[I thought it would be fun to run a little series over here at DDD: I’ll profile one one of my favorite foods, or a food that I’ve recently discovered and enjoyed, over several days. For this third entry, I’m focusing on Avocados. The series is presented on an occasional (and entirely arbitrary) basis, before I move on to the next lucky comestible. ]
Some foods are just acquired tastes–sort of like scat, living in the suburbs, or Quentin Tarantino films. I know that avocados work that way for many people, but that wasn’t my experience. Like eggnog or chocolate, avocado was one food I knew intuitively that I’d like, even before that first buttery, golden slice ever slid across my tongue.
In my teens, I used to walk to high school each day with my friend Phil. We’d meet at her place (about halfway between my house and our school) where she’d usually invite me in for a breakfast bite. It was in her mother’s white and gold formica-clad kitchen that we learned to love coffee together (stage one: 1/2 cup coffee, 1/4 cup water, 1/4 cup cream and 5 sugars. Stage two: 4/5 cup coffee, 1/5 cup cream, 1 teaspoon sugar. Stage three: eliminate sugar. Stage four: Congratulations; you’re hooked for the next 30 years, until that ulcer/heart condition/high blood pressure diagnosis, and then you go back to “no coffee”.)
While at Phil’s place after school one day, her mother (who was born in Belgium, and was therefore very glamorous) introduced me to avocados. The rough, gravelly exterior, greenish black skin and ovoid shape all seemed very exotic to this apple-and-banana gal. But as soon as she cut the fruit open, removed the glossy pit, and proffered a halfmoon slice, I was forever hooked on the smooth, velvety texture and slightly nutty, slighty sweet flavor.
(Apart from foodstuffs, Phil and I also learned to smoke cigarettes together, two giggly fifteen year-olds strolling round deserted parks after dinner, attempting to inhale, and–between fits of sputtering coughs–singing, “They. . . asked me how I knew. . . my true love was truuuuuue. . .” But that’s another story).
To me, avocados are a nearly perfect food. Technically a fruit (sometimes called the “alligator pear”), they are used more often as a vegetable, and almost always raw. A few years ago, though, I read a magazine article about authentic Mexican cuisine. I found out that, in addition to being tossed into pretty much every salad or salsa, the avocado is also used sometimes in that country in cold soups and even cakes. Wow, I thought, what a great idea! With the extra healthy fats (and monounsaturates can stand up to low heat pretty well) as well as the fiber, avocados would make a terrific egg substitute in baking!
So I started playing and came up with a few baked goods (and I promise to share later in the series) as well as a cold soup–perfect for summer (recipe to follow as well). If you feel like playing with avocado as an egg substitute, use it the way you would tofu (1/4 cup avocado purée = 1 egg). Or simply add about 2 tablespoons puréed avocado to any baked good for added moistness.
Whether your preference is the crinkly Haas or the smooth-skinned Fuerte variety, an avocado is ripe when it “gives” slightly to soft pressure with your thumb or finger (be sure to press at the top of the fruit to avoid bruising the flesh). Most avocados are sold before they’re ripe and require 2-5 days at room temperature before they’re ready to eat.
Once ripe, however, they don’t last long–a day or two at most–before they reach the overripe, slightly fermented, stage (you know an avocado is past its prime if it starts to smell a bit like wine). If you can’t consume them once ripe, they’ll keep another 2-3 days, unpeeled, in the refrigerator. When I find myself with an overabundance of ripe avocadoes, I simply peel, purée, and freeze in one-cup containers for later use (frozen pulp is perfect for future dips and spreads, those baking experiments, or even added to pasta sauces later on). Frozen avocado should keep up to five months.
Avocados are also incredibly healthful–they aren’t a staple of Mexican cuisine for nothing! Brimming with heart-healthy monounsaturated oils, they are a good source of fiber, potassium (great to counteract high blood pressure) and vitamin K, essential for blood and (of particular interest to those of us with osteopenia) bone strength. They also contain a good dose of lutein, an antioxidant found mostly in green leafy vegetables that’s been shown to contribute to eye health and even help reduce the effects of macular degeneration (a disease of the eyes in which central vision is slowly erased).
And today’s recipe? Well, guacamole is one of those iconic foods that regularly makes an appearance at end-of-semester pub bashes, summer Bar B Qs, surprise birthday parties, or work pot lucks; I simply couldn’t do a series on avocados without including this classsic dip.
The first time I tried guacamole, I was at an end-of-semester party thrown by my friend Carol, a legendary hostess known for her ability to draw crowds of disparate personalities who, for the course of an evening (and often into the wee hours of the morning), all got along over beer, wine, and literary discourse.
Carol and her husband always included their two children (then aged 9 and 11) in every social activity, so the kids would meander quite comfortably among the professors and graduate students, stopping every now and again to chat with the bearded hippie sucking back a Becks or the the raven haired T.A. in the inappropriate tank top who was hitting on our Drama professor. Completely unfazed, the children might stop for some corn chips and guacamole, then move on. Around 10:30 or 11:00, they’d wander upstairs to their bedrooms, where they’d doze entirely undisturbed by the din beneath them, like babies in the neonatal ward who can all sleep through their own wailing.
Carol’s guacamole that night was spectacular, and I knew I’d have to make it again. I clipped this recipe from an old Chatelaine magazine from the 1990s, and I’ve never even tried another since. I do realize that everyone and their hairstylist has a fabulous recipe for guacamole, but this really is the best one I’ve ever tasted. The unusual step of rinsing the onion (which removes any pungency that might linger on the palate hours later), elevates this version to one of the all-time best recipes I’ve ever made.
Oh, and there’s still time to enter the contest for a new cookbook–which might just contain a new recipe for guacamole!
The Perfect Guacamole
I used to think that guacamole required garlic to taste this delicious, but this recipe proved me wrong. The contrast between the chunky tomato and smooth, rich avocado is stellar. Add more cilantro if you’re a fan.
1/4 cup (60 ml.) finely chopped white onion, rinsed in a sieve under cold water
1 medium ripe (but still firm) tomato, diced small
2 Tbsp. (30 ml.) chopped fresh cilantro (or more, to taste)
2 tsp. (10 ml.) finely chopped jalapeno pepper, with seeds
1/2 tsp. sea salt
2 ripe Haas avocados, pitted and peeled
1-2 (15-30) ml. freshly squeezed lime juice, or more to taste
Combine onion, tomato, cilantro, jalapeno and salt in a small bowl. In a large bowl, coarsely mash the avocado (a potato masher works well for this–you want a few chunks to remain). Add the onion mixture and lime juice and stir to mix well. Serve immediately with tortilla chips or raw vegetables, if desired. Or, just eat with a spoon.
Can be made ahead, covered, and refrigerated up to 4 hours; press plastic wrap against the top of the guacamole before refrigerating, to minimize oxidation. Makes about 2 cups (500 ml.).
Other posts in this series:
- Lucky Comestible III (2): Decadent Chocolate Pâté
- Lucky Comestible III (3): Mango Avocado Salad
- Lucky Comestible III (4): Lentil Pistachio Patties
- Lucky Comestible III (5): Tropical Lemon-Coconut Muffins
- Lucky Comestible III (6) Meets Flash in the Pan: Avocado Mayonnaise