The first commandment for gringos who wish to participate in Cinco de Mayo, the May 5th celebration of Mexican culture, is: “Thou shalt not, under any circumstances, buy premade guacamole.” You cannot obliterate an avocado with preservatives, stuff it into a plastic container, put it in a refrigerator, and call it guacamole. That is not guacamole. That is a tinny-tasting crime against culinary decency.
And it’s not hard to make a good guacamole fresh, from scratch. It doesn’t take much time or any special tools. All you really need, besides the ingredients listed below, is a subtle understanding of our fair, delicate mistress, the avocado.
She bruises easily. She does not keep well after being cut open. You must coax her into ripeness. She is easily overwhelmed by more aggressive flavors—salt, garlic, lime—and so you must keep them in check.
It also helps to know a few guacamole-related tricks:
1. Buy avocados 2 to 3 days in advance of your expected preparation day. Most avocados you find in the store are rock hard, but try to find a few with some give when you squeeze them. Leave them out of the fridge to soften up for a few days. To speed the ripening process, throw a piece of already-ripe fruit in the same bowl—it’s Mother Nature’s little helper.
2. Don’t ruin a beautiful dip with crummy tomatoes. Tomatoes are not delicious year-round, and you often can’t predict how they will taste until you cut one open. If you discover your tomatoes are mealy and flavorless, consider using drained canned diced tomatoes instead.
3. Shallots are your friends. Onions are a mainstay of typical guacamole recipes, but shallots, the onion’s sexier little cousins, are at once milder and more distinct in flavor. They are perfect for guacamole.
4. Don’t make your guac in advance. Guacamole starts to lose pizzazz after an hour or so. Leave it overnight in the fridge and it’s a lost cause. If you must make it ahead of time, do what you can to prevent oxidation (covering the guacamole with an avocado pit or two can help, but no more than other coverings). Wrap your container tightly in plastic wrap and stick it in the fridge for good measure.
Cinco de Mayo Guacamole
Yield: 4 servings
Time: 15 minutes
¾ cup diced fresh tomatoes or drained canned diced tomatoes (Muir Glen Organic is a good brand for this)
½ cup roughly chopped cilantro leaves
2 small shallots, very finely chopped
1 or 2 fresh jalapeños, seeded and very finely chopped
1 large garlic clove, minced or pressed
4 ripe avocados
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
Salt and black pepper
Combine the tomatoes, cilantro, shallots, jalapeños, and garlic in a medium bowl. Halve the avocados lengthwise, scoop out the insides (working around the pit), and add them to the bowl. Drizzle the lime juice over everything and mash with a fork until the ingredients are blended but the avocado is still slightly chunky. Add salt and pepper to taste, but don’t overdo it. Serve immediately with your favorite sturdy tortilla chips.
* ZZ Top is optional.