Romancing The Avocado

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Romancing The Avocado

Avocados are, to me, amongst the most sensuous, luscious and luxurious of ingredients. Add how delicious, soft and subtly flavored they are, and you get a clear winner for Valentine’s Day. Despite the many pounds of avocados we go through at home each week, regardless of the infinite number of cases I use for events at Washington, DC’s Mexican Cultural Institute, and  notwithstanding that my sisters and I used them for hair and face treatments as we were growing up (all those nurturing natural oils and vitamins), I still find avocados to be wow-inducing.

If there’s an avocado dish on a restaurant menu, it lands on my table.

So if I am planning a menu, especially with a hint of romance, avocados will be there…

I am not unique thinking that avocados are something special. To the Aztecs, who ate avocados in Mexico for centuries before the Spaniards arrived, they were revered fruit considered to have strong fertility and aphrodisiac powers. Indeed, the Spanish word aguacate comes from the Nahuatl ahuacatl, or “testicles,” presumbly in reference to their shape. The avocado was warmly welcomed in the countries where it was introduced. And thanks in part to its accomodating nature – its meat can be smashed, diced, pureed, stuffed or sliced, or it can be part of a filling or a centerpiece – it has been creatively adopted in many cuisines.

It is true that many people think of guacamole when they hear “avocado.” And there must be more than a thousand reasons to love guacamole. Fast and easy to make, and so fun to eat, it screams out fiesta with each bite. My favorite way to make guacamole is to mix diced avocado with chopped onion and cilantro, squeeze fresh lime juice on top, sprinkle with sea salt and top it off with chopped chipotle chilis in adobo.

Guacamole, though, is just the tip of the avocado iceberg, both inside and outside Mexican cuisine.

Think about eel-and-avocado sushi, a French salad with layers of avocado sprinkled with Roquefort cheese, or an Italian salad with layers of ripe avocado and ash-coated goat cheese, olive oil, coarse salt and basil leaves. It’s hard to imagine a vegetarian sandwich without avocados.

I have tried eight varieties of avocados, and though I like most of them, the one I prefer is the Hass variety. It is available year-round, and is creamy and rich rather than fibrous like other kinds, such as El Fuerte.

Avocados are a fruit that ripen off the tree, so they are often sold unripe. If you are in a hurry to use an avocado, you can hasten the ripening process by wrapping it in newspapers or keeping it in a paper bag in a warm area of the kitchen. If you can wait, it will ripen at a nice pace uncovered in the kitchen.

When ripe, the Hass, with the pebbly skin completely blackened, will give a bit with a gentle squeeze of your hand. If it doesn’t, then it needs a bit more time to mature. You can keep a ripe avocado in the refrigerator for up to a week. It is apparently a myth that keeping the seed in a cut avocado keeps it from darkening. What does seem to help is to squeeze fresh lime juice on top.Here are four of my favorite takes on avocado: an elegant-looking appetizer, a retro mousse, an exotic-sounding soup and a hearty sandwich. Regardless of which way you use it, including avocado in your romantic dinner – as long as it’s not in a hair or skin treatment –  will show your Valentine that you really care.

Article written for and published by National Public Radio’s Kitchen Window.

Stuffed Avocados with Hearts of Palm and Artichoke Salad

Aguacates Rellenos de Palmitos y Corazón de Alcachofa
6 servings
Course: Appetizer
Cuisine: Mexican
Keyword: agucate, Alcachofa, artichoke, Avocado, hearts of palm, Palmitos, rellenos, stuffed
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 0 minutes
Total Time: 20 minutes
When I was growing up, my mother often served stuffed avocados for an elegant dinner. They were such a statement of a well-planned menu. There were many variations: stuffed with sauteed shrimp with chilies, crab salad or red snapper ceviche (a seafood cocktail "cooked" in citrus juice and other spices). The version I make most often, though, mixes artichoke hearts and hearts of palm. I think these ingredients just love to be together and make a smashing combination with the smooth avocado.

Ingredients

  • 14 ounces (1 1/3 cups) hearts of palm, drained, rinsed and sliced
  • 14 ounces (1 1/2 cups) artichoke hearts, drained, rinsed and sliced
  • 2 tablespoons chopped red onion
  • 4 tablespoons chopped red bell pepper
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • 1 tablespoon tarragon vinegar
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher or sea salt, or more to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon sugar, or more to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper, or more to taste
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons safflower or vegetable oil
  • 3 ripe Mexican avocados, halved and seeded just before stuffing

To Prepare

  • In a bowl, mix the hearts of palm, artichoke hearts, red onion, red bell pepper and parsley.
  • To prepare the vinaigrette, pour the tarragon vinegar in a small bowl and mix it with the salt, sugar and black pepper. Pour the oils in a slow stream, whisking with a whisk or fork to emulsify. Pour it over the vegetables. Toss well to cover.
  • You may prepare the hearts of palm and artichoke salad ahead of time, cover and refrigerate for up to 2 days.
  • When ready to eat, halve and seed the avocados. Scoop the hearts of palm and artichoke salad on top and serve.

Avocado, Pistachio and Watercress Mousse

Mousse de Aguacate, Pistache y Berros
14 servings
Course: Appetizer, Dip, Spread
Cuisine: Mexican
Keyword: aguacate, Avocado, Berros, gelatin, Pistache, pistachios, watercress
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Chilling Time: 3 hours
Total Time: 3 hours 30 minutes
As I was describing this dish to a dear friend, she explained that the word I was looking for to describe it was "retro." Though I have tasted many avocado mousses, this one seems to be whimsical and addicting. Make this mousse ahead of time for a party or brunch and serve it with pieces of toast, crackers, smoked salmon or shrimp, and you will have an ongoing conversation piece as it disappears.

Ingredients

  • 3 (about 2 1/4 pounds) ripe Mexican avocados, halved and seeded
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 8 ounces cream cheese
  • 1 bunch (about 1 cup) watercress, leaves and top parts of stems chopped
  • 2 tablespoons (about 6) sliced scallions, white and light green parts only
  • 1 8-ounce can (2/3 cup) water chestnuts, drained and roughly chopped
  • 2/3 cup pistachios, shelled and roughly chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or more to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper, or more to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons kosher or sea salt, or more to taste
  • 2/3 cup cold water
  • 3 1/4 ounces (1 envelope) unflavored gelatin
  • 1/3 cup boiling water
  • Olive oil, to grease the mold
  • Toasted bread or crackers, optional
  • Smoked salmon, optional

To Prepare

  • Scoop out meat from avocados and mash it in a bowl with a fork. Pour in lime juice and combine well with a spatula. Incorporate the cream cheese, mixing it thoroughly with the avocados. Add the watercress, scallions, water chestnuts, pistachios, cayenne, black pepper, Worcestershire sauce and salt. Mix well.
  • Measure 2/3 cup cold water in a cup. Stir in the gelatin, mix and let it rehydrate for a minute or two. Add 1/3 cup boiling water and stir until it dissolves. Pour gelatin into the avocado mix, incorporating it with a spatula.
  • Lightly grease a ring mold with olive oil. Pour the avocado mix into the mold. Shake the mold softly a couple of times to level the mix. Cover it well and place it in the refrigerator until it is set, for at least 3 hours. You can leave it overnight or until you are ready to unmold. The avocado mousse will last beautifully in the refrigerator for 2 days. When ready to unmold, remove from the refrigerator, run the tip of a knife along the edges and flip onto a plate. You may need to shake the mold a couple of times, holding onto the plate as you do so.
  • You may serve it on a platter, retro style, with some watercress leaves in the center of the ring or on top. Or serve it already sliced with a side of smoked salmon and pieces of toast.

Avocado Soup

Sopa de Aguacate
4 to 6 servings
Course: Soup
Cuisine: Mexican
Keyword: Avocado, chicken broth, cilantro, feta, jalapeno, lime, onion, queso fresco, tortilla chips
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Though there are many kinds of avocado soups, this is my favorite. I tried it at the Mexican Ambassador’s residence a couple months ago. As Doña Rosita, the cook,  heard me mmm, and mmm, and mmmmmmm all over again, she came out of the kitchen with a pen and a piece of paper ready to dictate her recipe. What a surprise for such a tasty soup: just a handful of ingredients! Seems that what matters, again, is how you use them.

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon corn or safflower oil
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 cup white onion, roughly chopped
  • 1 cup cilantro leaves, rinsed and loosely packed
  • 1 jalapeno chile, sliced in half, seeding optional if less heat is desired
  • 3 large ripe Mexican avocados, cut in half, seed removed, flesh spooned out, about 3 cups ripe avocado flesh
  • 6 cups chicken broth, can substitute vegetable broth
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher or sea salt, more or less to taste
  • 1 1/2 cups tortilla crisps
  • 1 cup queso fresco, crumbled, may substitute farmers cheese or a mild feta

To Prepare

  • In a medium skillet, set over medium-low heat and add the butter and oil. Once the butter dissolves, stir in the onion and jalapeno. Let them cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion has softened. Its color will become translucent and the edges will begin to turn light brown, about 12 to 15 minutes. Incorporate the cilantro leaves and mix them in with the onions and jalapeno. Once the cilantro has wilted, 30 seconds to a minute later, turn off the heat.
  • Place the peeled and seeded avocados in the blender or food processor along with the cooked onion, jalapeno, cilantro, chicken broth, lime or lima juice and salt. Puree until smooth, taste for salt and add more if need be.
  • You may serve bowls garnished with tortilla crisps and cheese, or let your guests garnish to their liking.

Tortilla Crisps

Tiritas de Tortilla
Course: Garnish
Cuisine: Mexican
Keyword: Baked, corn tortillas, crisps, crunchy, fried, tortilla chips, traditional
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 25 minutes
How to make homemade tortilla crisps, either by frying or baking.

Ingredients

  • 5 corn tortillas, (5- to 6-inches wide)
  • Safflower or corn oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, more or less to taste

To Prepare

  • On a chopping board, slice tortillas in half and then vertically in half again. Then slice across in strips of 1/4 to 1/2 inch, depending on how thick you like them.
Traditional (fried):
  • In a medium skillet, add 1/4 inch oil and place over medium-high heat. Once it is hot, anywhere from 4 to 6 minutes, add tortilla pieces. When you add a tortilla to the oil, it should immediately start to bubble. Fry, stirring and flipping occasionally, until they achieve a golden tan and slightly brown color and are hard and crispy. Remove with a slotted spoon and place on a plate covered with paper towel. Sprinkle with salt to taste.
Baked:
  • Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray or gently brush a baking sheet with corn or safflower oil. Place tortilla pieces on top and spray or gently brush a light layer of oil. Judiciously sprinkle with salt to taste. Place in oven and bake for about 20 minutes, stirring and flipping once or twice until they achieve a golden tan and slightly brown color and appear hard and crisp.Remove from oven, let them cool and place in a bowl or container.

Chopped Egg and Avocado Sandwich

Sandwich de Huevo y Aguacate
3 to 4 servings
Course: Antojos, Main Course
Cuisine: Mexican
Keyword: aguacate, Avocado, egg salad, Eggs, huevo, Recipe, salad, Sandwich
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 0 minutes
My grandmother, who came from Poland but was raised in Mexico, used to make chopped egg salad and chopped seasoned avocados as table starters for special occasions. Then one day she decided to mix up the two, altered the spices a bit, and created a family hit. I have adapted her recipe by adding the Dijon and dill, and scooping a ton of it into a sandwich. The cheese is a caprice that I couldn't help adding, and I love how it tastes, but feel free to try it without it.

Ingredients

  • 3 large hard-boiled eggs, peeled and chopped
  • 3 tablespoons chopped white onion
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley leaves
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh dill, or 1/4 teaspoon dry dill
  • 1/2 teaspoon dijon mustard
  • 2 teaspoons mayonnaise
  • 1 (about 3/4 pound) large ripe Mexican avocado, halved, seeded, meat scooped out and diced
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher or coarse salt, or to taste
  • Ground black pepper, to taste
  • 6 to 8 slices brioche or challah, or any bread of your choice, lightly toasted
  • 4 slices Muenster, Mexican manchego, or chihuahua, or Monetery Jack cheese (optional)

To Prepare

  • In a bowl, mix the eggs, onion, parsley, dill, Dijon and mayonnaise together. Toss in the avocado, sprinkle with salt and pepper and gently mix well.
  • Lightly toast the bread slices. Scoop a generous amount of the chopped egg and avocado on a slice of bread, add a slice of cheese and top with another slice of bread.

14 comments on “Romancing The Avocado

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  1. Regarding the stuffed avocados, the instructions say to add the parsley (preceding text says cilantro), but the amount of parsley is not specified in the ingredients list. Your suggestion?

  2. Pati, you are right. I always have chiles. I have two tin cans full of a variety of dry ones and at least three salsas in the fridge. Hehe. Can’t change who we are, can we?

    1. Mónica, never enough chiles! What you will never, ever, see missing from my pantry, are cans of Chipotles in Adobo Sauce. As for my refrigerator, always, Jalapeños or Serranos, and most times Poblanos.

  3. I always tell my friends that they can count on my kitchen having three things because I’m Mexican: Limes, cilantro and avocados. Otherwise, they should take my passport away.
    ¡Felicidades por el artículo, Pati! Voy a hacer la prueba con una de tus recetas.
    Un beso!

  4. Such a fantastic article! We share your opinion in our house. In fact, in our daughters’ eyes, the avocado is afforded special worship. They will do just about anything if you promise them avocado.

    1. Hey,
      You are making me laugh! Well you are following the food steps of the Aztecs!! They seriously worshiped avocados too…

  5. Pati,
    I feel compelled to tell you that this dish was so enthusiastically received last night for our Valentine’s Day dinner at home. My husband, who is quite a skeptic, was talking about it over and over! He asked me to make it again!
    Thank you so much for sharing this!
    Laura Lant

    1. Hi Laura,
      Thank you so much! It is exactly comments and experiences as yours what truly make my work so worthwhile. I am happy to keep on sharing more and more… Very best, Pati

  6. Hi Pati,
    We share your love for Mexican food and Hass avocados, we eat them almost every day.
    Have you tried the “Aguacates Criollos” they are similar to Hass but have more flavor, specially when you eat them with their thin skin in a taco. I have only been able to buy them in Queretaro, Guanajuato and Michoacan. They are the very best avocados.
    We are Mexican Canadian Americans and we appreciate your writings, they inspire us to run to the kitchen.

    1. Hi David,
      Many thanks for your lovely message, so glad you like my posts. And yes!! I have tried the Criollos and absolutely die for those… however, I haven’t been able to find them outside of Mexico. A true delicacy… (!)

  7. I share your avocado love. I went thru college in Northern California eating thick slices of avocado on baguettes as my main meal. Who needs anything else? It’s still a favorite lunch.

    1. Indeed!!! When I am in a hurry, sometimes I just slice some ripe avocado into warm corn tortillas, sprinkle a little salt… And done!