Thursday, February 26, 2009

Kids Make Guacamole in the Molcajete

Where did the people of Mexico learn to speak Spanish?

The answer is simple enough: the Spanish conquistadors who invaded and subdued Mexico hundreds of years ago. But the question points up the fact that there were people living in what we now call Mexico long before the Europeans arrived. Whether Olmec or Aztec or Mayan, they all had their own cultures, languages and foods.

Thus the kids in our "food appreciation classes" learned that "guacamole"--the stuff you typically order as an appetizer at your local Tex-Mex restaurant--derives from the ancient Nahuatl word for avocado: ahuacatl, meaning "testicle" (because of the shape of the avocado or the pit inside?). The Nahuatl word molli means a sauce or a mix. Put them together you get ahuacamolli, or "guacamole."

Guacamole usually is prepared by simply chopping onion and tomato and tossing it with avocado. We prefer to make ours in a traditional Mexican mortar and pestle--or molcajete e tejolote--carved out of volcanic basalt stone. Grinding the ingredients brings out all the flavorful oils, making our guacamole especially vibrant. Kids will spend the whole day grinding things in the molcajete if you give them the chance.

1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 jalapeno pepper, seeds and veins removed and chopped fine
1/4 white onion, diced small
2 ripe Haas avocados
1 small ripe tomato, diced small
a small fistful of cilantro leaves

In the molcajete, grind the cumin seeds and salt together into a fine powder. Add the jalapeno and grind almost into a paste. Add white onion and grind until you have what looks like a slushy green relish at the bottom of the molcajete.

Cut the avocados in half with a sharp chef's knife, first piercing an avocado all the way to the pit inside, then rotating the avocado lengthwise against the knife blade 360 degrees. Set the knife down and twist the two halves of the avocado, separating them. To remove the pit, hold the avocado half in the palm of one hand and with the other hand strike the pit with the blade of your knife. The pit should hold to the knife. Just twist it out of the avocado meat and toss the pit away. Now use a paring knife to score the meat in both halves of the avocado in a cross-hatch pattern all the way to the inside of the peel (don't cut the peel.) Use a spoon to scoop the meat into the molcajete--if you scored it properly, the meat should fall apart into large dice.

Add the tomatoes and most of the cilantro to the mix and toss thoroughly with your spoon to combine. Mash the avocado a little as you go, but not too much. You want some texture to your finished guacamole, not a paste. Adjust seasoning as desired. Garnish with the remaining cilantro and present the guacamole in the molcajete with your favorite corn chips.

Note: we don't normally add lime or lemon juice to our guacamole but you may certainly do so if you like.


Sinclair said...

YUM! I am going to have to try the Molcajete part of making guacamole!

Ed Bruske said...

Sinclair,using the molcajete is a revelation. If you can't get one, a large standard mortar and pestle would work as well. But you do lose some of the atmospherics.