Guacamole: the first dish I ever made
Do you remember the first dish you ever made on your own? When this question came up on Twitter last week, I knew exactly: guacamole.
Not only was guacamole the first dish I ever learned to make by myself, but it remains my go-to appetizer for pretty much every occasion. And while I am open to trying other versions, I’ve honestly never tasted a batch of guac that I like better than my own.
We ate Latin-inspired food frequently when I was growing up. My parents got into Cuban food when they were living in Boston as a young couple. Later on, with four kids under the age of 10, a meal based on tortillas, beans and rice was easy to prepare and pleasing to toddler palates. Guacamole was a natural accompaniment.
Guacamole might seem basic, and barely even qualifying as “cooking”. There’s no heat involved, and minimal chopping. It’s made with avocados, which are nature’s ice cream only more addictive, so pretty much no matter how it comes out people are going to scarf it down.
Nevertheless, learning to make guacamole taught me the crucial, elemental guidelines of cooking that today I apply in everything I make. Simplicity of ingredients: don’t get too fancy, and trust what tastes good as you go. Texture is as important as flavor: in my guacamole, it’s mandatory to preserve chunks of avocado. Presentation matters: my dad taught me to always wipe down the sides of the bowl before serving, even if it’s just for a casual appetizer between friends.
Aside from avocados, salt and pepper, the other ingredients can be flexible. You will want to have citrus, preferably lime but lemon is doable. I prefer crushed garlic cloves, but I’ve used garlic powder in a pinch. Cilantro is practically necessary, but I can make do it without it. Hot sauce or salsa are nice to add, if you have it.
For me, the most important thing is that you don’t overly mash or puree the avocados. Instead, cut them into chunks as shown below, and add crushed garlic and/or a little bit of chopped onion and/or a dash of hot sauce or salsa and/or a good handful of chopped cilantro and/or a squeeze of citrus and salt and pepper to taste . Then use a fork to gently combine, but making sure to keep some significant pieces of avocado intact. Adjust seasonings to taste, then wipe down the sides of the bowl with a napkin or your finger and garnish so it looks pretty. Sometimes I refrigerate it for a few minutes to let the flavors meld.
I like that the first dish I ever made is still the one I return to over and over again, that I can make it without even thinking and that it’s always polished off down to the last scrape.