A healthy indulgence that’s especially well-suited to spring and summer recipes, avocados please a crowd and are easy to prepare.
In April, the first glimmer of spring arrives, and with it, the delicious prospect of seasonal eating. Yet while we might be out in the garden whipping those beds into shape, the first spring harvest is still weeks away. While we wait for local produce to hit its stride, avocados fill the gap beautifully. They are in season year-round, but bring freshness to the spring table that captures the mood of the changing seasons.
Avocados are best eaten raw and somewhat unadorned. Easy, simple ingredient pairings, such as lime and cilantro, tomatoes and red onion, or grapefruit and a squeeze of lemon, bring out the best in their flavor and creamy texture. That we eat this rich, addictive green fruit like a vegetable is just one of its contradictions. Another surprising fact is that, unlike most fruits, avocados ripen off the tree. Because they bruise easily when ripe, they are usually shipped and sold very firm. For the cook, this can be both a curse and a blessing—since it’s hard to buy them at the ideal ripeness, spur-of-the-moment recipes are difficult to make. On the other hand, if you keep a regular supply in your kitchen and use easy-ripening techniques (see the next page for details), you will always have some delicious avocados that are ready to eat.
Three different types of avocado originated in three different countries: Mexico, Guatemala and the West Indies. But the most popular avocado today, the Hass, is a Mexican/Guatemalan hybrid. Its exterior is nearly black when ripe, with a nubby, textured skin that illustrates why the now rarely used English name for the fruit, “alligator pear,” was invented. The Hass tends to ripen evenly, is easily pitted and peeled, and offers up a lush pale-green flesh with slightly nutty overtones.
While Americans associate avocados with savory dishes such as guacamole (see recipe below), their rich, creamy texture has inspired desserts elsewhere in the world. Brazilians add avocado to ice cream, and Filipinos puree avocados with sugar and milk for a dessert drink.
Part of what makes avocados so versatile is their high fat content. They are as much as 30 percent oil—the equivalent of well-marbled meat—although because they contain heart-healthy monounsaturated oil, they are nutritionally much better for you.
Avocados are a natural match for spring and summer meals, particularly when grilling season starts and you break out the chips and ice-cold beer. Get into the avocado habit now—and they’ll become a favorite kitchen staple.
See the next page for tips on selecting, ripening and storing avocados.
The key to enjoying avocados at home is rotating very firm fruit through the ripening process so you always have some that are at the peak of ripeness. Here are a few tips for making the most of avocados in the kitchen.
Shop for avocados several days before you plan on eating them. Choose hard, unripened fruit. The Hass variety is among the best. One benefit of avocados is that they rank among the lowest of all fruits and vegetables for pesticide use. California avocado farmers, who produce about 90 percent of the domestic crop, often rely on Integrated Pest Management (the use of beneficial insects rather than chemicals) to combat pests and diseases.
All avocados ripen from the broad end toward the stem. Although most people test for ripeness by gently squeezing the fruit in the palm of the hand, it can be even more accurate to test the stem end specifically: If it yields slightly to firm-yet-gentle pressure, it’s ripe. Follow these easy steps for ripening: Place avocados into a brown paper bag with a banana or an apple; these emit ethylene and speed up the ripening process. Store at room temperature for two to five days, checking frequently until they reach the peak of ripeness. Never refrigerate an unripe avocado.
Once avocados are ripe, you can store them in the refrigerator for several days without harming the quality. Whole fruit stores best. Cut or mashed avocados brown rapidly, but you can combat this by sprinkling them with lemon or lime juice or by using an airtight plastic wrap; if a fruit nonetheless turns brown during storage, discard the top layer. Freezing avocados is also an option if you puree them: Add 1 tablespoon of lemon juice for each two pureed avocados, store the mixture in an airtight container with about 1 inch of headspace, freeze and use within four to five months.
There are more ways to make guacamole than there are ways to mix a margarita—and that’s saying something. This version is one of the simplest. If you’re entertaining a crowd, buying avocados in bulk can save you money. Locally, Costco offers a great price on avocados, and the quality is among the best I’ve found. (Locate stores at costco.com.)
Cut 2 avocados in half and remove the pits. Scoop out the flesh with a spoon into a bowl and mash it with a fork. Gently mix in 1 teaspoon of freshly squeezed lime juice, 1 teaspoon finely chopped shallot or red onion, and 2 tablespoons of chopped tomatoes. If desired, add a handful of chopped cilantro leaves. Add 1/8 teaspoon of salt, then season to taste. If you are going to serve the guacamole with salted corn chips, taste them together first to avoid over-salting. Complete the recipe by adding more lime juice, cilantro or other ingredients as needed. If you want to add kick, include a bit of fresh jalapeño pepper, seeded and finely diced. Garnish with whole cilantro leaves and serve immediately.