Monday, January 16, 2006

Huevos Rancheros con Guacamole

An ode to Mexican food: You hold comfort in the bean, spice in the pepper, butter in the avocado, dipping in the salsa, and manly challenges in the tequila’s worm-- I believe that covers all necessary categories for fun eating. One can also dine out on superb Mexican food for relatively cheap, making this the college student or starving artists’ favorite food. Is there any other country brilliant enough to incorporate chocolate in a main dish?

My personal belief is that Mexican food is aided greatly by the avocado. That beautiful green butterball is pure decadence in dining. Originally known for its sexual powers (throw away the Viagra boys!), the avocado’s original name was ahuacati or “testicle”. But alas, the Spanish Conquistadores could not pronounce the Aztec name, dubbing this delight aguacate. This fruit eventually became popular to sea-faring Europeans, who called the avocado, midshipman’s butter, spreading it on their biscuits.

I personally keep an avocado on hand for any emergency situation that may arise: for a salad, in a sandwich, sliced with eggs, blanketed in proscuitto… I could go on. My favorite way to enjoy an avocado though is in guacamole.

I received this recipe from a good friend who manages a Mexican restaurant. The food is so good I rarely attempt to shame myself with any recreation of their dishes. But guacamole is a life-saver, so it was the one recipe I had to have. I once made this over Thanksgiving: I handed the bowl to my brother, ran downstairs to put my wet clothes into the dryer, and returned to find the bowl was (literally) licked clean. He slouched low on the couch, the empty bowl resting in the cradle of his arm, while he giggled in delight at his deft eating abilities. I made another batch and ate it in front of him, making sure to keep it just out of reach, just like a good sister should. Stupidly, I taught him the recipe so anytime I was on my way home craving guacamole I found the avocado stash cleaned out.

The key to an avocado (and therefore guacamole) is to ripen it properly. Purchase a seemingly soft one only to slice it open and find it bruised and unusable. Purchase a rock hard avocado and the time spent waiting for it to ripen is heart-wrenching. I assure you, ripening the avocado in your own home is the wiser choice (as is the Hass variety):

Hass avocadoes are rough-skinned and smaller. They have a nutty, buttery flavor. The thin-skinned large, lighter variety is not as flavorful and more watery. It is best to purchase avocadoes when they are hard. Allow the avocado to sit on your counter (or fruit bowl) to ripen (or in a paper bag with an apple for faster results). This process will probably take about 3-4 days and the avocado skin will darken as it matures. The avocado is ripe when the skin gives under a little pressure (the innards are soft). Once they are ready, they can remain for a few more days on the counter or be placed in the refrigerator for about 2 weeks. When ripe, the skin easily peels off (once started with a knife) and the seed is easy to remove. If you do not use an entire avocado, sprinkle it with lime or lemon juice and wrap it air-tight to prevent discoloration.

For this meal, the most time-consuming preparation is in the guacamole: 5 minutes. This makes today’s meal one of the fastest and most delicious breakfast dishes available. This was made a) because I had a ripe avocado itching to be used and b) I had the broken ends of un-dipable tortilla chips I could not make myself throw away. It is important to keep guacamole simple and more importantly, dairy-free. Many Mexican restaurants will bulk up their guacamole with sour cream or yogurt and ruin the natural buttery flavor of the avocado. As long as your avocado is good and ripe, your guacamole will be great.

Makes 2 servings. Prep + Cook time= 8 min.
* 1 ripe Hass avocado
* 1 garlic clove, crushed (optional)
* 1 small vine-ripe tomato, chopped and deseeded
* ½ medium (or 1 small) white onion, chopped
* ¼ cup corn kernels (optional, but adds nice color and flavor)
* 2 Tbl fresh cilantro, chopped (optional)
* juice of ¼ lime (be careful not to overwhelm your guacamole with too much juice)
* splash of hot sauce, your preferred brand

1) Slice the avocado in half and remove the pit. (If your avocado is ripe it is easy to remove the pit by hitting it with a sharp knife—watch your fingers—and wedging it out from there.) Slice each half into another half and peel off the skin. Place in a bowl. Using a potato masher or fork, break down the avocado meat, leaving it slightly chunky. Do not use a food processor or blender. This will pulverize and thin out your guacamole.
2) Add remaining ingredients and mix until evenly blended.
NOTE: My friend told me the restaurant uses red tomatillos. I have searched gourmet and regular groceries, Mexican delis, and my local fruit stands, but have never seen red tomatillos. I would like to say this ingredient is a lie, but I do know they exist. Use them if you can find them.

* 4 eggs
* 1 Tbl butter

1) Just before starting the guacamole, get the eggs going. In a fry pan, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Crack eggs, cover tightly and allow to cook for 3-4 minutes until a light film covers the eggs but they are still gooey. Remove.

NOTE: I served these huevos with guacamole and salsa on the side. I added ¼ cup black beans to whatever salsa I had in the house (I believe it was an organic roasted tomato variety). The crushed ends of tortilla chips were mixed in eventually. One can substitute soft tortillas for the chips. Delicious.

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