For the past four months, I have lived in Mexico in a studio apartment that, while small, has a stove-top, pots and pans, and the ability to cook. After four-and-a-half years on the road, this is the first time I’ve slowed down enough to shop at the local markets and then bring those flavors home. With a full kitchen, I am using the local vegetables and spices to recreate my favorite traditional dishes. And it’s natural to start with a dish that seems too crazy easy on the surface, but with a lot of nuance when you dive into the recipes: guacamole.
When I lived in Southeast Asia, I ate out for every meal. While street food is both cheap and delicious, it’s difficult to gain insight into how a nation combines flavors to create distinct cuisine. Cuisines around the world combine the same basic flavors in a different way to create a flavor profile unique to a country, culture, or region. For this reason, I take cooking classes in every country as I journey around the world. My mini cookbook collection has flavors from Thailand, dishes from Laos, Tibetan momos from Nepal, and sumac-flavored Jordanian salads. It’s a grand thing to take the class, but then to also adapt those dishes to your own palate and tastes. For Mexico, I have various cookbooks for vegetarians, but now that I’m in the country, it’s time to test out recipes and learn more about how Mexican flavors work within the country’s most popular dishes.
I am dedicating my time in Mexico to learning the flavors of Mexican foods. This current cooking obsession is in self-defense too, because there are few vegetarian options in my small town. There are only so many cheese quesadillas a girl can eat. Instead, I hunt down the ingredients at my local vegetable stand and markets. Then, I use these base ingredients to create vegetarian versions of the enchiladas, soups, and tacos everyone else enjoys.
Traveling vegetarians have a hard time finding healthy, balanced meals, so with the time and kitchen space here in Mexico these past months I decided to give it a go on the simple dishes. I look to the markets and restaurants to find food that is 1) simple enough to cook even in a hostel kitchen and 2) relatively healthy and 3) tasty enough to prepare for friends and family back home.
Added to that, if you know me very well then you know I can rant for hours about our food quality and the evolution of our food industries. Yet, I only occasionally talk about food here on ALA, even though acquiring food thrice times daily is a huge part of the traveling experience. With that in mind, occasionally on ALA I will share a recipe, history, and travels inspired by some place I have visited.
Which brings us to guacamole — a dish that gives full focus to a fruit I love and eat in some form nearly every day: avocado. I have an ongoing love affair avocados these days (and a Pinterest board dedicated to the food). In Mexico, avocados are affordable and they work as an amazing addition to most anything in life. A medium ripe avocado in Mexico runs about 5 pesos, or rather 40 cents. The woman next door is an avocado whisperer. She runs a vegetable shop, so I tell her what I want an avocado for — smoothie, guacamole, or sliced on the side—and she digs through the stack to find one perfect for that task. This translates into just overripe for the smoothie, under-ripe for the side slices, and perfectly ripe for guacamole.
Creating the perfect guacamole is one of the first tasks I assigned myself when I rented my apartment earlier this year. I live next door to the best produce shop in town, it’s just a few shops down from the tortilleria. I have fresh chips and ingredients nearby, so creating the perfect guacamole recipe was my new mission. I asked others, I tested other recipes online, and after months I have concluded that these two recipes take care of every potential guacamole need.
How to Make the Perfect Party Guacamole
My friend Guy is a talented filmmaker at Planetary Collective. He lived in San Pancho for a couple of months while their team finished editing the trailer for their beautiful documentary about the story of our interconnection with each other, the planet, and the universe. In my murmurings about guacamole, Guy announced that he had created the best guacamole recipe known to man, and since that’s a challenge I am willing to test people on, I asked him to make it!
Guy hosted a Mexican night complete with elotes, fish tacos (for the carnivores), and his famous guacamole. After trying it, I had to agree with him, it was incredible — creamy with a strong kick and a light smoky flavor. And while delicious, there is no way I could eat the entire bowl because it burns after too long (in such a good way). I conceded to him that this combination was pretty close to the holy grail of guacamole. This is now my go-to as a taco topper or party dip. It’s just spicy enough that no one at a party will hog the guacamole, but all will sing its praises. :) Guy graciously shared his carefully honed recipe:
5 cherry tomatoes
1/2 red onion (finely chopped)
2 medium chipotle peppers in adobo sauce (de-seeded and minced)
1 serrano or jalapeño peppers (de-seeded and minced)
1 bunch of cilantro (de-stalked and chopped)
1 lime (juiced)
2 tbsp agave syrup
salt and pepper to taste
If you’re in a place with iffy water, soak the tomatoes, cilantro, and peppers in a disinfecting solution. Mash the avocado until creamy, add the rest of rest of the very finely chopped ingredients; top with a pretty tomato sprinkling.
How to Make a Quick, Everyday Guacamole
This second one is mine and is super simple; only a tad spicy, chunkier, limier, and a go-to quick fix hearty enough to make a lunch for one. I make this twice a week as a meal. Here in Mexico, the local guacamole has far more lime (and chili) than most versions back home. Many of them are also served as a liquid, not that scoopable guacamole we think of at the local Mexican restaurant. For that reason, I emphasize that this is my version of a lunch guacamole, which acts more like a salad guac than a traditional guac. There is a taco-stand avocado salsa here as well. It’s a completely different texture — liquid and meant for spooning onto tacos — and isn’t intended as a chip dip. This is a good recipe for the liquid taco-stand guacamole. And to understand the range of spiciness, this article elaborates on the differences between habanero, serrano, and jalepeño peppers. Flavor-wise I generally prefer serrano, but all would taste good here.
2 medium avocados (I use the small, Mexican avocados)
1 medium vine-ripe tomato (diced)
1/3 red onion (diced)
1 small garlic clove (minced)
2 limes (juiced, or replace one lime with 1/2 tsp of lime zest if you really want to kick it up a notch)
1 or 2 serrano peppers (de-seeded and minced)
cumin and salt to taste
Cube and lightly mash the avocado with a fork, you want it still pretty fairly chunky, then simply add in the rest. Some people add mayonnaise, crema, or sour cream to their quacamole. Any of these additions are delicious, if less healthy. They will also change the color of the guacamole, and they make it creamier, with a smoother flavor.
Additional Guacamole Resources
If you’re an avocado lover like me, then you might want to check out these cookbooks and avocado tools.
- Absolutely Avocados: This amazing cookbook has guacamole recipes from all over the world and integrating spice profiles from a range of diverse cultures. You will never get bored making guacamole when you can just page through and find a new take on a well-loved dish. Best yet, most of the recipes are pretty easy and don’t include too many crazy ingredients, so it’s truly easy to use on a whim.
- Vegan Mexico: Mexican food is not very vegetarian-friendly, but it is tasty beyond belief. This is a good start for vegans and vegetarians missing that zingy combination of flavors unique to Mexico.
- Extra tools: Neither of these are necessary, but I use a Mexican molcajete when I prepare my guacamole, and back home I have an avocado slicer which saves a good deal of time if you are preparing avocados often!