Monday, February 1, 2016

Holy Guacamole!

A few days ago, I was in the supermarket with my 6-year-old son, and he asked if we could get an avocado. I don’t think he actually used the word “avocado,” he just pointed and asked, “Hey! Can we get one of those?!??” I told him that not only could we get one, but that I would show him how we could grow the seed into a little plant. He thought that was pretty cool, so he picked out a couple and we brought them home.

Since avocados have a notoriously short “ripe but not bad” window, I’ve been keeping a careful eye on them, and this morning, I declared them officially “guacamole ripe” (which is about a day later than “salad ripe”). At that point, the skins are a very dark green, nearly black, the flesh is soft but not squishy, and the stub of the stem is black and pops off easily. 

The first step in making guacamole is to cut the avocado in half, remove the pit, and the scoop out the flesh with a spoon. Using a sharp knife, cut the avocado all the way around from end to end. The pit inside is very large and hard, so push down until you feel the knife hit the pit, then just rock or rotate the knife around it.

It should then be very easy to simply pull the two halves apart. 

This avocado was a bit on the soft side, so the flesh stuck to the pit a little. You can also see that some of the flesh at the narrow (stem) end is a bit off color. I didn’t use that part of the avocado – it won’t hurt you, and it probably tastes fine, but like a browned apple, it doesn’t look as appealing.

The second one was a tiny bit less ripe, and you can see that the flesh held its shape and the pit looks very clean. This one was the perfect ripeness for guacamole! 

In both cases, it was easy to pop out the pit with my fingers, but you can always scoop it out with the tip of the spoon if it sticks.

Scoop out the flesh into a bowl. Don’t leave any of the green goodness behind! The husk is fairly tough so you can scrape pretty hard to make sure you don’t miss anything. 

 At this point, I set aside the bowl of flesh (that sounds a lot more unpleasant than it is) to deal with preparing the pits for rooting. Now, I have a little confession to make: I’m not adding this step simply as a lesson for my son. I think that growing an avocado plant from a pit is really cool, and since I don’t buy avocados often, on the rare occasion that I do, I nearly always try to grow a plant from the pit. It sounds goofy, but if you’ve never tried it, give it a shot! It’s pretty fun to watch.

So if you choose to try it, the next step is to rinse off the pit. If your pit came out cleanly, you won’t have to do much, but if there’s flesh stuck to it, rub it gently with your fingers under running water to clean it off. When you’re done, the pit should look like a smooth, slightly shiny, wooden egg. 

You’ll need a short glass (disposable plastic cups are fine – just use something you can see through) and three toothpicks for each pit you want to grow. Holding the pit with the wide end at the bottom, insert three toothpicks about a third of the way from the narrow top. They don’t need to stick in very far. 

The toothpicks should be either sticking straight out or angled slightly upwards. Place the pit on top of the glass with the toothpicks supporting it.The pits should hang low enough into the glass that you’ll be able to cover the bottom inch with water without getting too close to the top of the glass.

I experimented a little with the angle of the toothpicks, as well as how close they are to the top of the pit. You can see that the toothpicks in the pit on the left are fairly straight and the ones on the right are both angled upward and much closer to the top. 

Next, I poured water into each glass so that the pits were immersed but not covered. It doesn’t hurt the pits to get wet, so go ahead and fill the glass without removing the pit. That makes it a lot easier to gauge how much water you need to add.

You can see that the glass on the right doesn’t need to be as full in order to keep the pit immersed, since it hangs lower in the glass. Lesson learned: try to put the toothpicks in at an angle, and keep them fairly close to the top of the pit. (This is especially important if you, like me, frequently forget to check the water level. The pit on the left will dry out much more quickly.)

All that’s left is to stick the glasses in a sunny window, keep them full of water at about this level, and then watch roots and stems and leaves appear! Once they have started to sprout, you can replant them in potting soil and treat them the same way as any other houseplant.

OK, back to our guacamole! I wish I had a more specific recipe to share with you, but this is something that I make very much by tasting it as I go. There are lots of different ways to make guacamole, but this is a tried and true, quick and dirty recipe. All it takes is avocado, salt, onion powder, garlic powder, and lime juice.  Mash up the avocado until it’s nice and creamy (if your avocados are still a bit firm, you can blend them in the food processor), then stir in some generous shakes of onion and garlic, a heavy splash of lime, and a few pinches of salt. Taste it, and add seasonings as needed. 

There are plenty of ways to fancy it up using fresh ingredients: mince up some real garlic cloves, chop up an onion, juice a fresh lime. Try different variations: substitute lemon juice for lime, add some fresh chopped tomato, use red onion or shallots, throw in a handful of cilantro. Making guacamole is like making soup: it rarely comes out the same way twice, but it’s always good.

Now just break out the tortilla chips, pita chips, pita bread, or whatever else you like guacamole on (huevos rancheros, tacos, enchiladas, or my all-time favorite, a spoon) and enjoy!

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