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Ready for Spring? Guac this way!

By John DiGilio in Food on Mar 18, 2011 8:20PM


Perhaps the sunshine and warmer temperatures have lulled us into a false sense of security. It sure does feel, however, like spring may have finally sprung here in the Windy City. Call us eager, but that means it is time to start trading in parkas for shorts, snow boots for sneakers, and the soups and stews of winter for much lighter and fresher springtime fare. Though it is available year-round, one of our favorite spring dishes is none other than fresh guacamole. It is perfect for eating on the patio and has a flavor that harkens to warmer climbs and sunnier times.

Guacamole is not hard to come by. Almost any self-respecting Mexican restaurant is going to serve it. You can even buy it premade in grocery stores. But we are not talking about your run of the mill mashed avocado medley here. We are talking truly tasty, fresh stuff - the kind befitting a beautiful day, a frozen margarita and some cheap, comfy flip-flops. Real guac fans know that the good stuff, even not homemade, has got to taste it. To that end, you really have but two options: roll up your sleeves and make some yourself or go to a restaurant that makes it fresh for you.

Making some of the holy mole at home is not hard. You just need to be a savvy shopper. It is the avocado that makes it. You can play with spices and textures all you want, but a great guac starts with a fresh, ripe avocado. This is where things can get tricky. How do you tell if the avocado you are holding is guacamole-worthy? The first thing you want to do is give it a once over with your eyes. Color itself is not a strong indication of whether an avocado is ripe and ready for use. No, what you are looking for is bruises and blemishes. If it looks beaten up, you don't want it in your bowl! Beyond that, it is all about the touch test. Ripe avocados will be firm in your hand, but will start to yield to your fingers when a little light pressure is applied. So squeeze, but be gentle! Once you find a few good avocados, there is not much more to the process. Some tomatoes and some spices and you will soon be ready to strike up the mariachi band. One of our favorite recipes comes from the California Avocado Commission. These folks know their fruit and their recipe is simple enough to make, yet tastes so wonderfully authentic. It is our Cinco de Mayo standard. (Ed Note: We also ask you to check out Benjy's guacamole recipe for a second option. — CS)

For those who prefer to stay out of the kitchen, there is the option of finding a restaurant that will make a good guac for you. It is certainly popping up on a lot of menus these days. Of course, your best bet is going to be a good Mexican restaurant. Eater be warned though. Not all of them are made the same. As mole mavens, we have some suggestions to help you find a guacamole your tastebuds will remember. First and foremost, find a place that makes your guac to order. You should be able to specify just how caliente you want it or whether you would like like extra garlic or tomatoes for example. We tend to prefer restaurants that actually make it right there tableside. There is a pageantry to making authentic guacamole that is born of the Mexican passion for good, handmade food. Nothing gets your palate ready for a taste like watching your guacamole made in front of you. You should be salivating before it hits the table. Have we made you hungry yet? Our personal favorite spot in the city for breaking tortilla (and dipping it in gaucamole!) is none other than Zapatista Cuisines of Mexico. Stop into any of their three locations for a real treat. Their guac is chunky, yet creamy and very flavorful. You tell them how you want it and they make it right there for you. Zapata himself would be proud.

So while it may not quite yet be time to put away the winter woolies and break out the board shorts, spring is definitely in the air. What better a time to raise a toast to warmer weather ahead? And what better to serve with that toast than a fresh bowl of guacamole. If a little south of the border flavor doesn't put you in the mood for sunnier times, then we are not sure what else will. Winter is on its way out, folks. It is time to get your guac on!