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Kitchen Adventures: Holy guacamole, Batman!

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By Becca Owsley

Guacamole might not be a dish that stays fresh for long, but it’s usually eaten so quickly it doesn’t have time to spoil.

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When you can find good avocados on sale at the grocery store, an easy dip to make is guacamole.

If you can chop onions, tomatoes, chilies, garlic, cilantro and avocados and mix them, you can make guacamole. It really is that easy.

This adventure into guacamole had one hang up. There wasn’t a single sprig of cilantro on the shelves at the grocery store, not on the regular produce shelf or the organic.

The taste of cilantro was missing, but the guacamole still was tasty.
It is good to serve with tortilla or whole wheat chips. Sometimes you also can spread it on a sandwich or spice up a hamburger with a dollop of guacamole.

Mexican cooking show host Rick Bayless offered a good preservation tip in his “Authentic Mexican” cookbook. Save the pits of the avocados to put in with the finished guacamole and cover with a sheet of plastic wrap pressed into the surface of the mixture. That is supposed to help keep the dip from turning brown quickly.

The second recipe, for quesadillas, sounds a bit more complicated, but there are some shortcuts you can take.

If you happen to have a tortilla press in your cooking arsenal, then making the shell of the quesadillas isn’t too complicated and gives a fresh taste to the dish.

Do follow the recipe closely, though. And if have a copy of Bayless’ cookbook, make sure your page doesn’t accidently turn to the regular tortilla recipe. There’s not a big difference, but there is a difference.

This lesson was not learned until sitting down to type the recipe for the column and noticing a few more ingredients in the recipe for the dough used for the quesadilla. That lesson is tucked away for next time.

If you don’t have a tortilla press, several recipes for quesadillas use store bought soft tortillas. These will work, but you may need to find a way to seal the ends so the cheese does not fall out as you are frying or grilling them.

As for the cheese, grocery stores usually carry a variety of cheeses used in Mexican cooking, but the easiest way is using the shredded quesadilla cheese found in the dairy department.

You can go beyond just cheese and add vegetables, chicken or beef.

Homemade quesadillas with some fresh, chunky guacamole on the side is muy bueno.

Becca Owsley can be reached at (270) 505-1741 or bowsley@thenewsenterprise.com.

Chunky Guacamole (Avocado Relish)
½ small onion, very finely chopped
Fresh hot green chilies to taste (roughly two chilies serranos or one chili jalapeno), stemmed, seeded and very finely chopped.
1 ripe, medium-large tomato, cored and very finely chopped.
1 clove of garlic, peeled and very finely chopped
10 sprigs fresh coriander (cilantro), chopped
3 ripe medium avocados
½ teaspoon salt
½ lime, juiced (optional)

In a medium-sized bowl, mix the finely chopped onion and chilies with the optional tomato, garlic and coriander.

Near serving time, halve the avocados lengthwise by cutting from the stem to flower ends, around the pits. Twist the avocado halves in opposite directions to loosen the meat from the pits, then scoop out the pits and reserve. Scrape the avocado pulp from the skins and add it to the bowl.

Using your hand or a spoon, roughly mash the avocado while mixing in the other ingredients, making a coarse, thick mass. Flavor with salt, then enough lime to add a little zing if you wish. Return the pits to the guacamole and cover with a sheet of plastic wrap pressed directly onto the surface of the mixture. Set aside for a few minutes to let the flavors blend.

From the cookbook “Authentic Mexican, Regional Cooking form the Heart of Mexico,” by Rick Bayless.

Deep-Fried Masa Turnovers with Cheese (quesadillas)
For the dough:
1 pound fresh masa or 1 ¾ cups masa harina mixed with one cup plus 2 tablespoons hot tap water
2 tablespoons lard or vegetable shortening
¼ cup flour (1/3 cup if using masa harina)
A generous ½ teaspoon salt
1 scant teaspoon baking powder 

For the filling:
2 ½ cups grated melting cheese like Monterey jack or a mild cheddar plus 12 leaves epazote (optional)
Or 2 ½ cups crumbled Mexican queso fresco or other fresh cheeses like farmer’s cheese plus 12 leaves epazote (optional)
Or 1 ½ cups of any quesadilla filling. 

For Frying:
Vegetable oil one inch deep in the pan

For the dough, if you are using masa harina, mix it with the hot water, cover and let stand 20 to 30 minutes. Mix the fresh or reconstituted masa with the lard or shortening, flour, salt and baking powder. If necessary, correct the consistency of the dough. Divide into 12 balls and cover with plastic wrap.

Using a tortilla press, flatten a ball of the dough between sheets of plastic to make a medium–large thickish tortilla. Remove the top piece of plastic.

Divide the filling for the quesadilla into 12 portions; if you are using cheese, press each portion into a flat oval about 2 x 2 ½ inches.

Lay one portion of filling across half the uncovered tortilla, leaving a ½ inch border around the edge; if the filling is cheese, top with a leaf of the optional epazote. Slip a hand under the plastic beneath the uncovered side of the tortilla, then carefully fold the tortilla over the filling. Press the edges together to seal.

Next, peel the plastic off the top of the turnover, then flip the turnover onto one hand, uncovered-side down, and peel the plastic off the bottom. Lay on a tray covered with plastic wrap. Continue making the remaining masa balls into turnovers and lay each one several inches from the next to ensure easy retrieval. Cover with plastic.

Heat the oil to 375 degrees, then fry the turnovers two or three at a time until browned, about two minutes per side. Drain on paper towels and keep warm in a low oven until all are ready. Serve right away.

From the cookbook “Authentic Mexican, Regional Cooking form the Heart of Mexico,” by Rick Bayless.