Cooking in the Tropics: Avocado
One of the great cultural advantages of growing up in Southern California in the 60s and 70s was the availability of Hass avocados in our local markets and even in our backyards. Alligator pears from Florida – those big, smooth-skinned and watery fruits – were the only avocados available on the East Coast then. Times have changed. There are dozens of varieties of avocados, but Hass avocados now account for 80% of the market. All Hass avocado trees are descended from a single “mother tree” raised by a mail carrier named Rudolph Hass, of La Habra Heights, California. Hass patented the productive tree in 1935, and the mother tree finally died of root rot in September 2002.
The avocado (Persea Americana) is a tree native to Mexico and Central America classified in the flowering plant family Lauraceae along with cinnamon, camphor and bay laurel. Contrary to popular belief, avocados are not vegetables but a fruit, a berry to be exact.
Avocados are often included in lists of superfoods, those foods that help keep your body free from disease. Ripe avocados contain a high amount of fruit oil, a rare element that gives the avocado its smooth, mellow taste. Unlike most fruit, avocado contains very few carbohydrates. The avocado contains 14 minerals, all of which regulate body functions and stimulate growth. Especially noteworthy are its iron and copper contents, which aid in red blood regeneration. It is helpful for the prevention of anemia.
Eating avocados can regulate your blood pressure. Avocados are full of magnesium and potassium, two nutrients known to help reduce blood pressure. On a weight basis, avocados contain 35% more potassium than bananas. They have a high fiber content and are rich in folic acid and Vitamin K, and are good dietary sources of vitamin B6, vitamin C, vitamin E and pantothenic acid.
If you’re tired of eating beans to get your fiber fix, start eating some avocados. There are 10 grams of fiber in a medium-sized avocado, with 75 percent of that fiber being insoluble (the one that speeds up the digesting process), and the other 25 percent being soluble (responsible for making you feel “full”).
Avocado has a much higher fat content than most other fruit, mostly monounsaturated fat, and therefore is an important staple in the diet of vegetarians, especially vegans. Mono-unsaturated fat is the most amazing kind of fat because it is good for your heart. According to the American Heart Association avocadoes, “Help reduce bad cholesterol levels in your blood and lower your risk of heart disease and stroke. They also provide nutrients to help develop and maintain your body’s cells. Mono-unsaturated fats are also typically high in vitamin E, an antioxidant vitamin most Americans need more of.”
Avocados are not only good for eating, they can also serve as a wonderful moisturizer, treat sunburns by preventing chafing, and can even help reduce wrinkles. Try this easy mask to block wrinkles from forming and to seriously hydrate dry skin: Mix raw honey, yogurt, and an avocado together, and then slather it on your face.
The avocado is a neutral fruit that blends well with almost any flavor. Generally, the fruit is served raw, although some varieties, including the common Hass, can be cooked for a short time without becoming bitter. Prolonged cooking induces a chemical reaction that renders the avocado inedible.
Avocado Ice Cream? We once served it in the Sunset Lounge, but many of our clients refused to try it. People from the Americas generally think of avocado as a savory dish, best eaten raw in salads, sandwiches, sushi and especially guacamole. In many parts of the world, especially in Asia and Brazil, avocados are included only in desserts, like ice cream or milkshakes.
I can’t remember how we made our ice cream, but here is a great recipe (made with avocado and vanilla bean) included on the Food 52 website:
- 2 cups whole milk
- 4 egg yolks
- 1 vanilla bean
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 cups perfectly ripe avocado cut in about 1/2″ cubes
- juice of 1 large lemon
- 1 cup heavy cream
- Cut a slit down the vanilla bean. Put it in a saucepan and add the milk. Bring to a simmer, then turn off the heat and let it cool / infuse for at least 30 minutes, until the milk is at least cooled to room temp (if you have something to do you can stick it in the fridge and continue later)
- Take the vanilla bean out and use a paring knife to scrape out all of the little seeds – put those back into the milk. Add the pod back in too – don’t want to waste one iota of that great flavor. Whisk in the egg yolks and sugar, then gently bring it back to a simmer – whisking right along – until a thick custard forms. Cool this again – once it’s cool enough put it in the fridge to chill.
- Measure your avocado then squeeze the lemon over. Put it in the blender with the cream, then get the custard out. Fish out that vanilla bean and scrape off the custard – finally, sadly discard it. Add the custard to the blender too and blend the whole thing until it is very smooth.
- Freeze according to your ice cream maker’s directions. When it first comes out it will be like soft serve, you can put it in a container in the freezer to firm up a bit if you like.
- Serve! It’s rich so try not to eat TOO much. Good luck with that.
We have had more luck with frozen avocado served as an element in a savory appetizer. This Avocado and Jalapeno Glace has been successful as a garnish in chilled watermelon soup. We also like to serve it in a martini glass with a simple tomato salad and/or shrimp cocktail.
Avocado and Jalapeño Glace
Total time: 15 minutes, plus 2 hours, 45 minutes freezing time
2 large ripe Hass avocados
1/3 cup diced onion
Juice of 2 limes
1 1/2 cups yogurt
1 jalapeño, seeded and diced
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1. Thicken yogurt. Put yogurt in the bowl and place a thick paper towel over the top. The towel will absorb the excess moisture in the yogurt. Let it sit at least ½ hour, or longer if you want a thicker yogurt.
2. Scoop out the avocado flesh and place it in a food processor. Add the onion, lime juice, yogurt, jalapeño and salt and process until smooth.
3. Put the mixture into a shallow rectangular glass dish, cover, and freeze, stirring the mixture with a fork every 30 minutes to maintain a creamy consistency, until the glace is scoopable, about 2 hours, 45 minutes.
Avocado Glace and Tomato Cocktail
1/2 cup tomatoes, cut into small dice
3 teaspoons best-quality olive oil
Cilantro leaves for garnish
Place two small scoops of avocado glace in a martini glass. Garnish with a sprinkle of diced tomato, 3 or 4 cilantro leaves and a drizzle of olive oil (1/2 teaspoon per glass)
Jumbo Shrimp Cocktail with Tomatoes and Avocado Glace
- Bring water to boil. Add shrimps in their shells to the water and allow to boil until the shells begin to turn pink. Drain, peel and devein the shrimp.
- Heat 2 T olive oil in a pan. Add shrimp in a single layer, do not overcrowd. Saute about one minute per side (until the shrimp butterflies on the edges).
- Refrigerate shrimp until they are well chilled (about two hours).
- Place two small scoops of avocado glace in the bottom of the martini glass garnished with the tomato salad. Balance three shrimp on the rim of the glass and serve.
Chilled Watermelon Soup with Jumbo Shrimp, Tomatoes and Avocado Glace
- 5 cups coarsely chopped seeded watermelon (from a 4-lb piece, rind discarded)
- 1 fresh lemongrass stalk*
- 1 peeled tomato (or more to taste, to cut sweetness)
- 3 tablespoons finely chopped shallot
- 1 1/2 tablespoons finely chopped peeled fresh ginger
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic
- 1 1/2 tablespoons mild olive oil
- 1 small hot green chile such as Thai or serrano, finely chopped (including seeds), or to taste
- 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice, or to taste
- 3/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste
Purée watermelon in a blender until smooth and transfer to a bowl. (Don’t wash the blender.)
Discard 1 or 2 outer leaves of lemongrass and trim root end. Thinly slice lower 5 to 6 inches of stalk and then mince, discarding remainder.
Cook lemongrass, shallot, ginger, and garlic in oil in a 2-quart heavy saucepan over moderately low heat, stirring, until aromatics are pale golden, about 5 minutes. Add about one-third of watermelon purée and simmer over moderate heat, stirring 5 minutes.
Remove watermelon mixture from heat, then transfer to the blender along with chile, lime juice, and salt and blend until smooth (use caution when blending hot liquids).
Add remaining watermelon purée and blend briefly. Season soup with more chile, lime juice, and salt if desired, blending if necessary. Pour soup through a sieve into a bowl, pressing on and then discarding any solids. Chill soup, uncovered, about 2 hours.
Serve with chilled jumbo shrimp, tomato salad and a scoop of avocado glace.
The website of the Hass Avocado Board (Home | Hass Avocado Board) has some great advice for picking, storing and serving avocados. Here is their advice on how to pick the best Hass avocados:
Step 1 – When comparing a group of Hass Avocados, check the outside color of the skin of the avocados for any that are darker in color than the others. These may be riper than Hass Avocados with lighter skin. Check the outer skin of the avocado for any large indentations as this may be a sign that the fruit has been bruised.
Step 2 – Place the avocado in the palm of your hand.
Step 3 – Gently squeeze without applying your fingertips as this can cause bruising.
Step 4 – Picking ripe ready-to-eat Hass Avocados. If the avocado yields to firm gentle pressure you know it’s ripe and ready-to-eat. If the avocado does not yield to gentle pressure it is considered still “firm” and will be ripe in a couple of days. If the avocado feels mushy or very soft to the touch it may be very ripe to overripe.
How to Store Unripe Avocados:
Unripe, firm or green fruit can take four to five days to ripen at room temperature (approximately 65-75 degrees F, avoid direct sunlight). Refrigeration can slow the ripening process, so for best results store unripe fruit at room temperature unless room conditions exceed that range.
Store Cut Unripe Avocados – If you have cut open your Hass Avocado and found it to be unripe, sprinkle the exposed flesh of the avocado with lemon or lime juice, place the two halves back together and cover tightly with clear plastic wrap before placing in the refrigerator. Check the avocado periodically to see if it has softened up enough to eat. Depending on firmness when the fruit was cut and temperature conditions, the ripening process will vary.
Store Cut Ripe Avocados – Sprinkle cut, mashed or sliced fruit with lemon or lime juice or another acidic agent and place in an air-tight container or tightly covered clear plastic wrap. The fruit can be stored in your refrigerator for a day.
Store Guacamole – Guacamole often contains other ingredients that may affect how well and how long the guacamole can be stored. For most guacamole recipes, adding an acidic agent (like those in the right column) can help prevent oxidization when added on top of the guacamole. To store guacamole, place it in an air-tight container and press clear plastic wrap on the surface of the guacamole before covering to help prevent oxidation. Store in the refrigerator.
If refrigerated guacamole or fruit turns brown during storage, discard the top oxidized layer and enjoy the rest.
How to Ripen or Speed up the Ripening Process for Avocados
Avocados do not ripen on the tree, they ripen or “soften” after they have been harvested. To speed up the avocado ripening process we recommend placing unripe avocados in a brown paper bag with an apple or banana for two to three days until they are ripe. We do not recommend any other method of ripening.
Why does this work?
The plant hormone ethylene, which occurs naturally in fruits like apples and bananas, triggers the ripening process. When combined in a brown paper bag, which helps to trap the ethylene gases produced by these fruits, these gases can cause the fruits to ripen faster together.
How to Freeze Avocados
1. Wash – Wash the outside of the avocados thoroughly by holding them under running water or in your selected produce wash.
2. Cut – Cut and peel the avocados.
3. Puree – Place the peeled avocados in a food processor or blender. Add a ratio of one tablespoon of an acidic agent like lemon or lime juice for each avocado you are freezing. Puree until smooth. This will ensure that the lemon or lime juice is evenly distributed to help to prevent the avocados from turning brown. Mashing the avocado rather than pureeing yields a less desirable result because the acidic agent is unevenly mixed in.
4. Package – Place the pureed avocado into an air-tight container. Leave ½ to 1 inch of headspace in the container to allow for expansion. Close your container tightly and label accordingly. Freeze.
Frozen avocado puree must be used within four to five months of freezing.
Christina Spilsbury and Rick Macsherry have lived in Tamarindo since 1989. They own and operate Sunset Catering.