Serious Eats

12+ Ways to Amp Your Guac

[Photographs: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt]

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Now that I've gone and said that I like my guacamole super-simple in today's Food Lab post, I'm gonna go against everything I said and offer up a dozen or so variations on the beast.

Check out the slideshow for all the variations »

Avocado, with its gentle creaminess and unassertive flavor, is the ultimate backdrop for any flavor combination you might like to foist upon it (check out the basic recipe here). The absolute simplest variations are to simply add more of what you're already adding. Extra garlic (say, adding four or six cloves instead of one) is an easy way to go. A fan of onions?

Swapping out the traditional lime for lemon, bitter orange, or even grapefruit is a quick way to alter the profile of your guac. Adding a bit of zest or even mashing a few citrus segments directly into it can amplify the effect.

In college we used to play a game with the eggnog at our holiday party, labeling them The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, depending on the degree they were spiked to. I like to do a similar thing with my guac at parties.

Good's got no chilis. Bad's got a couple of serranos or perhaps a jalapeño. Ugly comes on strong with the full force of a couple chopped habañero peppers. Don't forget to wear gloves and don't rub your eyes! (If you're feeling especially pranky, feel free to swap the labels around.)

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

I like my guacamole simple, with nothing but a bit of onion, cilantro, and chili, but you might like yours with a bit of chopped tomato added in to the mix (hint: salt your tomato and let it drain for 10 minutes before adding to intensify flavor and prevent your guac from getting watered down). Red onion makes a nice alternative to yellow, as do Vidalias or even scallions.

Roasted Garlic Guacamole: Not a fan of the harsh kick or raw garlic? You can sweeten it up and mellow its bite by slow-roasting it in the oven before you mash it up into the mix to make a Roasted Garlic Guacamole. I like roasting my garlic heads whole, rubbed in just a bit of olive oil.

Charred Corn and Black Beans: We used to have a joke at my old job at a food magazine: If you want to make a "Mexican" variation of any dish, add corn, black beans, and cumin. It's almost trite to include charred corn and black beans in a Southwest-inspired recipe, but there's a reason it's around so much: IT TASTES FREAKING AWESOME. Hey—at least this recipe doesn't have any cumin in it! (Don't worry, you can add some if you'd like). I like to char my corn in olive oil until it's a deep dark brown.

Chipotle, Orange Zest, and Pumpkin Seeds: Oh, what's that? Did somebody mention that I forgot that other road-most-traveled to food magazine Southwestern flair? Don't worry, here's a chipotle variation for you. Orange zest adds an interesting aromatic component while toasted pumpkin seeds—a traditional ingredient in many Aztec recipes—add crunch and nutty flavor. This was one of my favorite variants.

Chipotle, Orange Zest, and Pumpkin Seeds

Tomato-Heavy Guacamole: The Salvadorian prep cook at a restaurant I used to work in used to make this tomato-heavy version of guacamole occasionally for staff meal (along with a pile of her awesome pupusas). Somewhere between a pico de gallo and a guacamole, the avocado really acts only as a binder, adding a touch of richness to this otherwise ultra-light variation. The key here—as with most fresh tomato recipes—is salting and draining the tomatoes to concentrate their flavor.

Blue Cheese and Bacon: I may be a temporary vegan, but my friends aren't, so when I invited them over for Guac-Fest 2012, I made sure to include at least one meaty offering. I didn't personally taste this version with blue cheese and bacon, but suffice it to say, it went down really fast.

Crab and Old Bay Guacamole: Continuing with the non-vegan versions, nothing seemed more natural a pairing to me than avocado and crab, and of course nothing goes better than crab and Old Bay seasoning. Put them all together into a Crab and Old Bay Guacamole, and you've got yourself a dip to reckon with.

Mango and Jicama Guacamole: On the scale from "Delish!" to "Freaking Awesome," I generally lean pretty hard towards the latter. Quirky and whimsical just aren't words that generally describe my tastes, but here's a quick shout-out to the Yum-O crowd. Mango and Jicama Guacamole ain't anything earth shattering, but I've got to admit that the sweet tropical aroma of mango and the apple-y crunch of jicama actually do make for an interesting dip.

Mango and Jicama

Edamame and Sesame Guac: Going even further off the deep end, Edamame and Sesame Guac might be stepping over the line from fusion into con-fusion. I think sesame oil and soy sauce actually pair pretty nicely with avocado, but the panel of tasters was decidedly split on this one. Some dove right in, others (like my wife) released an audible "yechh" when they tasted it. This is uncharted territory. Proceed with caution.

Roasted Tomatillo Guacamole: Let's take a safe step back into familiar territory for a second. I love roasted tomatillo salsa, and I love guacamole. You know what I extra love? Roasted Tomatillo Guacamole. The lazy or time-constrained amongst you can easily just stir part of a jar of store-bought salsa verde into your guacamole, but for best results, roast your own tomatillos and make it fresh.

Fermented Chili Bean Paste Guacamole: I'm a bean paste junkie. I'm not afraid to admit that. At any given moment, I've got at least a half dozen variations of the condiment in my refrigerator, ready to be applied willy-nilly to my food. The more inappropriate, the better. No dish of pasta, soup, or sauce is safe from its funky, spicy, fermented reach. Of course I had to try it out on my guac. And guess what? Fermented Chili Bean Paste Guacamole is actually really tasty, especially when drizzled with some extra hot chili oil.

Sriracha Guacamole: Oh, and where would any set of savory variations be without Sriracha? I believe I've already made my views on the stuff clear (hint: I don't like it), but yeah, I get it. People love this sh*t. And to be honest, Sriracha Guacamole ain't half bad (did I just say that?)

Check out the slideshow for all the variations »

About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Managing Editor of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at @thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook.

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