I’m not sure what the Mexican victory over French invasion more than one hundred years ago has to do with day-drinking in the United States, but somehow the two have been connected. Cinco de Mayo will forever be a reason for Americans to pass the time drinking margaritas and eating mostly inauthentic Mexican food. Burritos, nachos, fajitas, chimichangas – not exactly how they do it in Mexico. Now that we’ve admitted that, I sincerely hope that this American tradition is not offensive to our Mexican neighbors. I don’t think it is intended that way. Much like Valentine’s Day and St. Patrick’s Day, I think we’re all just looking for a special occasion to to look forward to. You might argue that you don’t need a made-up holiday for that. You can and probably should celebrate any random Tuesday if the mood strikes. Made up or not, what the “holiday” label does is connect people. It brings us together so that it’s not just me celebrating my good mood or the fact that the sun is shining. It’s a community of friends and strangers alike coming together to collectively take a break from the everyday to celebrate. Restaurants and bars are packed. The mood is lively. We’re all playing hooky from our normal routine. Taken in that context these contrived holidays are actually quite valuable.
That got me thinking. What is our Cinco de Mayo tradition? Do Mike and I even have one? If you have to ask, the answer is probably “no.” I consulted the only timeline we have, our photos. In our four and half years together, we’ve only made one Cinco de Mayo meal. It looks like we’re behind in the made-up holiday department. To make up for lost time, we started the festivities early this year. We’ve already had guacamole three times this week both homemade and at a restaurant. I’m not sure how consistent we’ll be year after year, but for 2018 we plan to indulge. This year for the first time in our relationship the fifth of May falls on a Saturday and we’re having an out-of-town visitor! We’re not even cooking. Yup, you read that correctly. We’re going out on the town with the rest of New York City to enjoy America’s nod to Mexican cuisine.
Don’t worry. I haven’t forgotten about all of you. Even though we’re going out, I made a snack ahead of time for you to enjoy this weekend. Knowing that my background and skill set is in Italian-American cooking NOT Mexican, I wanted to be mindful of my limitations and respectful of this wonderful cuisine. That’s why I chose guacamole. It’s perfect in its simplicity and loaded with flavor just like many of the Italian dishes I’m accustomed to. With a little research I confirmed that although guacamole is authentically Mexican, my personal recipe is not. I’ve come a long way since my days of using parsley instead of cilantro, but still I make no claims of authenticity. Instead I hope my version honors its origins and shows true admiration not appropriation of Mexican culinary traditions.
Honestly, it wasn’t that long ago that I attempted to make homemade guacamole, after I finally discovered what it was in the first place. I was well into adulthood before I’d ever even heard of it…before I had ever even eaten an avocado! I remember standing in my kitchen with my friend Amber the first time I served guacamole as a snack for friends. I bought it pre-packaged from Trader Joe’s. It never even occurred to me that I could have just made it myself. Thinking back, Amber deserved better, but I thought the fine folks at Trader Joe’s were genius. I became instantly hooked. I would scour menus for anything with a trace of avocado. I started seeking out “Mexican” restaurants or more likely terrible chain restaurants that served “Mexican” food. It was the most rare and exotic treat that an Italian girl from Northeast Philly living in the suburbs could ever find. Never once did I think to just go to the grocery store and buy an avocado. I’m not sure what I thought would happen if I cut open this mysterious fruit, but it would be years before I tried. In my defense, these were the days before avocado toast was plastered all over social media. Heck these were the days before social media.
Flash forward to present day and I would never consider buying guacamole. I only ever make it fresh and I even use avocado in other dishes. This is such a fun departure from my usual Italian or Italian inspired cooking and it’s a first for the blog. We don’t do it often enough, but it’s really fun to incorporate flavors and ingredients from other cultures into our cooking. Writing about and creating my own version of recipes compels me to look more closely at other traditions and cultures. I know that our “Taco Tuesday” with hard shell tacos and ground meat is not Mexican at all, but I don’t claim it to be. It’s simply my entry into another way of cooking and eating. The guacamole recipe that I want to share with you today deviates slightly from my research of authentic Mexican guacamole. For starters I don’t own a molcajete, the traditional stone tool similar to a mortar and pestle used for grinding certain ingredients into a paste when making guacamole. That process alone differentiates the real thing from the version coming out of our tiny kitchen. I also use garlic which appears to be an American addition to the ingredient list, and I doubt that any self-respecting Mexican would feel the need to add cayenne pepper. I bet that the jalapeno found in Mexico are different than those I find in the states. It’s unlikely that they need the extra kick that cayenne pepper adds to my guacamole.
Don’t let your limitations stop you from experimenting in the kitchen. Whether it is skill level or the quality and availability of certain ingredients, it’s still worth trying. Your cooking gets better with time and you learn to improvise (cayenne pepper anyone?) and work with what you have. Start with what is familiar to you and work your way up to the unfamiliar. You’ll learn so much in the process, not just about cooking but about how other people live and experience the world around them. In this current political climate of division, food can be such a unifying force if we approach it with an open mind. You can start with our recipe for guacamole. Go pick up some avocados now so that they’ll be ready to use by Saturday. Then head over to the Recipe section of the blog for step by step instructions on how to make my tribute to the perfect Mexican dish!