Lately, I've been so busy that I've resorted to more than a few "convenience" foods. Some of them are good enough that I would use them even if I wasn't on a time crunch (for ex. Trader Joes frozen croissants and brownies - and OMG have you tried the new pecan sticky buns??) but there is one that I've always felt especially guilty about, and that's the pre-made Cal Avo guacamole (sold at Trader Joes under the "Avocado's Number" name.) I used to make really good guacamole from scratch all the time, but since this stuff arrived it's been really difficult to justify the expense and work involved. Last night though, I found myself with all of the ingredients on hand more or less accidentally, so I decided to whip up a fresh batch for old time's sake. It had been so long that I actually had to get out the recipe book and check on the amounts of some ingredients before stirring it all together.
The key to really good guacamole is - not surprisingly - the avocados. Good, smooth, buttery ripe avocados - preferably the Hass variety. The second secret is salt. It takes a good amount - in a pinch, you can even make a decent version with nothing but salt and lime juice. Some purists might add chopped onion (or garlic) to that, but nothing more. This recipe goes further though, with fresh chopped jalapeno, cilantro and tomato, and a dash of cayenne pepper for a little heat.
If you can, it really helps the flavor of guacamole to let it sit in the fridge for about an hour after it's made - just like potato salad. When it's allowed to rest, the fat in the avocados absorbs the flavors from the rest of the ingredients - the onions mellow, the salt has a chance to permeate, and the jalapenos release their oils. Just after it's made, it will seem a little bland and the onions will be too harsh.
The real question though - is it better than the packaged stuff? My answer has to be yes, because it's so much more satisfying to make something from scratch than squeeze it out of a package - you can choose your ingredients, and your friends will ooh and ahh. But... when the package is full of buttery chunks of ripe avocado, and you can swipe a hot tortilla chip through it without having to dirty a cutting board or buy half a dozen ingredients? I have to admit, it's kind of a close call.
If you've got some good avocados on hand, this recipe is hard to improve on. Mine were a little bit firm last night - but it's not quite prime season yet. In the summertime, I definitely plan to add this recipe back to the rotation. You can omit the cilantro or tomato, and the spices if you can't tolerate any heat at all - the essentials are really lime juice, salt and onion in the right proportions.
Really Good Guacamoleadapted from Chic Simple Cooking
4 very ripe avocados
a generous 1/2 teaspoon of sea salt (a little more if the avocados are underripe)
1 Tablespoon fresh squeezed lime juice
2 scallions or 2 Tablespoons chopped sweet onion (I actually prefer onion over scallion because it adds a little crunch - red onion looks pretty too)
1/2 jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely minced
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon minced cilantro
1 small tomato, deseeded and chopped
Cut the avocados in half with a paring knife - twisting around the pit. To remove the pit, hold the avocado in your palm, hit the pit with the blade of your knife so it sticks, and twist slightly. Use a spoon to swipe the avocado out of the skin and place each whole half in the bowl. Add the salt, lime juice and onion, and any or all of the remaining ingredients to suit your taste. Stir it together lightly, so you have some nice big chunks of the avocado in the mixture. Spoon into a serving bowl and place in the refrigerator for an hour or so - if it will be longer than that, top with plastic wrap, pressing the wrap directly onto the surface so the avocado doesn't brown.
This makes enough for 4 - any more than that, make double. It goes fast!
Serve with warm, sturdy tortilla chips, salsa and lots of beer or margaritas.