The Ultimate Guacamole Recipe, Spotlight on Cumin, Cooking with Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Actually Keeping Your New Year’s Resolution
While avocado toast has had its moment in the foodie spotlight, avocados have always been in style. I love topping avocado slices with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and a sprinkle of Maldon salt. Their creaminess makes them a great omelet stuffing and of course, there’s nothing quite like guacamole, a surprisingly healthful dish when you dip veggies instead of chips or use it as a spread instead of mayo. I’m always entertained by the theater of tableside guac prep at Mexican restaurants, but making it at home is actually quite simple. So, grab a fork and get ready to mash…
The Ultimate Guacamole
- The Ultimate Guacamole
This guacamole gets a jolt of flavor from cumin. You can intensify the heat by leaving in some of the jalapeño seeds.
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled
- 1 small jalapeño
- 1 small onion
- 1 cup of cilantro, leaves and some stems
- 3 large ripe avocados
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, or more to taste
- 1 lime, halved
- 1 teaspoon cumin (wild if possible), toasted and ground
- Freshly ground black peppercorns
- Coarse sea salt
Mince the garlic and set it aside for 10 minutes to allow its healthful compound allicin to develop. Wearing gloves to keep the jalapeño’s powerful oils off your skin, slice the pepper in half lengthwise and use a small spoon to scrape out the ribs and seeds, and then cut it into a small dice. On a large cutting board, chop the onion into a large dice and keep chopping as you add in the garlic, jalapeños, and cilantro to meld them together. Halve the avocados and use a spoon to scoop all the flesh into a large bowl. Add the olive oil, coarsely mash the avocado with a fork, and then fold in the onion mixture. Squeeze in the juice of a lime half and fold in the cumin, a few twists of your peppercorn grinder, and a sprinkle of salt. Taste and adjust the seasonings, adding more olive oil, lime juice, black pepper, and/or salt as desired.
Yields 4-6 appetizer servings.
Healthy Ingredient Spotlight
Experimenting with new spices is a passion of mine. Sometimes, it’s not a completely different spice that intrigues me, but an elevated version of one that I already use. That’s the case with wild cumin (Bunium persicum)—rare, dark-brown seeds handpicked from wild plants growing in the Hindu Kush mountain range in Afghanistan and then sun-dried. Wild cumin, used in cooking for centuries, has a somewhat mysterious history because it’s native to very remote areas of the world, notably other regions of Central Asia such as Iran, Pakistan, and the Himalayas in northern India, where it is known as kala jeera. Wild cumin is also known as black cumin or royal cumin. It’s often confused with Nigella sativa because the common name of that seed is also translated as “black cumin.” But Nigella is part of the Ranunculaceae family, whereas the plant that gives us wild cumin, along with parsley and dill, is from the Apiaceae family.
Wild cumin has a depth that’s missing in the common variety. It has the aroma of cedar, pepper, eucalyptus, and rye, and, on the palate, is very reminiscent of the caraway on seeded rye breads. It tastes both earthy and bright with hints of anise, eucalyptus, and mint. Used whole or ground, it shines in classic Indian dishes such as biryanis and curries, Middle Eastern falafel and hummus, and North African tagines and harissa, a heavily spiced chile paste. It also adds wonderful zest when sprinkled whole on naan and other flatbreads and when ground for dry rubs and marinades. And, of course, don’t be shy about using it in Mexican and Tex-Mex dishes that typically call for plain cumin.
Healthy Kitchen Nugget
Cooking with Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Much has been written about the smoke point of oils (and butter), the temperature at which the fat begins to smoke in a pan. This smoke is a sign of its chemical breakdown, or oxidation, and the potential loss of nutrients. One of the biggest myths surrounding olive oil is that it reaches its smoke point at a lower heat than other oils, meaning it isn’t a good choice for frying or high-heat sautéing. However, a number of lab tests over recent years, including an extensive one published in Acta Scientific Nutritional Health, have found this to be untrue. The integrity, nutrients, and flavor of extra virgin olive oil, or EVOO, can, in fact, withstand temperatures of 475℉ on the stove or in the oven, a temperature nearly twice as high as the typical heat of sautéing. Starting with the highest-quality EVOO with plentiful antioxidants actually protects the oil’s stability when heated. The volume of oil needed to deep-fry a batch of potatoes, for instance, makes using EVOO for that purpose a very expensive proposition. But for most other dishes that call for cooking in oil, it’s a great way to infuse the food with olive oil’s rich flavor. Check out this article in US News & World Report for a full rundown on the testing.
For Your Best Health
Wild Cumin and Your Health
Wild cumin has a bounty of antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant properties. Many cultures have used the essential oils pressed from the seeds as a botanical remedy for digestive and other problems for centuries. Because different strains grow wild in different parts of the world, it’s hard to study wild cumin’s health benefits in a formal setting to truly unlock its potential, according to research in the journal Physiology and Molecular Biology of Plants. So, for now, think of these properties as a possible bonus to its unique taste.
Actually Keeping Your New Year’s Resolution
Have you already made and broken a list of New Year’s resolutions? Vera Ludwig, PhD, a research associate in the Platt Labs at the University of Pennsylvania, has a better way based on what’s called reward learning and intrinsic motivation. Her method, which draws on mindfulness and self-regulation, was published in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science. It focuses on adding awareness to the mix of goal setting and changing behaviors.
“There’s this idea that there are two systems at work in the brain: the impulses and desires trying to tempt us and the cognitive control processes trying to rein in those desires and impulses,” Dr. Ludwig says. “We were interested in how this can happen in a more harmonious way. Rather than fighting against impulses, why not try to align those with our values?”
The process starts with realizing that the behavior you want to change doesn’t make sense for you or doesn’t match up with your goals. Next, try to understand what triggered the behavior and how you feel afterward. Then, think about more positive behaviors you can take instead and how you might enact them. “In the final step, you become aware of how the new behavior feels physically and emotionally,” Dr. Ludwig says. “The idea is that the brain reward system will then update the reward signal to encode the reward value of the new option as higher. Then, we may effortlessly act this way in the future. Studies show that behaviors that are aligned with our goals and values subjectively feel better than those that are not. The hope is that simply by paying attention, we can notice that the new behavior is really beneficial. When we get a positive outcome, the new behavior gets reinforced.” Read more about Dr. Ludwig’s research at Futurity.org.Get More Recipes In Your Inbox!