Stephan Azulay has been helping out in the kitchen ever since he was a kid. "My dad's a flamenco dancer, and part of the flamenco culture is food," he says. When he began dancing professionally with Joffrey Ballet Concert Group and then Nevada Ballet Theatre, Azulay looked to restaurants for side gigs—everything from washing dishes to working the "line," making pizzas and baking. Now a second soloist in Canada's Royal Winnipeg Ballet, he does private catering.
"In the restaurant business, there's definitely an energy that's similar to performing," he says. "You're always striving for perfection."
Azulay bases this recipe, which he calls "super guacamole," off a dish from chef José Andrés' restaurant China Poblano, in Las Vegas. "What makes it different is the tomatillo. That gives it really good balance," says Azulay. He particularly likes adding it to his homemade short rib tacos, and often whips some up for Mexican-themed dinner parties. "I can never make enough. It's always the first thing to go."
- 1 tbsp red onion, finely chopped
- 1 tbsp fresh tomatillo, finely diced (about 1/2 tomatillo)
- 1 tbsp serrano chile, seeded and finely chopped (if you want extra heat, leave the seeds in)
- 1 tbsp cilantro, finely chopped
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 2 tsps fresh lime juice
- 2 medium avocados
- 1–2 tbsps crumbled queso fresco
- In a mortar bowl, combine the red onion, tomatillo, serrano chile, cilantro and salt. Add lime juice and grind the mixture with a pestle until combined. If you don't have a mortar and pestle, just combine the ingredients in a mixing bowl.
- Add the avocado, mashing slightly, and gently blend all ingredients together. Season to taste with salt and additional lime juice, if needed.
- Top with the queso fresco (see recipe below to make your own).
"Making your own cheese is a lot easier than you might think," says Azulay.
- 1 gallon whole milk, not ultra-pasteurized (Azulay uses the glass bottle "cream top" brands)
- 2/3 cup lemon juice or white vinegar
- Kosher or table salt
- Line a colander with four layers of cheesecloth and set over a large bowl. Heat milk in a large pot over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until it registers 165 to 180°F on an instant-read thermometer.
- Add the lemon juice or vinegar one tablespoon at a time, stirring gently. Stop adding when you see white clumps of curd suspended in a pale translucent whey. Let sit uncovered for at least 5 minutes and up to 20 while the separation finishes.
- Using a slotted spoon or wire skimmer, transfer curds to prepared colander, cover the exposed top with plastic wrap, and allow to drain until desired texture is reached, about 20 minutes if using for pressed cheese. Gently stir in salt to taste.
- For pressed cheese, gather curds into a ball in the middle of a few sheets of cheesecloth and press them into a hockey-puck shape. Tie the cloth closed around the cheese. Place the bound cheese back in the colander and place a heavy can or pan on top. Let sit until cheese has reached desired texture, about an hour and a half.
- Store in the refrigerator.