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Avocado Ideas
by Elliot Essman
I love quality culinary tools, but I steer clear of single-use gadgets. Browsing through my favorite kitchen supplies store recently, I stood face to face with an avocado slicer. "No way," I told myself. "Good tools should multi-task." The fifteen-dollar tool was attractively packaged, with tri-lingual instructions; the French text caught my eye before I put the tool back on the rack un-purchased. The English phrase "slices avocados quickly" was translated into French as "tranche rapidement l'avocat." The French word avocat does double duty, referring to both avocados and attorneys (literally, "advocates"). But if you're a disgruntled litigant, don't get any ideas. Slicing up lawyers is, at least technically, illegal. Stick to avocados.

Crammed with nutrients, avocados offer plenty of potassium and calcium, and are also rich in folate and vitamins B6 and E. While we often treat the avocado as a vegetable, it is actually a fruit that grows on trees. Like so many widely-used foods, avocados originated in Mexico and have always been heavily associated with Mexican cuisine. In addition to the avocado fruit, used in everything Mexican from guacamole to soup, Mexican cooks use dried avocado leaves to add flavor to stews, meats and even refried beans.

In the United States, California and Florida are the big avocado producing states. The Florida varieties are usually larger and have smoother skin. Avocados are available all year round, but avocados picked in May have the best reputation for richness and flavor. Haas avocados, the small fruits with dark, pebbled skins, give consistently good results, especially for guacamole.

Avocados are temperamental. While still on the tree, avocados will not ripen. A chemical emitted by the fruit's substantial pit keeps the avocado meat hard and the flavor bland. Some people leave avocado pits in their guacamole in the belief that the pits will retard further browning of the mixture. I've never seen a bowl of guacamole that lasted long enough to test out this hypothesis. A ripe avocado should yield a bit when you press into it, without being squishy. Gently shake your avocado in the store without making a scene. If you hear the pit moving around inside, the fruit is over-ripe. Since I buy avocados whenever attractive varieties are available, I'm used to waiting, watching, and fondling at home during the ripening process. If you lack my patience, you can "speed-ripen" your avocados by placing them in a paper bag with a banana or an apple. Sadly, no matter how careful you are, you may still encounter some avocados with brownish spots inside. If you're entertaining, it's always wise to buy a few spares just in case.

You cannot delicately coax an avocado out of its armor; bold action is required. I use two knives to pit an avocado. With a small paring knife I cut lengthwise all around the avocado, down to the pit. If I've done this right, the halves will separate cleanly with a gentle twist. I next take my full-size chef's knife and give the pit a gentle whack, lifting it out stuck to the blade. To remove the pit from the knife, I place the knife perpendicular to a hard surface like a cutting board and gently twist the blade free. If you don't want to pit your avocado, you can always peel it by making a slit in the skin with a knife, then folding the skin back with your fingers.

Avocados lose their color and texture rapidly when heated, though they can be effective ingredients in, say, an omelet when added at the last minute. The avocado truly shines in relatively simple dishes. To prepare avocado to stand alone, place the avocado halves with their hole sides down and slice into uniform-sized wedges. Fan out the edges for aesthetic effect. I like a little bit of salt on top.

Avocados also add flavor, texture and sophistication to sandwiches and wraps. You don't need a recipe for this; just remember proportion. Think of the small bits of avocado in the middle of those Japanese "California Rolls." The meat, cheese or major vegetables within the bread give the main thrust of the sandwich; the avocado accents. You can use avocado slivers or slather on an avocado mash.

Speaking of mashing it up, too much of what we call "guacamole" is too mashed up. Unless you're sharing your guacamole with an infant, it's a shame to lose the avocado's delightful consistency by whipping it into a puree. Remember that the avocado in your guacamole will suffer some attrition as people dip chips into it. When I make guacamole, I spoon the avocado out very roughly, knowing that it will break down as I mix in other ingredients (always by hand, never in a blender).

It's good that there are so many opinions (I call them "doctrines") on guacamole out there; it means you can create your own recipe and keep it secret from everybody else. Basic guacamole includes avocados, a member of the lily family (onions, garlic, scallions, shallots), and some kind of seasoning. Many chefs add herbs and spices, chopped tomatoes, chopped chile or bell peppers, lemon or lime. I keep it simple. Starting with my roughly spooned out avocados, I add chopped shallots, an accent of chopped cilantro, fresh lemon juice, some (and I stress the some) dried chipotle powder, salt and pepper. If I get ambitious, I'll add some zest from the same lemon I used for the juice.

A similar combination of ingredients will yield a tasty hot avocado soup. Cut up two large or three small ripe avocados and puree in a food processor or blender. Blend in a quarter cup of sour cream. Separately, in a saucepan, heat four cups of chicken stock to just below simmering level, add a cup of sour cream and a teaspoon of salt. Back in the blender, add juice of half a lime to the avocado mixture. Gently incorporate the avocado mixture into the soup, watching the temperature so as not to curdle the sour cream. Serve immediately and garnish with chopped cilantro and ground pepper.

You can also make a refreshing cold avocado soup in about a minute with a blender. I use an avocado, eight ounces of yogurt, a dash of lime juice, salt and pepper, a few tablespoons of chopped chives, and then a cup of either chopped cucumbers or diced tomatoes. Blend to the consistency you like. Once again, this is exactly the type of recipe you can make your own. Unless you run into an avocat who objects. Top -- Food Articles Home

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