For too long, the noble avocado has sat on the sidelines, a victim of the common yet misguided perception that this fruit is too fatty. But holy guacamole! Avocados are back! Now that we’re all getting smarter about healthy fats, avocados are finally getting the respect they deserve. Their velvety texture, delicious flavor and impressive nutrient profile make them a perfectly digestible slow-burning fuel – and an excellent part of the active person’s whole-foods diet.
This tropical “vegetable-fruit” is renowned for its rich, buttery flavor. Some buying tips: If slight pressure causes the avocado to give just a little, it’s ripe; if it leaves a small dent, the fruit is too ripe to slice, but ideal for mashing; if a little pressure leaves a large dent, it’s past its prime. Avocados are often sold hard to prevent bruising. Let ‘em ripen on your countertop (speed the process by keeping them in a paper bag).
Avocados are rich in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats and vitamin E. They also contain a significant amount of a cholesterol-lowering phytosterol called beta-sitosterol. Ounce for ounce, avocados deliver 60 percent more potassium than bananas, and they’re a good source of folate, vitamin B6, fiber and a variety of antioxidants. Clinical studies have shown that avocado oil can reduce blood cholesterol. Other studies show that the avocado is actually a friend to weight control: Its good fats speed your resting metabolic rate, moderate your blood sugar and satisfy your appetite, so you’re less likely to binge on less healthy treats.
- To peel and seed an avocado, use a heavy chef’s knife to slice the fruit in half, working around the stone. Gently twist the two sides apart to reveal the flesh. The seed will be stuck to one side. To remove it, firmly whack it with the chef’s knife so the blade sinks in a bit, and then carefully twist and pull to remove the seed. To remove the skin, slip a spoon between the flesh and the darker, harder outer skin, literally lifting each half out of its papery derma. If that fails, turn the halves face down and use a paring knife to perforate the skin so you can remove it in strips.
- Apply some lemon or lime juice to the surface of the fruit. Avocados have a gorgeous green-yellow flesh that quickly oxidizes and discolors once exposed to air. The vitamin C in citrus is a perky antioxidant that will help the avocado hold its stunning hue.
- When storing cut fruit in the fridge (it’ll last one to three days), cover it in plastic wrap, pressing the wrap directly against any exposed fruit surfaces to seal out air. Puréed avocado can be kept frozen for three to six months in an airtight container.Eat Up!
Once peeled and pitted, the avocado is a versatile ingredient that can stand in for meats and cheeses in many dishes. For international flair, go for Mexican flavor with guacamole (see Web Extra!). Or use the avocado in braised curries and kormas for an Indian bent. Other options:
- On sandwiches, smear it on in place of butter, mayo or cheese.
- Give healthy heft to salads by adding avocado wedges or cubes, or mash into salad dressings. Dandy in omelets, too.
- Enjoy as a delicious solo snack: Serve an avocado half in the skin, seasoned to taste with a bit of salt and red pepper paste in the seed hollow.
- Trade chips and ranch dip for raw veggies and avocado spread (great with jicama or cucumber slices).
- Use avocados as a condiment for grilled fish or poultry: Place the flesh of one avocado in a blender and purée, adding one large handful of cilantro leaves, four scallions, the juice of one lime, one Serrano chili pepper and a quarter-cup of olive oil. The resulting sauce will make your toes curl and your taste buds say thanks!
Andrew Zimmern is an associate editor, food critic and restaurant columnist for Mpls.St.Paul Magazine. His writing has appeared in NWA WorldTraveler, Buon Gusto, NOW and HAMPTONS magazine.