Avocados are the tofu of the produce aisle, and I mean that in good way.
I tried to think of words to describe how an avocado tastes, and it wasn't easy. They're not sweet, salty, bitter, sour, and they definitely don't ooze umame. They're bland and fatty and we love them. Who doesn't like guacamole?
On a recent Sunday, I ate guacamole all day long. It was a convergence of the first time this season that avocados in the store were perfectly ripe and a day at home with no prospects other than a few small projects and some TiVo breaks. Every couple of hours, I took a break and made a different guac. And when I say different, I mean not just different from each other, but versions of guacamole that I'd never made before.
Because I knew I'd be sharing my recipes, I started by dicing, mincing, chopping all my possible mix-ins, and the array helped me think about guacamole in a more organized way than my usual spur-of-the-moment mash-ups.
There are five things that turn ripe avocados into great guacamole. Add something from at least three of the categories and your guacamole will taste good to great, depending on how well your sense of taste meshes with the harsh reality of other people's taste buds.
* Salt, or a salty ingredient like feta cheese * Acid, from citrus or vinegar or tomatoes -- for flavor and to impede browning * Crunch/texture, from onion, garlic, papaya, seeds, and nuts * A hint of sweetness (even if it's hidden, like the sugar in onions or tomatoes) * Heat -- plain black pepper, a dash of Tabasco, or chiles if you like it spicy As far as technique, my preferred utensil is a potato masher. It lets me get a good ratio of creamy and chunky. I wait until the last minute to make guacamole, because avocados start to brown as soon as you expose the flesh to oxygen.
Here are four easy to make guacamoles:
1. Guacamole with chopped peppadews (sweet-hot Indian peppers), slivered dried apricots (sweet and chewy), sunflower seeds for crunch, plus minced shallot and pasilla chile.
2. Guacamole with heirloom tomatoes (barely sweet and a little acidic) and radish sprouts (mild heat) -- plus some crushed tortilla chips for salt and crunch, and minced shallot.
3. Guacamole with red walnuts and feta -- the nuts are crunchy and score a 1 (on a scale of 1 to 10) for bitter, which is just the right amount of bitter, and the feta adds salt and tartness.
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4. Guacamole with red peppers and Parmesan crisps -- roasted peppers and Parmesan are a great combo with avocado. I placed the Parmesan into a hot oven for about four minutes, spread out on a parchment-lined baking sheet. It crisps and takes on a toasty flavor.
Guacamole is meant to be shared. If you have a favorite recipe, share it in the comments.
Andy Broder is the chef/owner of AndyFood, A Culinary Studio.