Cinco de Mayo

Genius Guacamole, Already Life-Changing, Shows Off a New Trick

May  2, 2018

The problem with chef Roberto Santibañez’s category-defining classic guacamole recipe is that once you try it, you stop acknowledging that others exist. This is why I’ve made but one guacamole since 2012 (you, too?).

But Santibañez himself hasn’t been quite so afflicted. From his same fateful cookbook Truly Mexican alone, there are nine others in the guacamole chapter (chapter!), from smooth sauces that drizzle evenly over your tacos to hunky mounds, studded with seafood or fruit. Six years of monogamy later, I was finally ready to peek past the first page.

You can read more about the original recipe here, but essentially Santibañez took the minimum standard set of guacamole ingredients—avocado, chile, onion, cilantro, lime—and upended the textures many people have come to expect. Instead of avocado mush with crunchy onions and sneaky chiles lodged in it, his avocado stays largely intact while the chile, onion, cilantro are smashed into a fiery-bright sauce.

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It’s five ingredients and a perfect food, and will make you both an excellent guacamole provider and a terrible guacamole snob.

This new riff might too, but in the process you’re probably going to get a little side-eye. Because in this version, Santibañez not only chars the chile first, he then goes off the deep end, adding apples steeped in tequila and lime, plus toasted pecans tossed in butter and salt. There are pops of juicy-sweet crunch and richer, nutty snaps, none of it getting in the way of what you came for. Curiously enough, it all just works in easy harmony.

This of course made Diana Kennedy cringe one day.
Roberto Santibañez

Some of you will say this just should not be. Or that the real problem is it’s missing garlic or tomatoes or, I don’t know, mustard. Santibañez has an answer for all of you.

With guacamole and in life, it’s not simply about the rules of in or out, yes or no, peas or no peas—it’s about how you follow them. That contentious garlic? Sure, Santibañez says, if it’s rubbed gently on the inside of the bowl as in Caesar salad; not if you throw in a few chopped cloves without tasting. “Red onion and garlic—it can become a big mess,” he told me. “You have to be very conscientious about what you’re adding and respect the flavors of the other ingredients.”

(Not tomatoes.)

In making his case for tequila-apple-pecan, he’s very specific. The apple needs to be sweet and crunchy (not Granny Smith-tart) and diced not too fine, to contrast just vocally enough with the guac’s salty heat and richness. The pecans should be tossed in butter after toasting, not before, so you get fresh, unbrowned butter flavor, too.

Minced and ready to mash.

In other moods and seasons, he’s added asparagus tips or not-too-soft mango, and right now the most popular guacamole at his soon-to-be five restaurants is the one with blue cheese and grapes. “This of course made Diana Kennedy cringe one day,” he said with a warm laugh, then a quick impression. “Roberto, blue cheese in guacamole?? What a horror!

“When I hear that, I truly love it,” he said. Just try to tell this man his guacamole doesn’t sound right or good to you. Or better yet: don’t, and give it a go for yourself instead. (Just don’t let it take you six years.)

Photos by James Ransom

Got a genius recipe to share—from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected].

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • McKenna  Pautsch
    McKenna Pautsch
  • Ann Gaddis
    Ann Gaddis
  • PanTostado
I'm an ex-economist, lifelong-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007, before returning to the land of Dutch Crunch bread and tri-tip barbecues in 2020. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."


McKenna P. May 8, 2018
I made this and it was absolutely fabulous! I had guests at my cinco de mayo party asking for the recipe. I made a double recipe and it was devoured. The pecans are a wonderful addition and the apples add a crunch you never knew you needed in guacamole. Definitely making this many more times!!
Ann G. May 2, 2018
I bet Diane Kennedy DID turn up her nose.......leave GUACAMOLE alone. Perfect as it is -avocado, line juice, minced onion, minced serrano, salt. Ann Gaddis, San Antonio, Texas
PanTostado May 4, 2018
This recipe sounds delicious! We too have been hooked on Roberto’s classic guac from this book (the best Mexican cookbook we have and yes we have Diana Kennedy books too). His pineapple cucumber(!!) guac is excellent as well. Happy to have this reminder to try his others.