|My new Molcajete and my first Guacamole made in it.
Nothing says summer like Guacamole and although we’re thousands of miles from both Mexico and that capital of Guacamole, the state of California, we’re proud of what we’re able to make right here on Long Island. Of course, the avocados are hardly local. They’re very often not even domestic. But thanks to a growing and vibrant Mexican community in our midst, “Tomates Verdes”, or tomatillos, are locally grown along with an increasing number of ‘chiles’ like the serranos that are the backbone of a great Guacamole. But my excitement over making this spicy, rich party dish was multiplied by the arrival of my very own molcajete. My friend Carlos carried it with him when he arrived from Mexico City this July. The weight of the thing is astonishing and it’s hardly a carry-on item. But my new molcajete is the genuine article. Made it Oaxaca, it arrived seasoned and ready to go. And I had to marvel at Carlos’ generosity– never mind his muscle– at lugging the thing onto a plane. But it seems that last year I published a recipe for Guacamole that didn’t please Carlos one little bit.
The post, which contained a recipe for Guacamole, was anathema to Carlos because it was made in…a blender! That is just heresy of the highest order. Mexico’s salsas would not exist were it not for the molcajete, a kitchen tool that dates back to the Aztecs. And remarkably, it is still made exactly the same way— using volcanic rock, which these craftsmen painstakingly craft by hand. Carlos gave me a link to a YouTube video showing the incredibly work-intensive making of a molcajete. Here’s the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SPAXLG3LHVc.
If you do watch the video, I am sure you’ll agree: the effort that goes into every molcajete is simply staggering. Now, you may not have a Carlos in your life, but if you have access to Williams-Sonoma, you can buy a molcajete for all of $49.95! After watching the video, this almost feels like grand theft. A word of caution: You may find molcajetes at Mexican markets that are even less expensive. In all likelihood these are not the genuine lava rock article. Concrete poured into a mold can give mimic the molcajete’s shape but concrete is so full of impurities, it should never come in contact with food. Instead, spring for the $49.95 model which would be a bargain at twice that price.
|Diana Kennedy, the Julia Child
of Mexican Cuisine
To inaugurate my new molcajete, I turned to the legendary Diana Kennedy and her wonderful book, a gift from Carlos’ prior visit, “The Art of Mexican Cooking” (Clarkson Potter 2008). Diana Kennedy is likely the English-speaking world’s foremost authority on Mexican cooking. Born in England, she emigrated to Canada in 1953. In 1957, she went to Mexico and married Paul Kennedy, a New York Times correspondent. After nine years of studying and collecting Mexican recipes, she and her husband moved to New York City in 1966. Sadly, her husband died a year later. Craig Claiborne, his colleague at the Times, pressed her into giving Mexican cooking lessons. She did and when not teaching, she returned to Mexico time after time until she had enough material to publish her first cookbook in 1972. Her literary output now includes 8 cookbooks and the Government of Mexico acknowledged her with its highest possible honor. She was awarded the Order of The Aztec Eagle for her contributions in documenting Mexico’s regional cuisine. This accolade is the Mexican equivalent of a knighthood for non-Mexicans. And to this day, aged 89, Diana Kennedy continues to live and write in Mexico. Most recently, she was featured in Saveur Magazine’s August/September 2012 “The Mexico Issue”.
Who better then to go to for a recipe to inaugurate my new molcajete? Now since Carlos is from Mexico City, I chose a recipe from the state that surrounds the Distrito Federale. What was different about it was that it did not contain one piece of red tomato but relied completely on Mexican Green Tomatoes and it admonished “If possible, use a molcajete”. Sold! I latched onto the recipe with a vengeance, and it wasn’t until I was practically done that I read Ms. Kennedy’s comment: “ I have eaten this guacamole on rare occasions at homes in the state of Mexico bordering on Morelos. Although it is not my favorite, it makes an interesting change from the more popular version and is particularly suitable when tomatoes are not at their best.”
|Esmeralda doctored my Guacamole and
made it so much better. Gracias!
Wait a minute! The tomatoes could not be any better than they are right here, right now. But I had just made the green version and we were headed to a party for Carlos and his friend Tashi. Have molcajete, will travel. So I put the finished “Salsa” in the car and brought along a couple of ripe, red tomatoes. Wonder of wonders, our hostesses had engaged two helpers for their dinner. Esmeralda and her daughter Rosa practically whooped when they saw my molcajete. Esmeralda tasted the intensely flavored contents and in about two minutes started dicing the tomatoes I’d brought with me. Added to the green guacamole, they tamed the dishes’ fire. That was a good thing because when a Mexican thinks something is too hot, you really need to bow to their expertise. So here is the recipe with both Green Tomatillos and Red Tomatoes:
Recipe for Guacamole con Tomate Verde and Tomate Riojas adapted from Diana Kennedy:
4 chiles serranos, finely chopped
2 rounded tablespoons, finely chopped cilantro
Scant ½ tsp. sea salt
6 oz or 8 medium tomatillos (broiled—method follows)
3 large Avacados
1 cup finely chopped unpeeled tomato
For the topping:
2 tbsp. finely chopped white onion
1 heaping tbsp. finely chopped cilantro
1. First, broil the tomatillos. Remove the papery husk and rinse the tomatillos. Don’t attempt to skin them. Put the tomatillos into a heavy cast iron pan. Put them under the broiler and cook them until they are fairly soft and the skin is lightly charred (About 5 minutes) When you grind them, include the skin.
2. In the molcajete, grind the onion, chiles, cilantro and salt to a paste. Add the broiled tomate verde, a few at a time, mashing and grinding the skin as much as possible.
3. Cut the avocados in half and remove the pits but do not discard. Scoop out the flesh with a wooden spoon and mash roughly into the base mixture, turning it over from the bottom so that the seasoning is well distributed. Put the pits back into the mixture.
4. Wait until the last minute to add the diced tomato, mixing it in.
5. Sprinkle the top with onion and cilantro and serve immediately.