In the world of produce, avocados are an almost perfect food. They're high in protein and about 20 other important nutrients. They also contain good-for-you monounsaturated fats that can help reduce the amount of cholesterol in the body. Did we mention that avocados are also pretty darned delicious?
If they weren't so obviously green, it would be hard to group them with the likes of broccoli, spinach and other nutritious plant-based foods. Avocados are like the vegan version of butter. In fact, avocados have picked up some interesting nicknames over the years that reflect their status as the butter substitute of the plant world. Avocados have been called butter pears, vegetable butter, and our favorite, "midshipmen's butter" from their use on sailing ships headed back to the old world.
This native of Mexico is a real success story, too. It's now cultivated in South America, North America, Africa, Asia, Europe, Australia and New Zealand. Where a decade ago you may have only seen avocados in the pricy, specialty section of the produce department, they're now as common as Brussels sprouts, and much more popular. As the main ingredient for guacamole, around Super Bowl time they may be the most popular item in the produce department.
Let's take a look at five scrumptious ways to use avocado. A couple of them are old favorites, but one or two are guaranteed to surprise you.
Use Them in Baby Food
As a first food, avocado is a nutrient-dense fruit (actually it's a big berry) that's available year round in many parts of the country. Avocados are also a pretty safe food source. Most avocado varieties have thick, tough skins that make them naturally resistant to pests and low in pesticides. Avocados can be a flexible base for other ingredients, too. Mixing applesauce (or another fruit puree) with mashed avocado can provide some variety as well as fast prep. For a lip smacking meal, use your imagination. When it's paired with an avocado, your budding gourmet is more likely to eat his food than wear it.
You knew this was going to make the list, right? Guacamole has taken center stage as the premiere dip for special occasions (and it may be the only green ingredient your hubby actually looks forward to eating). It doesn't matter if it's game day, Cinco de Mayo or next Saturday, if you have guacamole, it's a party. The really great thing about this deluxe appetizer-cum snack-food is that it's good for you, too. You can't say that for a heaping bowl of nachos.
Sure, guacamole contains oil, but so do lots of other special occasion indulgences. Guacamole has the distinction of being a bona fide oxymoron, though -- a delicious health food. The oil is what makes avocados so creamy. It also contributes to the calorie count at around 276 calories per avocado (or possibly a bit more for oil rich Hass and Fuerte avocados). That's high, but think of it this way: You could be chowing down on cheese and crackers or sour cream dip. Heck, you could be eating pizza, chicken wings or any number of other foods that are high in saturated fat. Substitute guacamole and you'll get a filling, delicious appetizer -- and score some body-building and heart-healthy nutrients like pantothenic acid, lutein, iron, folate, potassium, magnesium, phosporous, selenium, manganese, copper, zinc, and vitamins A, C, E, K, B1, B2 and B6.
For the best homemade guacamole, add a little finely minced tomato, and try including a pinch of garlic powder and cumin. If you have leftovers, or need to store guacamole in the fridge for a while, place a sheet of plastic wrap in contact with the surface of the guacamole to keep it from turning gray. (This happens when the avocado oil begins to oxidize from contact with the air.) You can also spritz a little lemon or lime juice on the top.
We have a few guacamole recipes that will make halftime at your house pure pleasure:
Add them to an Omelette
You're probably familiar with avocado as an ingredient in cold dishes like dips, salads and sandwiches, but you can add it to warm dishes, too. Avocado and Cheese Stuffed Enchiladas, Spanish Rice with Avocado and avocado soup are all hot dishes that benefit from the creamy texture and mild flavor of avocado. When paired with cilantro and a little cumin, it's a marriage of smooth, spicy and just a hint of sweet.
For a homemade example of the way avocado can transform a classic, try adding avocado to a simple Three Egg Omelette. It can be substituted for some of the cheese requirement and adds just the right consistency to make omelette filling moist but not runny. Avocado tastes great with bacon, chorizo, linguica (Portuguese sausage), shrimp, mushrooms, tomatoes, onion and asparagus. Once you've tried it once or twice, start adding ingredients for a meal worthy of a Champagne brunch.
Here are a few tips for adding avocado to an omelette:
- Have the avocado prepped and ready to go before you start the omelette. Eggs cook fast and aren't forgiving.
- Here's a great avocado dicing trick: Split an avocado with a sharp knife, and remove the pit. Make slits in the meat at about half inch intervals, and then make another series of slits perpendicular to the first. Don't pierce the avocado skin. Now your avocado half will look like a grid. Push the skin from the back, and the diced segments will just fall into a bowl. It's pretty nifty and a lot less messy than the scoop method.
- Include the avocado when you add the cheese. This will probably be the last step before folding the omelette in half. The hot top layer of egg will heat the avocado and melt the cheese.
Make Avocado Ice Cream
If you think avocado belongs on a chip or nestled in a lettuce leaf, you've got a surprise coming. Avocado has a mild flavor that makes a great dessert base. In other parts of the world, avocado is used in ice cream, milkshakes, custards and more. If you like the idea of making a show-stopping dessert that's as attention getting as it is tasty, why not give avocado ice cream a try -- and don't wait until St. Patty's day to do it. The holidays are a great time to break with tradition and expand your dessert horizons with something more exotic than apple pie and sugar cookies. There are lots of avocado ice cream recipes around -- really -- but we love this one. It's easy and pretty foolproof: Avocado Ice Cream
We really couldn't leave this one out. Stuffing vegetables and fruits is a time honored way to expand the scope of what the average apple, mushroom, tomato, bell pepper -- or avocado -- has to offer. With avocado, though, stuffing can make a good meal a great one. Let's be honest, that tuna stuffed tomato looks beautiful, but is it a satisfying meal? Once you eat the tuna, what have you got? You're left with a tomato skin and not much else.
Stuffing an avocado is a different proposition altogether. Remember, the oil content in most avocados makes them pretty filling by themselves. Add shrimp, salmon, crab or smoked turkey and you have a meal with benefits. Top it off with bacon, cheese or croutons and that's about as delicious as any weekday lunch has a right to be. The tough outer skin of an avocado makes it a stable bowl for filling, and you can scoop out every little bit of the good stuff without fear of structural collapse. Now, that's bliss. You probably know how the stuffing thing is done, but try our Chicken Avocado Boat recipe anyway. It's heated, so you'll get the texture, flavor and some tummy-satisfying warmth, too.
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