While many foods have long been associated with a healthy lifestyle (hello lean proteins, flax seed, and Romaine lettuce!), the avocado has traditionally sat on the sidelines, a victim of the commonly held, misguided perception that this fruit is too fatty and devoid of other benefits. Holy guacamole, Batman, avocados are back . . .and with cultivar's names like Spinks, Pinkerton, Queen, Lula, and Topa Topa, you can have loads of fun playing the avocado name game.
Avocados are a tropical fruit renowned for their rich, buttery, and nutlike flavor. Their funky name comes from the Nahuatl Indian word ahuacatl, meaning testicle—a tribute to the fruit’s low-slung, pear-like shape, and let’s be honest, it’s great etymology. The two most common varietals are the Hass (the green pebbly-skinned one) and the Fuerte, a smooth-skinned fruit that can get a little watery if picked too early, but it’s also lower in monounsaturated fats and calories. Both are grown domestically and in warmer climes around the globe, with Fallbrook, California, laying claim to the title of Avocado Capitol of the World. The Hass varietal bears fruit in alternate years and, like the Honeycrisp apple, every Hass avocado on the planet can trace its ancestry back to a single tree from which they were all subsequently grafted. The first Hass avocado tree was originally purchased as a seedling by a California mail carrier in 1926. Sadly, the tree died in ’02 of root rot, outliving the mail carrier by a handsome margin.
While high in unsaturated fats, avocados are calorically thrifty and loaded with vitamins, perfect for the low-carb acolytes still among us. Avocados are high in monosaturates; the oil content of avocados is essentially second only to olives among all fruits. Clinical feeding studies in humans have shown that avocado oil can reduce blood cholesterol and they have 60 percent more potassium than bananas. It might be apocryphal folklore, but leaf and seed extracts are rumored to be an effective treatment for diarrhea and dysentery. Oy vey.
I like the Hass avocado for its deep flavor and rich texture. I buy them hard and let them ripen for two to three days on my countertop (ripening them in a brown paper bag speeds up the process) before using them in the recipe below. Try sourcing avocados at some of the Asian and Latin markets sprinkled around town. They may be smaller and they may be a little less perfect-looking, but they are cheaper and more flavorful than most supermarket avocados. When fully ripened, avocados have a gorgeous, creamy green-yellow flesh that quickly oxidizes, discolors, and bruises. Adding some acid, especially lemon or lime juice, to the diced or halved avocados help them hold their stunning hue because vitamin C is such a perky antioxidant. Once peeled and seeded (I like to halve the fruits and slip a spoon between the flesh and the skin, literally lifting out the halves from the papery derma), you can go Mexican with a guacamole, use the avocado in braised curries and kormas for an Indian bent, as a spread for sandwiches, or—as the Vietnamese do—you can make a slick avocado milkshake. Try this idea for a condiment for grilled fish or poultry: Place the flesh of one avocado in a blender and puree, adding one large handful of cilantro leaves, four scallions, the juice of one lime, one serrano chili pepper, and a quarter cup of olive oil. The resulting sauce will make your toes curl.
Yucatan Avocado Salsa
This salsa makes a great dip all on its own, or you can use it with any grilled or roasted meat, poultry, or seafood, served with tortillas and plenty of sangria. Makes a generous 2 cups.
2 serrano chilies, minced very fine
1 small onion, minced very fine
1 t. salt
2 garlic cloves
1/2 lb. tomatillos, husked, rinsed, and quartered
3 T. fresh chopped cilantro leaves
1 ripe avocado
2 T. fresh lime juice
Combine chilies, onion, salt, garlic, tomatillos, and cilantro in a food processor and pulse to combine. Do not over-puree. Reserve.
Halve avocado, remove and discard pit, and scoop out flesh. Discard skin. Using a fork, mash avocado into sauce with lime juice. Season and serve quickly.