Go beyond guac and use this luscious fruit for creative meals
The next time you hope to get lucky, have some avocado. As far back as 200 B.C., the ancient Mayans and Aztecs ate the fruit to enhance sexual desirability. But there are plenty of other reasons to eat it, including a dose of lutein and zeaxanthin, antioxidants that protect your vision; good-for-you monounsaturated fat, which keeps your heart healthy; and fiber to fill you up so you feel satisfied. And guacamole isn’t the only way to enjoy it—add these ideas from Brenda Cusick, a California-based avocado rancher and supplier whose goods can be found at AvocadoDiva.com.
No, not you (unless you wish)—Cusick is talking about au naturale food. “Avocados are best enjoyed cut into slices and eaten plain, without salt, lime, or other seasonings so you can taste the different flavors and nuances, such as a smoky undertone or nutty note," she says. Hass avocados from California make up about 95 percent of what’s available in markets, and these are especially savory during summer months when they’re in-season, Cusick says. You can also check out farmer’s markets or sites such as Cusick’s to buy some of the 500 other avocado varieties grown in California and try out all the different flavors.
A little vino helps everyone loosen up, and it also helps expose an avocado’s true flavors. “White wines with a note of citrus contrast well with the avocado’s buttery flavor and cleanse the palate so you can taste all the avocado’s subtleties,” Cusick says. Pour a glass of pinot grigio or a chenin blanc to complement her avocado-on-a-stick appetizer: Pierce a grape tomato, a few leaves of cilantro, and a cube of avocado with a toothpick kabob-style.
If you’re watching your weight, swapping mayo or cheese with avocado can lighten up your sandwich and add 20 vitamins and minerals. Using one-fifth of an avocado (thinly sliced or spread on the bread like any condiment) instead of 2 tablespoons of mayo or a slice of American cheese cuts 40 to 50 calories and three to four grams of fat!
At Firenze Osteria, the California restaurant owned by Fabio Viviani of Top Chef fame, they serve up an ice-cold avocado martini featuring fresh lime juice, mango, and rum. “It’s cool, smooth, sweet, and sour all at the same time,” Cusick says. Try it at home: Rub the rim of a martini glass with an orange slice and dip it in orange-flavored sugar to coat the rim. In a martini shaker, muddle 2 basil leaves. Add ice, ½ pureed small avocado, the juice of 3 lime wedges, 1 oz mango rum, 1 oz mango vodka, and ¾ oz simple syrup, and shake well. Strain into prepared martini glass and enjoy.
Avocados come in all sizes from teeny Mexicolas to the giant and rare Matthew Davis, which can weight more than 2 pounds. “Tiny avocados make wonderful appetizers, and the Mexicola variety, which has an edible skin, can even be pickled in vinegar and spices to make a zesty, unique topping for salads,” Cusick says. She likes large avocados such as Nabals, Reeds, and the Matthew Davis for green goddess dressing for kale chips or veggies. Save the firm skin from the avocado to use as a serving bowl for the dip, she adds.
Once considered a food faux pas, cooking an avocado is now a foodie favorite and advocated by big-time celebrity chefs. “Nigela Lawson is baking them, and Bobby Flay is slapping them on the grill,” Cusick says. For a vegan-friendly lunch or dinner, brush a grill or grill pan with olive oil and plop half an avocado (pit removed) face-down on the heat for 3 to 4 minutes, then fill the cavity with spicy salsa. Or whisk an egg and season with salt, pepper, and garlic, then pour it into an avocado half and bake for 4 to 5 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit until the egg is set for an easy breakfast.