Cooking with Kids: Adventures in Guacamole Making, Plus a Simple Recipe
I taught my daughter’s third-grade class how to make good guacamole. It was my second time working with classroom 3B, this time not in the art room but on a diminutive desk in the classroom itself. On this knee-high rectangle of beechwood-colored Formica with a scooped out slot for a pencil at the top, I was able to use skills gained long ago interning at a doll-size garde manger station, elbows pinned to my sides.
When kids came into their classroom, they found tortillas, knives and avocado halves on their tables, and the other ingredients were ready on mine. It smelled like onions and cilantro. Passing teachers poked their heads in to see why. I worked fast to outpace the kids’ hunger, questions and strong desire to get avocado goo on their sleeves. Eventually I guided my 19 cooks to a high-five-inducing guacamole (with a side of chips).
First I told them the safe and polite way to handle their plastic knives (by the handle, always cutting away from your body, the other hand’s fingers curled under, etc.). Then we cut up tortillas to make chips. They are studying fractions, so there was a lot of debate. Some tables chose eighths for more chips, some went with sixths for bigger chips, and others chose straight strips for the sake of innovation. We tossed them in a bowl with oil and salt, layered them on sheet pans and popped them into the oven down the hall in the art room. Then we moved on to the main attraction.
Most of the kids had heard of guacamole; many liked it, though few had ever made it themselves. Lots of questions happened: Did this avocado come from Mexico? Will this be spicy? Can’t it be spicy? Do we have to eat the guacamole part? Can we squish this with our hands? May I have another knife? Can we keep the pit? Repeat.
Each cook held his or her own avocado half and used a plastic serrated knife to score the avocado flesh and scoop the cubes into a central bowl. I brought a molcajete (see below), and took it to each of the four tables to construct their unique guacamole. I insisted on using garlic, onions and salt, but I asked them to decide on the rest of the ingredients (some liked spicy stuff, others did not want cilantro), then I crushed these together into a paste. I asked them to add salt so they could feel with their fingers how much to use. They added the avocado and took turns smashing it up. A dozen avocados, many tortillas and one fire drill later, we had a nice snack. Every single person tried some. No one said, “Yuck.” Success!
I’ve broken down my prep for you here so you can do it too. There is a shopping list, an equipment checklist and a list of things to do ahead of time — and I added several tips from hard-won experience.
P.S. You can use a bowl and a fork or pastry cutter to make guacamole, but a molcajete (a traditional Mexican stone mortar and pestle), if you happen to have one, steals the show. They are huge and heavy, bumpy and a pain in the neck to transport, they look ridiculous on a school desk, and therefore, they make glamorous props.
- You’ll need an oven; if you don’t have one, bring chips already made.
- Plan for an hour to measure and assemble the tools and ingredients at home (you can do this the day before). Plan for 20 minutes to set up workstations and about an hour to make and serve the guacamole with the class.
- Measure everything ahead of time and bring it in bags and sealable containers.
- Pits: The surprise heroes of this demo were the avocado pits. They caused a lot of discussion, one loss of recess and some whining, in part because they are like balls. But they're desirable mostly because, following the laws of supply and demand, they are abundant enough to seem attainable, yet they're scarce enough (only one pit for every two halves) to become the most-coveted objects in the room. Do away with the pits before class, or bring just one — or save up some extras if you are organized enough to collect them before your demo.
- Stains! Avocado is green, full of fat and gooey, and it gets on sleeves. And like many delicious things, avocado can stain. Take note.
- There are things you can teach in the name of this dish: Discuss fractions: wholes, halves, quarters, number of chips per child. Taste test: parsley versus cilantro, salt versus no salt, lime versus no lime. Plant life: avocado-growing climate and avocado seeds. Tomato-, jalapeno- and lime-growing climates (and the items' respective seeds), parsley and cilantro (where are those seeds?). Cooking and hygiene. Safety. Table manners. Smelling. Tasting. The proper way to hold a knife. The proper way to hand someone a knife. How to tell if an avocado is ripe and how to peel it. How to customize flavor. Where guacamole is from and how to eat it.
Guacamole and Tortilla Chips Class: Makes enough for 12 kids. Scale up or down depending on the group size.
- Molcajete or mortar and pestle, for crushing flavor paste (if you have one)
- Cutting board
- Sharp knife for the adult
- Kid-safe knives such as serrated plastic knives, 1 per child
- 4 mixing bowls (2 per table first for the chips, 1 for the avocado, 1 for serving)
- 2 spoons
- 2 baking sheets
- Dish towel
- Roll of paper towels
- Paper plates for eating
- Make sure avocados are ripe (buy a few days ahead of time, store in a bag with an apple to speed softening)
- Dice the onion, put in ice water, then drain
- Peel the garlic
- Rinse the cilantro and pick leaves
- Wash the tomatoes and cut into small dice
- Halve the limes, or juice them and pack the lime juice
- Seed and dice the jalapeno
1/2 red onion, diced, soaked in ice water for 15 minutes and drained (can be done in advance)
Juice from 1 lime, plus more if necessary, optional (can be done in advance)
Make the tortilla chips first: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Have the kids cut their own tortillas into pieces with plastic serrated knives, a pizza wheel (with supervision) or a bench scraper. Ask them to put a little oil in a bowl, toss the tortillas in it and sprinkle with salt. Layer the tortillas on baking sheets with minimal overlapping. Bake until golden, about 15 minutes. Transfer to a paper towel-lined bowl.
Make the guacamole: Halve the avocados and remove the pits. Give each child half an avocado. Show them how to crisscross cut it with a plastic serrated knife without cutting through to the skin, then how to squeeze or scoop the flesh into a bowl with a spoon.
Smash the garlic, several big pinches of salt and onion with the optional tomato, jalapeno, cilantro and lime juice with a mortar and pestle. Or have an adult crush the garlic with salt with the flat part of a knife, chop the cilantro, if using, then just stir in the other ingredients. Add the avocado and stir to thoroughly mix, leaving some bigger chunks of avocado. Taste and adjust salt and lime juice if needed.
Serve in a bowl with the tortilla chips and cucumber slices if you want to get more vegetables into the scene.