Pity the poor avocado. It’s often misunderstood.
It’s not the typical fruit that you eat fresh out of hand. Once an avocado is ripe, it goes bad quickly.
And avocados have a reputation of getting smashed, mixed with other ingredients and presto — you have guacamole.
Not that that is a bad thing.
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You can serve guacamole as a dip or as a spread for sandwiches or put a dollop of it on grilled chicken or a burger.
But the avocado has many more culinary uses other than making a big bowl of guacamole for Super Bowl — the day when Americans consume 160 million of them, according to the California Avocado Commission.
Fine Cooking’s February/March issue uses avocados in soup, salads and even a frozen yogurt.
Currently, Hass avocados from Mexico are in abundance and growers in California are shipping theirs out as well.
This time of year, avocados have a rich buttery taste and chances are you will find them at a decent price.
Like many other fruits, avocados have good-for-you qualities.
Nutrition experts have been touting them for years. Avocados are high in monounsaturated fat — the kind of fat that helps lower LDL (bad) and helps increase HDL (good) cholesterol.
Avocados are one of the five MUFAs ( monounsaturated fatty acids) in Prevention Magazine’s popular Flat Belly Diet. The diet calls for eating one MUFA at every meal.
Many varieties of avocados are available year-round, with the pebbly-skinned Hass being the most common grocery store variety. Hass avocados are shipped in from California and Mexico. Some stores also carry the smoother-skinned Fuerte variety from Florida. It is larger but has more water content.
The Fuerte is a favorite of Florine Mark, president and CEO of the Weight Watchers Group in Farmington Hills, Mich., because she gets more avocado and less calories and fat.
“I love avocados and honestly eat them every single day,” Mark says. “They are very good in the good kinds of fats, but higher in calories so I eat in one-eighth increments.”
Mark puts avocados on salads and tops grilled salmon with slices, saying it’s “absolutely delicious.” And she even uses mashed avocado on her face, saying it’s a good moisturizer.
“They are also very pretty to put on my kitchen table mixed with lemons and tomatoes and used as a centerpiece,” Mark says.
When using as a centerpiece, buy hard, unripe avocados and place them in a bowl — they’ll ripen in about four days.
Mark doesn’t make guacamole much because she says you “use too much avocado and then it becomes too fattening for me.”
Instead she mixes onions, tomatoes, lime juice, cilantro and cooked white or red beans and then adds chunks of avocado at the last.
“This way I get more of the chunky wonderful flavor of the avocado,” Mark says.
It wasn’t until Mark started Weight Watchers in Mexico and lived there for a year that she found her love for avocados.
Mark says “it’s almost as good as eating ice cream.”
“I think once you try it you are going to get hooked on it,” she says.
Serves: 4 / Preparation time: 15 minutes / Total time: 30 minutes
8 slices (1/4 inch thick or about 1/2 ounce) roasted garlic bread or other favorite bread
2 tablespoons butter, softened
1 cup mixed salad greens
Red onion slices, optional
1 large tomato
8 slices cooked bacon (see note)
8 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced into 8 slices
1 large ripe avocado, halved, pitted and sliced
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup cilantro leaves, optional
Have ready a panini maker, George Foreman-type grill or a skillet.
For each sandwich, butter one side of each slice of bread. Build your sandwich starting out with one slice of the bread, butter side down.
Place a layer of salad greens; red onion slices, if using; tomato slices; 2 slices cooked bacon; 2 slices mozzarella and several slices of avocado.
Sprinkle the avocado with salt and pepper to taste and 1 tablespoon cilantro leaves. Top with another slice of bread, butter side up.
Place in the panini maker or grill and follow manufacturer’s instruction for cooking.
Or place in the skillet and cook until golden brown on one side, turn over and cook on the other side.
Serve these sandwiches immediately or wrap and refrigerate until ready to serve.
Cook’s note: Cook bacon in the oven sprinkled with brown sugar for a real treat. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a sided baking sheet with foil and place a rack on top. Place the bacon slices on the rack and sprinkle with a couple tablespoons brown sugar. Bake about 20 minutes or until the bacon is cooked through and crisp. Or you can place the slices directly on the foil. When cooked through, transfer the slices to a paper towel and pat the grease off.
Nutrition: 421 calories (69 percent from fat ), 32 grams fat (13 grams sat. fat ), 19 grams carbohydrates, 16 grams protein, 472 mg sodium, 63 mg cholesterol, 4 grams fiber.
CHICKEN PAILLARDS WITH AVOCADO-POMEGRANATE SALSA
Serves: 4 / Preparation time: 20 minutes (plus marinating time) / Total time: 45 minutes
4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (4 to 6 ounces each)
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses
3/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 large lemon
Seeds from 1/2 medium pomegranate
3 small green onions, thinly sliced
2 medium firm-ripe avocados, pitted, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch dice
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped flat leaf parsley
1 teaspoon finely minced seeded jalapeño
1 teaspoon pomegranate molasses
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
Pound each chicken breast between pieces of plastic wrap until about 1/8-inch thick. Or, if using large chicken breasts, cut them in half horizontally so you have two thin, even pieces.
In a shallow bowl, stir in the lemon juice, 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses, salt and pepper.
Add the chicken, turn to coat well, and cover and refrigerate for at least 20 minutes and up to 1 hour.
To make the salsa: Finely grate the zest from the lemon and then squeeze out 1 tablespoon juice.
Place the pomegranate seeds, discarding any pith, into a bowl. Add the lemon zest and juice, green onions, avocado, olive oil, parsley, jalapeño, 1 teaspoon pomegranate molasses and teaspoon salt. Fold gently with a rubber spatula. Season to taste with additional salt.
To cook the chicken: Heat ½ tablespoon olive oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium heat. Add 2 chicken breasts and cook until lightly browned, about 3 minutes.
Flip and cook until lightly browned on the other side and cooked through, about 3 minutes more.
Transfer the chicken to a plate and cover to keep it warm. Repeat with the remaining ½ tablespoon of oil and 2 chicken breasts. Serve the chicken with the salsa spooned over the top.
Cook’s note: To remove the seeds from a pomegranate, cut ¼- inch off the top. Score the pomegranate on all sides. Place it in a bowl of water and pull apart. Push the seeds out using your fingers. The white pith floats to the top and the seeds sink. Strain out the seeds.
Adapted from Fine Cooking magazine February/March issue.
Nutrition: 430 calories (61 percent from fat ), 29 grams fat (4.5 grams sat. fat ), 20 grams carbohydrates, 26 grams protein, 310 mg sodium, 65 mg cholesterol, 9 grams fiber.
AVOCADO AND CRISPY PROSCIUTTO SALAD
Serves: 4 / Preparation time: 10 minutes / Total time: 15 minutes
2 thin slices prosciutto
4 cups mixed greens
1/2 cup thinly sliced onions
1/4 cup sliced olives
1 avocado, halved, pitted, cut into 16 slices
1/2 cup cilantro leaves
Black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons olive oil, optional
Heat a small skillet over medium heat. Cut the prosciutto in 1-inch pieces. Add to the skillet and fry until crisp.
Remove from skillet and set aside.
Divide the mixed greens among four salad plates. Arrange onions and olives on greens.
Top each salad with avocado slices and sprinkle with cilantro leaves and black pepper. Drizzle with olive oil if desired.
Nutrition per serving: 85 calories (84 percent from fat), 8 grams fat (1.5 grams sat. fat), 4 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams protein, 172 mg sodium, 3 grams fiber.
Note: The fresh flavors of this salad are great on their own. For those who must have dressing, try a drizzle of olive oil. The crispy prosciutto is a nice contrast with the soft buttery texture of avocado.