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It's a Guac-Off: He Says Serrano, She Says Lime Juice

By Bonnie S. Benwick and Joe Yonan
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, January 30, 2008

With a mere five food shopping days left till Super Bowl XLII, we both know where we're headed: the pile of Hass avocados in our grocers' produce departments. It's guacamole time.

And not surprisingly for those who remember our chili smackdown last year, our go-to recipes come from different playbooks. The Texan (Joe) might think he would have the edge with a Mexican dish. His plan is to stick with a Diana Kennedy classic, so pure that no spritz of lime juice is allowed to defend against a threat of brown oxidation on that lush field of green.

"An incentive to eat it all before the halftime show," the Texan says with the confidence of a Tom Brady. Besides onion, serrano chili peppers, cilantro and salt, his dip needs only ripe avocados and a little tomato. The accompaniment: fried corn tortilla chips. Why mess with success?

However, he launches the challenge unaware of all the building years the non-Texan (Bonnie) has put into her own Team Guac. Early batches were inconclusive and all over the place, not unlike the career stats of Eli Manning.

But she has found a winner. Lime juice, cumin, scallion, cilantro, salt and pepper go into the bowl first; then it's the fruit squad's turn. Avocados must be ripe, but a few should be firm for texture and depth. Sometimes, sour cream smooths things out -- or stretches the guacamole into overtime. A splash of hot pepper sauce keeps things lively.

For extra points, dip with house-baked flour tortilla chips. Fritos need not apply.

On several points we do agree: Buy the avocados in the next few days, so they can ripen to your liking. The words "making guacamole" and "mayonnaise" should never appear in the same recipe. Lots of other varieties of avocados may also be used to make a fine guacamole, but we prefer the pebbly-skinned Hass, which are often specially priced on Super Bowl weekend.

And don't even think about those frozen, overly acidulated, soon-to-be-slimy avocado halves sold by the bag. That's a penalty, for sure.

TIPS: ABOUT AVOCADOS AND CHIPS

- To ripen avocados more quickly, place them in a bowl or paper bag with some ripe bananas or apples.

- To keep a bowl of guacamole from oxidizing (turning brownish-gray), press plastic wrap directly against the surface.

- To bake flour tortilla chips, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease 2 large rimmed baking sheets with nonstick cooking oil spray. Using 1 1/2 tablespoons of oil total, brush the tops of eight 8-inch flour tortillas, then sprinkle lightly with kosher salt. Cut each tortilla into 8 wedges and spread them out on the baking sheets. Bake for about 15 minutes or until they are golden brown and crisp. Serve warm, or let cool and place in an airtight container.

Staff Favorites is an occasional series in which staff members share a recipe that we turn to time and again:

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