Kitchen Shrink: Make a pit stop with mighty avocados

KITCHEN SHRINK:

I was chatting with a natural food guru about what he eats to stay so fit and youthful looking. Turns out he tends to overdose on avocados. This fruit, that's botanically a berry, has become so popular it's given quinoa the shaft and thrown peanut butter under the school bus. The versatile avocado can be incorporated into every meal, including snacks and desserts, along with cocktails and smoothies.

Here's a rundown on this culinary rock star that was once a luxury reserved only for royals.

Seven varieties are produced in this state, but Hass is the run-away champ, snagging 95 percent of the total California crop volume. Hass, along with its close cousins — Reed, Pinkerton and Gwen are Guatemalan varieties characterized by rounder shapes, skin that tends to be pebbly and thick, and flesh that has high oil content, making them creamy, buttery and indulgent. When Hass ripens its skin tends to turn dark purple or even black, while the others stay bright green.

The three remaining varieties of distant cousins, Bacon, Zutano and Fuerte are of Mexican ancestry, typically more pear or oblong-shaped with smooth green skin, and flesh not quite as oily and rich as the Guatemalan types, but still nutty and delicious. The Bacon avocado, by the way, does not taste like bacon, rather it was named after James Bacon, a horticulturalist who hybridized this variety over 60 years ago.

All varieties of avocados are a sodium- and cholesterol-free powerhouse packed with almost two dozen vitamins and minerals, including A, B, D and E, copper, iron, potassium and antioxidant lutein to amp up blood, bone and eye health, keep skin smooth, supple, and blemish free, calm jittery nerves and maintain fluid balance. This mighty fruit also rich in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats makes a great substitute for artery-clogging monsters, especially dips, dressings and spreads.

Once the cornerstone of Mexican cuisine the beloved avocado has now transcended ethnicities, embraced by Italian, French, Middle Eastern, North and South American and Asian palates. Start your breakfast with a mash of avocado and lemon juice thickly slathered on a brioche bun or slice of seedy whole wheat bread. Top with scrambled eggs and chives or smoked salmon and capers. Rustle up an avocado eggs Benedict, frittata, stuffed French toast, breakfast burrito with spicy black beans, fresh cilantro and salsa, or a protein-dense breakfast bowl with red and white quinoa, poached eggs, and avocado chunks drizzled with a citrus vinaigrette dressing.

Or for a healthy breakfast on the fly, whip up a frothy green smoothie blending kale and avocado with Greek yoghurt or coconut milk, and almond butter. Mashed, their smooth and creamy texture makes a great baby food with a motherlode of folic acid, fiber, vitamins C and E, iron and unsaturated fats.

For some afternoon and evening delights toss chunks of avocado into a zesty southwest shrimp or lobster cocktail, gazpacho, or a green or Cobb salad for an added oomph of flavor and nutrients. Split in half and stuff the hollows with curry chicken salad, smoked salmon salad or roasted pepper, black bean and corn, or drizzle olive oil, a pinch of sea salt and cayenne pepper, and eat it straight up.

Grill slices and toss in pastas or risottos, top pizzas or flatbreads. Construct sushi rolls with avocado strips and crab, along with raw and pickled vegetables, or toss in soba or glass noodle salads. Top burgers of all manners with mashed or sliced avocados, incorporate into roast beef, chicken, turkey or vegetarian sandwiches, or blend in a seafood chowder.

For just desserts concoct an avocado and bittersweet chocolate mousse, blend in a tropical fruit salad with pineapple and mango chunks and fresh mint, or drizzle avo slices with your favorite liqueur, and add the tipsy topping to gelatos or sorbets. Then wash it all down nicely with refreshing and invigorating avocado cocktails, including margaritas, daiquiris, pina coladas or zippy martinis with a splash of orange liqueur and fresh lime juice. Cheers!

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Recipe: French Avocado Toast

Ingredients: 3 large ripe but firm avocados; juice from half a Meyer lemon; 1 shallot, minced; splash of vermouth; 1 tablespoon of fresh chopped French herbs (chives, chervil, tarragon, lavender, your choice); salt and pepper to taste.

Method: In a large glass bowl, add avocados and coarsely chop. Blend in remaining ingredients. Spread on a toasted baguette or favorite bread or toast.

Catharine Kaufman can be reached by e-mail: kitchenshrink@san.rr.com

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