Gabriela Cámara's just-released book, “My Mexico City Kitchen,” is full of fresh, inviting recipes, everyday tips and statements that sound even truer when they come from the influential Mexican chef. “Everything can be a taco,” for one.
Indeed, you won’t find a chapter on tacos in her book for this reason. As far as Cámara is concerned, there is only one rule when it comes to tacos and it has nothing to do with what goes in them–only with how you eat them. “Once you hold a taco, you must never let go until you finish it,” she writes. That, and the tortilla must be soft.
Growing up, the chef behind restaurants like Mexico City’s Contramar and San Francisco’s Cala ate everything from anchovies and butter to spaghetti tacos. Her mom was Italian, she explains, and that influence shows up in Cámara's cooking in more places that one.
Take her guacamole. Guacamole must be made with perfectly ripe avocados, she insists. But if you find yourself with subpar avocados, add a teaspoon of olive oil into the mix. “The oil helps it be more lush and unctuous,” Cámara explains. “It also helps to slow down the oxidation process, so the guacamole stays greener.” Between the oil and a little bit of lime juice, you’ll have a party-ready bowlful that won’t brown so fast.
(“Traditionalists will say guacamole does not need lime juice,” she adds. She’s not wrong, and we’ve got a recipe to prove it. “But I love a limey guacamole.”)
We tried Cámara's olive oil tip in the kitchen and were not disappointed, although the difference was negligible because of all the other ingredients that Cámara uses in her guacamole—lime juice, but also onion, tomato, serrano chile and cilantro leaves. The addition of olive oil is truly noticeable in a mixture of only avocados and salt. Here, one teaspoon does the job of making four mashed avocados taste silkier, creamier and richer. Two teaspoons is too much and will leave four avocados’ worth of guacamole tasting too strong and bitter.
Channeling her Italian heritage, Cámara uses olive oil frequently, as in her refried beans, in which she fries minced onion in olive oil. Though some might argue it’s not a traditionally Mexican ingredient, she points out that a lot of Mexican dishes have Spanish roots, and olive oil is integral there. She loves it for its mildly fruity flavor and the texture it imparts. And when she’s cooking in San Francisco, the local olives are hard to argue with.
So next time you’re stuck at home with underripe avocados, try adding a little olive oil for improved texture and flavor, and don’t hold back on using it in other Mexican dishes either. Just bear in mind one more rule she offers in addition to everything can be a taco.
“I also think that if avocados aren’t perfectly ripe, one should not eat avocados.”
Find “My Mexico City Kitchen” here. Also check out “A Tale of Two Kitchens,” the new Netflix documentary profiling Cámara, and look out for L.A.-based Onda, which she’s opening with Sqirl’s Jessica Koslow this summer.