As the old adage goes, when life hands you
lemons limes, make lemonlimeade, but when life hands you limes and avocados, well, you better make guacamole.
Unfortunately, if you’re like me, you’ll probably hem and haw over a guacamole recipe until your avocados have gone painfully soft and your limes have turned brown. Then you have to sit and wait patiently for life’s next shipment… and we all know life’s shipments are like CSA boxes; one week it’s a veritable rainbow of veggie variety and the next it’s 6 pounds of wilted swiss chard.
So we must learn to tame our foodie egos and resist the urge to scour the world for *the best* recipe that will distinguish our guacamole from everything else on the smorgasbord. Yep, we must learn to improvise.
I constantly hear the refrain “I wish I were better at improvising.”
I’ll let you in on a little secret: I used to say that a lot too…
But one day I figured it out; the ability to improvise isn’t a character trait we’re either born with or not… nope, it’s something you have to work at. Some of the confidence needed to improvise comes with time and lots of cooking, but a big part of it is just taking risks, educating yourself, and starting small.
That’s why guacamole is a great dish for a newbie improviser to start with!
I mean, let’s face it…there are a million+ different recipes out there for the world’s best guacamole, but they all come down to variations on the same handful of ingredients: avocados, citrus, spices, and onion — sometimes more, sometimes less, but most of the time, just those few things. So why not work toward a guacamole you want to eat? Make it your very own and leave the search for praise until later.
Here’s a few easy steps to get you improvising a great guac on your own!
- Read a lot of different recipes. Pay attention to what appeals to you and what turns you off. Make a mental or a physical note of those things.
- Always start with the base. When you’re not using a recipe, it’s essential to start by thinking critically about the prime ingredient. That’s the foundation you’re going to build your dish off of, so it should be strong and solid and crystal clear in your head. In the case of guacamole, our star ingredient is avocado, so start by asking yourself (and answering) these key questions:
- “Do I like my avocado chunky or creamy?” For the former — cube the avocado, for the latter — mash it. Like a happy medium? cube half the avocado and mash the other half; the world is your oyster, little improvisor! Slice, dice, mash, whip, cream — it’s all up to you.
- “Do I want the avocado to be a vehicle for other ingredients or the sole star?” This, in addition to how much guac you actually want to make, will effect how much avocado you put into the dish. I’ve seen really good hybrid salsa/gaucs that use one avocado and pile on the toppings. I’ve also seen guacs that use 6 avocados and absolutely nothing else. Again, up to you.
- Add the additional “typical” ingredients and sample sample sample after every addition. Ask yourself: “Would I like it to have more of that flavor? less?” Add more if that’s your jive. If it’s too much for you, think about how you can counteract that flavor. In most cases with gauc, the answer will be “more avocado”, which has a bland and masking flavor. If you find yourself repulsed by the quantities you just added, more avocado will bring it back down to a base. A good jumping point to start with (for a guac made with two avocados):
- 1/2 a lime
- 2 tablespoons chopped onion (I prefer red)
- pinch salt
- various pinches of cumin, chile powder, coriander, paprika (totally up to you)
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
- Now the fun part! Ask yo’self “What do I really WANT to taste in my gauc?” For me, the answer is usually “spicy!”, so I often throw in lots of finely chopped chile pepper. Sometimes the answer is beans, corn, cheese, tomatoes or all of the above. Don’t be afraid to go a little crazy; most of the time you can usually pick out your additions before it’s too late. If you’re really concerned, put some guac aside and use a spoonful to try out mini-creations! Some of my all time favorite guacs have come from the weird stuff: siracha sauce, adobo peppers, banana peppers, you name it… it’s been thrown in there at some point. I make my guac based on my mood and so should you!