Friday, July 10, 2009

Sensational Smoky Guacamole

Everyone should have a few recipes in their repertoire that they can knock out quickly without much effort. It’s the culinary equivalent of the Little Black Dress that every woman should own: ready to go on a moment’s notice and effortlessly fabulous, no matter what the occasion. My Smoky Guacamole falls into that category. This is a staple in my repertoire of great summer party foods, and I have been making a lot of it recently.

I must be making up for hating avocados as a child. I could just kick myself now, for in growing up in sunny Southern California, our family had many friends with avocado trees in their yards. My parents often reaped the generosity of these friends when their trees were in full bloom, the branches heavily laden with the luxurious dark pear-shaped fruit. Alas, this avocado bounty was unfortunately wasted on me, for my 6-year-old palate was woefully unappreciative.

I was not an especially picky eater as a kid—my dislikes being primarily limited to fish, raw tomatoes, and peanut butter&jelly sandwiches—but I couldn’t negotiate the avocado’s slick buttery texture and its very particular taste. I’ll spare you the gory details of a particularly unfortunate avocado experience I had early on, but suffice it to say, my parents didn’t force the issue after that bad reaction. So I lived my California life completely avocado-free, a fact that now strikes me as criminal. I didn’t think I was missing a thing. But a bacon-and-avocado sandwich changed all of that when I was 18.

Maybe it was a particularly good avocado, better than anything I experienced as a child. Perhaps my willingness to give the avocado another chance was because it was paired with excellent smoky country bacon, an ingredient that could inspire me to all kinds of bravery. Or maybe it was simply because the sandwich was made for me by a guy whom I REALLY liked, and I was so thrilled that he’d invited me for lunch that the last thing I wanted was to come across as a high-maintenance avocado-hating princess! Whatever the reason, that marvelous sandwich changed my lifelong aversion to avocados, and we have been great friends ever since.

As I began experimenting with gradually reintroducing avocados into my life, I really wondered how I’d lived my life so long without guacamole! I always use the Haas avocados, the ones with the pebbly purplish-black skin. These have much more flavor than their smooth-skinned paler green counterparts, whose flesh is slightly watery and doesn’t hold up as well.

I love making guacamole with a bit of smoky chipotle chile pepper for heat. Sometimes I use minced canned chipotle chiles in adobo, though I often simply add a teaspoon of chipotle chili powder. Lots of fresh cilantro and lime juice are a must, and a bit of minced red onion adds piquancy and a textural crunch. I don’t usually put fresh tomatoes in my guacamole, but you’re welcome to add them if you’d like. And I always plan on one avocado per person, for it is rare that there are any leftovers. Perhaps I’m just trying to make up for all of those avocados I missed out on as a kid.


I absolutely love guacamole and think I could eat it every day. I like my guacamole on the spicy side, and the chipotle chile pepper adds an unusual but irresistible smokiness. Start by adding ½ teaspoon of chipotle, for you can always add more to suit your palate when you taste it for seasoning. You could make it without the chipotle if you prefer something more traditional and this recipe would still be delicious. I don’t put fresh chopped tomatoes in mine because I think it interferes with the smokiness of the chipotle, but you’re welcome to add them, if you must!

2 ripe Haas avocados, pitted, peeled, and coarsely chopped (see Note below)
½ of a small red onion, finely chopped (about ¼ cup)
1 small garlic clove, finely minced
¼ cup chopped cilantro, or to taste
½ to 1 teaspoon chipotle chile powder, depending on how spicy you like it (OR you can use 1 teaspoon finely chopped chipotle pepper in adobo)
The juice of 1 lime
1 teaspoon sea salt, plus more to taste
Tortilla chips, for serving

Combine all the ingredients in a medium-sized mixing bowl. Mash everything all together with a fork or a potato masher, until the guacamole reaches your desired consistency. I like mine on the fairly well mashed, so that the ingredients are well blended but small chunks of avocado are still visible. You can also prepare this in a food processor, if you’re feeling lazy about chopping things and like a smoother texture. Taste and adjust the seasonings accordingly. Serve with tortilla chips.

Makes 2 generous servings, or 4 slightly more moderate servings!

Note: An easy way to prep the avocado is to cut it as you would a mango. Cut the avocado in half and remove the pit, either by scooping it out with a spoon or by making a small cut in the pit with your knife and twisting it out. Take each avocado half and make slices through the flesh in a criss-cross pattern, then scoop out with a spoon. This way your avocado is already cut in many small pieces and is crying out to be made into guacamole.

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