The first thing you need to know about Cinco de Mayo is that it is not Mexican Independence Day.

That’s Sept. 16.

Cinco de Mayo commemorates the Mexican army’s 1862 victory over France at the Battle of Puebla during the Franco-Mexican War.

Yes, that’s right. It’s pretty ho-hum, particularly in Mexico, where the day is marked with about the same amount of celebrating that we reserve for Presidents Day. Leave it to the good old USA to borrow the most humdrum of legal holidays and turn it into a reason to party.

The second thing you need to know about Cinco de Mayo is that if you are going to celebrate it, you really need to learn to make a decent bowl of guacamole.

Forget about any guacamole you can buy at the grocery store.

Turn your shopping cart away from the pre-made dip aisle, forget about those dry spice packets marked “guacamole seasoning” and head to the produce section. Pick up some avocados, cilantro, a white onion, a lime, a tomato, and a jalapeño pepper.

You now possess the tools needed to make amazing guacamole all on your own.

You will need a little salt too, and if you really want to qualify as a guacamole expert, you may want to invest in a molcajete, which is essentially a Mexican mortar. But, honestly, you don’t need this or even a regular mortar; you really just need a bowl. You will, however, need some kind of pestle to use with the bowl. A wooden tamper works great here, even better if you happen to be using a wooden bowl. If all else fails, grab a fork.

For years, I never bothered to make guacamole. Whenever I tried, it never tasted as good as it does in restaurants and after a while, I just gave up.

Then I met chef Roberto Santibañez, a Mexican cooking expert. Watching him make guacamole was a revelation, and I have been following his technique ever since. It really is as simple as mashing cilantro, salt and minced onion and jalapeño into a paste, and then stirring in cubes of avocado, more chopped onion, cilantro and diced tomato. Stir in a little lime juice and you will have perfection on your hands.

The most difficult part may be selecting the avocados. And that’s not even the task it once was, thanks to a new book by Gaby Dalkin called Absolutely Avocados ($17.99 hardcover, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt).

Dalkin’s book begins with a primer on the seven main varieties of avocado, and she also provides plenty of instruction on how to select and store them. Hass is the most popular variety you will find in most stores, in part because they are grown year-round.

For immediate use, look for avocados with darker green skin that are slightly soft, but not mushy.

In addition to unique recipes for guacamole, Dalkin also offers dozens of recipes for using avocados in everything from smoothies to brownies.

Start out by making a basic bowl and then branch out into more unusual takes on this dip, like Dalkin’s Spicy Sesame Guacamole.

Once you learn how to make fresh guacamole, you’ll never be able to bring yourself to buy or eat the store-bought stuff again.

You may even find yourself making it for Presidents Day.

GUACAMOLE

For the chile paste:

1 tbsp. finely chopped white onion

1 tbsp. firmly packed, chopped fresh cilantro

2 tsp. finely chopped jalapeño, or more to taste (see note)

1 tsp. salt, or more as needed

For the dip:

3 medium ripe but firm Hass avocados

3 tbsp. diced tomato

2 tbsp. firmly packed, chopped fresh cilantro

1 tbsp. finely chopped white onion

Splash of freshly squeezed lime juice

Salt, if needed

Grind the onion, cilantro, jalapeño and salt together in a molcajete until all of the ingredients are very finely ground. Alternately, use a pestle, wooden tamper or fork to mash all of the ingredients into a paste in a wide hardwood bowl.

Cut each avocado in half, working the knife blade around the pit. Twist the halves to separate them and flick out the pit with the tip of the knife. Rest an avocado half cut side up in the palm of your hand and make 3 or 4 evenly spaced lengthwise cuts through the avocado flesh, down to the skin without cutting through it. Make 4 crosswise cuts in the same way. Scoop the diced avocado flesh into the bowl with paste. Repeat with the remaining avocado halves.

Gently fold the avocado into the paste, keeping the avocado in as large pieces as possible. Add the remaining tomato, cilantro, onion and lime juice, folding in gently. Taste and add salt if necessary. Serve immediately with tortilla chips.

Makes 4 servings.

Note: Jalapeño peppers can vary widely in hotness. Use more or less to taste. Remove seeds and trim away white pith before dicing jalapeño for less heat, or leave jalapeño out completely for mild dip.

— Adapted from

Rosa’s New Mexican Table,

Roberto Santibañez

SPICY SESAME GUACAMOLE

3 Hass avocados

? cup chopped red onion

¼ cup thinly sliced scallions, white and light green parts only

1 tbsp. fresh lime juice

2 tsp. chili-garlic sauce

1½ tsp. soy sauce

1 tsp. grated fresh ginger

1½ tsp. black sesame seeds

½ tsp. toasted sesame oil

Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste (optional)

Sesame rice crackers, for serving

Cut each avocado in half lengthwise. Remove the pits from the avocados and discard. Remove the avocados from the skin, and place the avocado flesh in a bowl.

Add the red onion, scallions, lime juice, chili-garlic sauce, soy sauce, ginger, 1 teaspoon of the sesame seeds, and the sesame oil. Mash with a fork until half smooth and half chunky. Taste and add salt and pepper if desired. Sprinkle with the remaining ½ teaspoon of sesame seeds.

Serve immediately with sesame rice crackers.

Makes 4 servings.

— Absolutely Avocados,

Gaby Dalkin

Lisa Abraham can be reached at 330-996-3737 or at labraham@thebeaconjournal.com. Find me on Facebook, follow me on Twitter @akronfoodie or visit my blog at www.ohio.com/blogs/lisa.