Avocado Heresy

As I have mentioned innumerable times, my father is from New Mexico. I grew up eating southwestern foods — like salsa — before they were well known in the rest of the country. (It was only a few years ago that I realized that they hadn’t been well known in the rest of the country. I just assumed everyone was eating that stuff).

I don’t have any deep, defining memories of guacamole from my early childhood. In fact, we may not have eaten it particularly often, or even at all. My mother went through a couple of cycles of trying to eat low-fat foods, and avocados weren’t on any of the lists of allowable items, no matter who you asked.

By the time I was in college (and my mother had switched to a moderation-in-all-foods mind-set), guacamole did make regular appearances at our dinner table — usually as a side dish, rather than a dip. We almost always ate it with salmon, I remember: each of us getting a heaping dollop on the plate next to our burnished fillet, the two meant to be eaten together in each bite.

For graduate school, I moved to Austin, TX, a place where one could scarcely avoid guacamole if one wanted to. I was possibly even more cash-strapped than most graduate students are (ask me sometime about the financial aid check that never arrived), but it never occurred to me to scratch the relatively expensive avocados off of my weekly grocery list. (That was probably a good thing. Given how little food I had to survive on, calorie-dense avocados [and my other contemporary indulgence, freshly-ground almond butter] may have kept me alive and healthy).

For all those years, though, I never deviated from the usual guacamole ingredients. Avocado. Tomatoes/tomatillos (my mother’s choice). Onion, jalapeno, lime juice, cilantro. Chop. Mix. Eat. The End.

It wasn’t until I was out of school and a full-fledged recipe junkie that I began to notice avocado recipes from other cultures. Sure, I was aware that things like California rolls existed, but it would never have occurred to me to make ersatz guacamole with wasabi, soy sauce and sesame oil. Or a Hungarian version with roasted red peppers, caraway and sour cream.

I never really cared for any of the variations. In many cases, the resultant mixture had too many flavors to taste of anything in particular, and, almost universally, the recipes called for the addition of another kind of fat–sesame oil, sour cream–which I found highly suspect. Avocados are practically made of fat (not that I mind); adding more of it seemed bizarre. The mouth-feel of the finished mixture went from silky smooth to mouth-coatingly fatty.

(This is one of the reasons that I’ve never seen a recipe for an avocado soup that appealed to me. 2 cups of heavy cream to 1 avocado and a paltry pinch of salt? Served hot? Pardon me while I try to get that mental residue off of my tongue).

Not to mention that things like sesame oil and sour cream have very strong flavors of their own, which tended to mask the actual flavor of avocado. If an avocado is in a recipe simply for the buttery texture and to heck with the flavor, just make a cream-cheese dip or flavored butter or something. Leave the avocado alone.

So I continued along my rigid — but merry — way, making traditional guacamole and eating enormous quantities at each sitting. Every now and then a recipe would worm its way into my mind and I’d try something new, usually disappointing myself enough to send me scurrying back to the salsa.

Last week I got the usual bug in my ear. I had a wonderful new middle eastern-inspired cookbook checked out from the library, and behold: its recipe for guacamole contained chopped preserved lemon rind (which I adore).

Aside from that one fanciful deviation, the recipe was what I was used to. Chopped tomatoes, cilantro, garlic, green chiles, onions: all these ingredients are traditional for middle eastern cuisine as well as southwestern American. I had high hopes for the result.

I peeled, pitted and chop/mashed two avocados, until chunky. I added several generous pinches of salt, a small clamshell’s worth of cherry tomatoes, halved, a big handful of minced cilantro leaves, a few spoonfuls of minced onion and garlic, and half of a minced Hatch green chile. (I do keep my loyalty).

I extracted one of my preserved lemons from its jar of salt, rinsed it off, scooped out and discarded the pulp, then finely chopped the rind. I added half of the resultant dice to the avocado mixture (saving the other half for another dish) along with a few spoonfuls of fresh lemon juice, to take the place of the usual lime juice (I couldn’t leave citrus juice out entirely). A few seconds of light mixing later: guacamole.

AND?

It was delicious. My mind was not blown and I did not fall to my knees and weep, but I was very pleasantly surprised by how well the preserved lemon rind fit into the guacamole. Its astringent saltiness was the perfect foil for the unctuousness of the avocado — fulfilling much the same role as jalapeno, in traditional guacamole. (Yes, this version had green chiles as well, but the parallel was undeniable).

This is a variation on my usual guacamole that I will definitely make again: I can see pairing it with a middle-eastern spiced fish, much in the same way that my mother pairs the traditional version with salmon. Maybe next time I’ll go wild and even try adding some sumac or za’atar.

*(Note: for the record, avocados and wasabi can coexist very peacefully in, say, an Asian-inspired mixed vegetable salad. Just leave out the sesame oil).*

Advertisements
Published in: on April 16, 2008 at 7:38 pm  Leave a Comment  

The URI to TrackBack this entry is: https://pouletbasquaise.wordpress.com/2008/04/16/avocado-heresy/trackback/

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: