April 14, 2015

Ya’ know, I never really liked avocados…too soft and mushy. The flavor was okay, but the mouth-feel was just not for me. And then one day, my husband convinced me (after much pleading and cajoling) to try his guacamole…and I was hooked forever. What I had considered soft and mushy was actually smooth, creamy and oh, so sensual. I can’t get enough of them.

The avocado is the pear-shaped fruit of a tree that’s native to Central and South America, where it has been cultivated and enjoyed for centuries. A bit of interesting trivia…the word “avocado” comes from the Aztec word “ahucalt,” which the Spanish language evolved to “ahuacate” and “agucate,” which eventually became “avocado.”

Sometimes called the alligator pear, the world’s largest producers of avocados are Mexico, Brazil, Columbia, the Dominican Republic and the United States. The avocado tree grows in both tropical and sub-tropical climates and can grow to 65 feet in height, with oval, waxy, evergreen leaves. The trees flower in two stages, but yield only a small number of fruits.

Avocados come in varying shapes, colors and sizes depending on the variety. The most common, the Hass avocado, is oval and has a rugged black or deep brown rind that is shiny when the fruit is ripe. About 75% of American avocados are of this variety. However, the Ripe Fuerte, Zutano and Bacon varieties, all of which are oval, have a green, glossy rind. There is also the miniature variety known as a “cocktail” avocado. What all these avocados have in common is an inedible rind and a rich, buttery, sensual flesh that is pale green in color. The large pit in the center of most avocados detaches from the flesh easily.

So, how to choose an avocado? Look for a glossy skin and a fruit that feels heavy for its size. It should be not too hard and not too soft and be free of black spots and bruises. If an avocado is too soft, it is overly ripe and can have a bitter flavor. When the avocado yields easily to the touch, it’s just right!

Avocados should be left to ripen at room temperature and will not ripen further if refrigerated. Ripe avocados will keep for only 2-3 days, so plan on using them quickly. Once cut, avocados will only keep 1-2 days…even in the refrigerator…and they will darken in color.

Most commonly eaten raw, prepare the avocado by splitting it lengthwise (use a stainless steel knife, so the flesh doesn’t discolor). Spear the pit with your knife and gently twist it out of the avocado flesh.

Remember that avocado flesh discolors when exposed to air, so sprinkle with lemon juice to keep the color high.

An excellent source of potassium and folic acid, the avocado is rich in vitamin B-6, magnesium, pantothenic acid, vitamin C, copper, iron and zinc. Very nutritious and energizing, the fear around this splendid fruit is that it’s high in fat. What no one adds to that information is that the avocado is also easy to digest, because it’s rich in enzymes that actually facilitate the breakdown of the fat, making it not only delicious, but good for digestion.

While best known for guacamole, avocados are brilliant simply sliced and served with a lemon-flavored vinaigrette, in sandwiches, salads and stirred into soups…and even in desserts. I personally love them pureed in brownies. But for now, let’s stick with a Mexican classic…the recipe that began the love affair between the avocado and me…although we use it in a most delicious and different way. Enjoy!

Portabello Burgers with Guacamole