Some years back my wife and I were vacationing in Mexico and I became fixated on the local mortar and pestle, or molcajete and tejolote.
While everyone else was still sawing logs I'd sneak out fo the hotel at the crack of dawn to go scour the local market place for a molcajete with the perfect look, the perfect heft.
For those unfamiliar, this primitive grinding tool has been in use in Mexico for thousands of years. It is typically made from basalt, or lava rock, usually mined in the province of Jalisco on the Pacific side of the country.
A second, flatter kind of tool--the metate--is used for grinding corn into the meal employed in making tortillas and tamales.
Over a period of days, as we traveled from one town to next, I was having no luck finding the molcajete of my dreams. Finally we landed in Puerto Vallarta, a tourist beach town and our last stop before heading back to Mexico city. I held out scant hope of finding the perfect molcajete there.
Our crude Spanish and some frantic hand gestures seeking directions from a local street vendor led us to a small hardware and pet feed store in an outlying village. We stepped inside and found ourselves surrounded by chirping parakeets, plastic Jesuses and aluminum dishware.
In the back of the store is where I finally struck pay dirt: shelves groaning with all sizes of molcajetes, all dusty and looking as though they'd been quaried sometime in the last last century.
When I got to the cash register, the store owner, a smartly dressed young woman, gave me a curious look and then addressed me in perfect English: “Most people use a blender these days,” she said, tallying the bill. “They put the food in a molcajete for display.”
Well, I use my molcajete all the time, especially for grinding spices and starting Mexican salsas. And that is where I would recommend beginning an authentic guacamole.
This signature dip, typically served with toasted corn chips, gets its name from a compound of ancient Nahuatl words, the first being ahuacatl, for avocado, and the second molli, for “mixture.”
Avocados have been part of Mexican cuisine since the dawn of time. There is even an avacado--a pretty gnarly one, granted--on display in the archeological museum in Mexico city.
I make my guacamole with just a few basic ingredients and no lime juice, so it has a nice avocado texture and flavor. Add the lime juice to your margarita if you like.
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt, or to taste
¼ white onion finely chopped, plus two tablespoons for garnish
2 small chilies serranos (or to taste), seeds removed and chopped fine
1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons roughly chopped cilantro leaves
3 ripe avocados, peeled (save one pit for garnish)
1 large ripe tomato, peeled and roughly chopped
In the molcajete, grind cumin seeds and salt to a fine powder. Add all but 2 tablespoons onion, the chilies, 1/3 cup cilantro. Pound and grind until the mixture resembles a coarse, green relish. Add avocado. Gently pound and mix with other ingredients. You can also use a fork at this point to smash the avocado.
The dip should be a bit lumpy (not like the baby food or library paste that passes for guacamole in the supermarket). Fold in chopped tomato. Adjust seasonings.
Serve the guacamole proudly in your molcajete, garnished with the remaining chopped onion and cilantro.