I grew up in LA with a slight touch of Mexican blood in my family, and a neighbor from Guadalajara named Lupe who taught me about Mexican cooking. It was her guacamole method that my mom picked up and passed to me through culinary osmosis. As with most dishes that are passed through generations, this one, I believed for years, was the best. Throughout the years, friends and family have supported me in my belief. Then, a few years ago a neighbor brought her "best" guacamole to a gathering, and like two girls wearing the same prom dress, it got really awkward. Hers might have been better.
That's when I started thinking a little more openly about guacamole.
I was talking to my friend Pati Jinich about this issue of "best" or "true" guacamole. Pati has a Mexican cooking show on PBS and was born and raised in Mexico City, so she knows a thing or two about guacamole. One of the biggest sticking points in the guacamole debate is about citrus. I've heard from people who are real purists and believe citrus distracts from the flavor of the avocado, but Pati says, "For me, there is no guacamole without citrus, especially lime. Limes and avocados go hand in hand. Not only do their flavors marry so beautifully — the lime enhancing the buttery, rich nature of the avocado — but also, the lime helps keep the avocado pulp stay green and fresh."
As for the heat factor, Pati uses serrano and jalapeño, which I also like. "I'd rather add less chile with seeds than more chile without seeds. Seeds have the heat but they are also packed with flavor, plus I love the way they crunch."
Homemade guacamole is like a snowflake; you never see the same one twice. Even if it weren't for the fact that the flavor and texture of avocados varies widely, this isn't usually a recipe people make with measuring spoons and cups. I certainly don't. So I want to encourage you to make it by feel, to taste as you move along, and to find your own perfect guacamole formula.
Start with ripe avocados. Toy with the formula until you get the right combination of ingredients. For me, tomato is not ideal; I use it mostly in cases where I want to stretch the quantity, otherwise it can get watery. When you begin, use conservative amounts of lime, onion, salt, chiles, and cilantro. Taste as you go and layer in more flavor as needed. I like my guacamole to have lots of lime and cilantro, so I know that going in.
Find your own personal best guacamole and tell us about it here. And if this is your first time, might as well start out with mine; I promise it's pretty good.
Serves 6 to 8 as an appetizer
3 medium ripe avocados
1/4 cup finely chopped red onion
1/2 jalapeño pepper, minced (more or less, to taste)
1/4 cup chopped cilantro leaves and upper stems
Pinch or two of coarse salt
Juice of one lime
Cut the avocados in half and remove the pit. Spoon the flesh of the avocados into a molcajete, mortar and pestle, or mixing bowl. Add the onion, jalapeño, cilantro, and salt, and combine. Add the lime juice and stir gently, so as not to crush the ingredients too aggressively.
(Image credits: Sara Kate Gillingham)