The Adaptable Avocado: You might be surprised at its many uses

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Now through fall is the California avocado season. Make like Goldilocks when you choose one. Press the skin to determine that it is not too hard, not too soft, but juussst right, the fruit barely resisting a slight pressure of a thumb.

Avocados are super versatile as well as a guilt-free indulgence food. I buy at least two a week. The flesh is green-gold, buttery, silky and delicious. Unfortunately, many women think avocados are "fattening." Truth is, most of the fat is the healthy monounsaturated sort that's found in olive oil, which is why avocados consistently make the top-10 lists of so-called rejuvenating and anti-aging foods.

Guaco de Mayo

Cinco de Mayo, the May 5 Mexican Independence Day, provides an opportunity for lots of people to eat avocados, and not just in guacamole.

Avocados from Mexico offers on its website theamazingavocado.com original "outside the guac" recipes, including Chilled Avocado-Tomatillo Soup, Chicken and Avocado Roulades with Tomatillo Salsa, Avocado and Black Bean Salad, Mexican "Sushi," Avocado-Coconut Pie, and Avocado, Coconut and Tequila Cooler.

At CaliforniaAvocado.com, the California Avocado Commission also is providing tons of recipes, spotlighting some from the families that grow avocadoes there, including Serrato Family Grilled Summer Salad with California Avocado and Carleton Family California Avocado Soup.

Unfortunately, too many people don't know what they are or think they're exotic. They're not.

In the kitchen

Avocados are hugely adaptable. Most end up in guacamole. Well, there is plenty else to make beyond guac. Here are some easy non-recipes with wide appeal.

• Tortilla soup. Stir avocado cubes, shredded chicken, diced tomato and diced jalapenos into chicken broth and top with tortilla chips. Close enough.

• Pasta dish. Sear shrimp in olive oil with sliced garlic, Spanish smoked paprika and hot pepper flakes and toss with angel hair pasta and cubed avocado.

• Tuna helper. Alternate slices of avocado with seared tuna on a plate and drizzle with store-bought ponzu sauce. For a good-looking plate, dredge the tuna in black sesame seeds before searing and steam some bok choy as a side dish.

• BLT-A. Quickly sear avocado slices in a nonstick skillet and serve open-faced on thick-sliced toast rubbed with a clove of garlic and stacked with tomato and crisp bacon. Up the ante with herb mayo and a big pinch of radish sprouts.

• Breakfast taco. Smear a toasted corn tortilla with mashed avocado or leftover guacamole, add a scrambled egg and drizzle with hot sauce. Roll up and eat.

• South Beach-ish salad. Toss crab meat with olive oil, grapefruit sections, lime juice and minced shallots, chives and parsley. Spoon into Boston lettuce cups.

• Quick sandwich. Mash an avocado onto a good piece of toasted bread. Then top with a squeeze of lemon juice, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Need more protein? Add sardines. Open a can, drain off the oil and plunk the little fishies right on top of the avocado. Besides being a quick snack fix, you'll get a punch of omega-3s and vitamin D.

• Avocado "whipped cream." This is about the best sauce or dip for fish and vegetables, even though there is no cream of any sort in the recipe. When avocado is pureed (fast, with an immersion blender) with onion, garlic, lime juice, cumin and oil, its innate luxuriousness is heightened and it becomes a softly whipped, gently mounded "cream." A big dollop is perfect on top of that chilled crab-meat salad.

Handling

Choose firm fruit if you plan to use it within three or four days. It will ripen at room temperature on the counter. Choose fruit that yields a bit to pressure if you plan to use it right away. Speed up ripening by putting hard fruit in a paper bag and storing at room temperature. Including an apple or banana in the bag can speed it up even more. Soft ripe fruit can be refrigerated for up to two or three days.

To open, hold the fruit in your left hand and cut longways around the large center seed. Give a twist to separate the halves, then using the knife blade, firmly smack the seed as if trying to split it. The seed will adhere to the knife blade and pull right out of the fruit and can be discarded.

Know that the green-gold avocado flesh darkens when exposed to air. Always, and immediately, brush the cut surface with lime juice or add lime juice to a mixture of ingredients.

The most popular California avocado is the Hass, which weighs about half a pound and has a pebbly black skin when ripe. Hass avocados are unique because they are the only variety that is produced year-round. According to the California Avocado Commission, the original Hass tree was a mistake -- a lucky chance seedling. In the late 1920s, Rudolph Hass, a postman, purchased seedling trees for the purpose of developing two acres of budded trees of the Lyon variety. There was one particular tree that attracted the attention of his children, as they preferred the fruit from this tree. Since the quality was high and the tree bore well, Hass patented it in 1935 and began propagating this new variety.

Even though 90 percent of the nation's avocado crop is grown in California, the largest producer of avocados in the world is Mexico. There, avocados are often given to newlyweds as a symbol of fertility. They probably got the idea from the Aztecs who used the avocado as a sex stimulant. The Aztec name for avocado was ahuacatl, meaning "testicle." Now there's an image to ponder.

Jumbo Lump Crab and Avocado Taco Bites

PG tested

  • 1/2 pound jumbo lump crab meat
  • 14-ounce can diced tomatoes, drained and liquid reserved
  • 1/2 red onion, diced
  • 1 jalapeno, minced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 large Hass avocado
  • Salt and pepper
  • Fresh cilantro, chopped (optional)
  • Big corn chips or crackers

In a large bowl, combine the crab, tomatoes, onion, jalapeno, garlic, lime juice, and cumin. Fold in the avocado and season to taste with salt and pepper. Add the reserved tomato juice until desired consistency is reached. Sprinkle with cilantro and serve on corn chips or crackers.

Makes about 2 cups.

-- Hass Avocados from Mexico brochure

Avocado "Whipped Cream"

PG tested

Behind the avocado's luminous, pale green face, there is an assertive flavor, which holds its own with fish such as tuna, lobster, shrimp, scallops, snapper, salmon or pompano. And a big dollop is perfect on top of a chilled crab meat salad. Stir in a good pinch of wasabi paste and serve the sauce with roast beef.

  • 1/2 ripe avocado, (about 2/3 cup when diced or sliced)
  • 3 tablespoons fresh- squeezed lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons very thinly sliced red onion
  • 1 small to medium garlic clove, very thinly sliced
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper

Place the avocado, lime juice, onion, garlic, cumin and oils in a blender jar. Puree the ingredients until the avocado is velvety smooth, scraping the jar down several times during the process. Quicker still, place the ingredients in a tall, narrow bowl and puree with an immersion blender. Season the puree with salt and pepper, cover it, and set aside or refrigerate until serving time.

Makes about 1 cup, enough for 4 servings.

-- "Great Fish Quick" by Leslie Revsin (Broadway, 1997)


Marlene Parrish can be reached at mparrish@post-gazette.com or 412-481-1620.


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