In July 2015, the leader of the free world — that would be President Barack Obama — weighed in on Twitter regarding the great controversy of those (much simpler) times: Whether or not peas should ever find their way into guacamole. “Not buying peas in guac. onions, garlic, hot peppers. classic,” POTUS tweeted, a good-natured response to the country’s unexpectedly viral reaction to a recipe for “Green Pea Guacamole” that appeared in the New York Times.
NYT columnist and prolific cookbook author Melissa Clark’s byline appeared on that much-maligned recipe — which substituted green peas for some of the guac’s usual avocado — and now, she reflects back on that weird summer during an episode of the Eater Upsell. “It was very hard to feel personally affronted by all of the attention,” she says, noting that pea guacamole wasn’t even a recipe she’d developed. Clark had written the piece back in 2013 while reporting on a dish acclaimed chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten served at his NYC spot ABC Cocina. The recipe received no pushback until a retweet by the NYT Twitter account forced it back into the limelight two years later.
The second time around, the reaction was immediate, and for Clark, it revealed a propensity for diners to approach certain foods in an unexpectedly rigid manner. “They’re like, ‘How dare you put peas in guacamole? Peas in guacamole is a travesty.’ First of all, they all thought it sounded gross — it’s delicious,” Clark says. “And they didn’t like that we were mucking with tradition [and believed] that guacamole should only be one way. And as a food writer, as a recipe developer, I fundamentally disagree with that.”
Her most recent cookbook, the just-released Dinner: Changing the Game, also presents an argument for this particular dish, with a note that asks, “There’s room in the world for more than one kind of guacamole, right?” Clark encourages fluidity in cooking, wondering how and why such boundaries form in the collective mindset. “Why is pea guacamole offensive, but not butternut squash hummus?” she asks. “If the key to [hummus is] tahini, lemon, and garlic, I would say that would be the ‘hummus maker.’ So then what’s the guacamole maker? Is it the cilantro, lime, and jalapeño?” Clark doesn’t purport to have the answers: With 38 books to her name, she’s still sussing it out, all to the benefit of home cooks everywhere.
Hear the full interview with Clark below, as she talks with Upsell hosts Greg Morabito and Helen Rosner about these culinary controversies as well as the beauty of state fair food and how the concept of “dinnertime” is changing in America. Subscribe to the Eater Upsell on iTunes, or listen on Soundcloud. You can also get the entire archive of episodes right here on Eater.