by Catharine L. Kaufman—a.k.a. The Kitchen Shrink
Here in California, summer overwhelms us with bountiful vegetables and fruits—including nutrition-packed avocados. These awesome green beauties—or at least the seven locally grown varieties which range from the buttery-textured and smoky flavored Hass (also known as ‘alligator pears)’ to the less dense, smooth-skinned and creamy Bacon or Reed variety—are practically royalty among the state’s many competing plant treasures.
Although the avocado’s historical roots go back to circa 7000 B.C., in south-central Mexico, the popular Hass has more recent California origins. The “mother tree” was planted by mail carrier and amateur horticulturalist Rudolph Hass in the 1920’s, in his modest La Habra Heights grove. Through serendipity, it grew a fruit with an unusual dark, knobby shell and a rich, succulent texture and flavor.
The tree was only 76 years old when, sadly, it was felled by a terminal case of root rot. Luckily, its legacy—the fruit that bears Hass’ name—not only continues to thrive, but has become the most important commercially grown avocado variety. It accounts for 80 percent of the global avocado market and 95 percent of California’s avocado production. The remaining five percent is shared by the state’s other six strains: the Bacon, Fuerte, Gwen, Pinkerton, Reed and Zutano avocados. It should be noted that the smooth-skinned Bacon is favored by many who prefer its usually more generous size, subtle and nutty flavor, and creamy but lighter flesh which tends to keep its pale color longer in the refrigerator.
Once a luxury fruit available exclusively to royals, the avocado has long ago crossed the socio-economic boundaries to mass consumption. In Brazil, avocado chunks are a popular ice cream topping, in the Philippines they are blended with sugar and milk for a smooth and creamy dessert drink, and in southwestern regions the avocado is tossed into salsas, relishes, ceviche and grilled chicken dishes. Asian Pacific chefs blend avocados with sake, scallions and ginger to create their exotic eastern version of guacamole. Health-conscious California foodies prefer panko-crumb-dipped and baked avocado chunks or slices to French fries. They also erect colorful towers of heirloom tomatoes, avocado slices and rounds of buffalo mozzarella, drizzled with a balsamic vinegar and virgin olive oil dressing.
Blessedly free of sodium and cholesterol, avocados are a powerhouse of some 20 vitamins and minerals, phyto-nutrients and heart-healthy mono- and polyunsaturated fats, making them a great substitute for saturated fat spreads and dips. They also contain carotenoid lutein, a natural antioxidant that has been linked to the maintenance of healthy eyesight, and a natural plant sterol that is believed to support optimum cholesterol levels. Avocados have also been found to boost the central nervous system, as well as to help brain development in infants and children.
So pick up one of these green gems (preferably organic and grown as near to where you are as possible), and when it’s ripe enough to eat, cut in half, remove the pit, scoop out the flesh and toss some hearty chunks into a shrimp cocktail, gazpacho or green salad for a creamy texture and added oomph of nutrients. Avocado halves also make fine, edible containers for chicken salad or a mix of roasted corn kernels and pickled sweet peppers. To find yourself in gourmet heaven, just splash a half avocado with lemon juice (an excellent replacement for salt) and scoop it straight out of its shell for a satisfying midday snack.
Mashed avocado makes a creamy and delicious baby food loaded with folic acid, potassium, fiber, vitamins C and E, iron and unsaturated fats.
An avocado, like Baby Bear’s porridge, has to be “just right” before ready to eat. The Hass’ green, pebbly skin turns a dark, purplish-black when ripe. While the various emerald shades that distinguish the other varieties remain unchanged, you’ll know if they are ripe when a gentle finger press yields just a little softness, without too much mushy ‘give.’ Avoid overly soft avocados and ones with cuts or blemishes on the skin. If the flesh is black or grayish inside, it has turned rancid and ready for the trash or compost bin. Choose a fruit that has good heft in the palm and is average to large in size. Hass is oval-shaped, while Bacon is often round.
To hasten ripening, The California Avocado Commission recommends placing the fruit in a brown paper bag at room temperature, usually for two to five days. Adding a banana or apple will ripen the avocado even faster, since they emit ethylene gas, which is a ripening agent. Once cut, sprinkle the avocado with lemon or lime juice to prevent discoloration.
Here is my contribution of a Southwest Avocado Seafood Cocktail guaranteed to knock your flip-flops off.
(Click on our RECIPES section for other delicacies. Feel free to ask for anything we haven’t posted yet, by dropping me a note at either our blog address: [email protected], or my personal e-mail: [email protected] .)
Southwest Seafood Cocktail
(Where possible, use organics)
10 ounces of assorted seafood – lobster, lump crab, scallops, cooked and chopped
4 jumbo shrimp, cooked
1 cup of vegetable cocktail juice
1/3 cup of tomato juice
1 teaspoon of lemon juice
1 teaspoon of Tabasco sauce
1 tablespoon of yellow onion, minced
1 tablespoon of Persian cucumber, minced
1 teaspoon of minced cilantro
1 Roma tomato, minced
1 firm, ripe avocado, diced
In a large glass bowl combine all the ingredients for the sauce. Add the seafood and toss gently. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours. Evenly distribute the mixture into 2 cocktail glasses. Add 2 jumbo shrimps to the rim of each glass, top with the avocado chunks and garnish with lemon twists.