made, but, in my opinion, it tastes even better when the flavors are allowed to mingle for about half an hour before serving. If well chilled, it'll keep for several hours. After that, the flavors get out of balance and the avocado starts to turn brown.
Copyright © 2000 by Rick Bayless
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