Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Other Green Food

Saucyman – what else is there to do with avocados besides guacamole? Hass and Peppers

If you ever get stuck at home, staring at an avocado – wondering what to do with it before it gets to squishy, the website avocado.org has 100s of ideas. The site is work safe, but be forewarned – they call for lots of jarred mayonnaise and well over half of their recipes are for different kinds of guacamole. Despite this treasure trove of guacamole variations none of these recipes replicate the first batch of guacamole I ever tasted: It was exurban Midwest in the late 80s - hair was big and ties were skinny - and a friend’s mom was trying this new Mexican dip she had read about in Family Circle Magazine. Since avocados were rare and prohibitively expensive, the magazine suggested substitutions – more of a mockamole really - a packet of taco seasoning, Miracle Whip and frozen peas blended together. The color was frighteningly correct but the taste was enough to make me believe I didn’t like guacamole for a long time.

Before delving into non-guac ways to use an avocado, there are some peculiarities about this fruit that is used culinarily as a veg. Understanding some of the unique properties of the avocado will help a cook make better choices in the kitchen. And cook, depending on how rigid you are with the definition, might not be the best word to describe for using the avocado in the kitchen. Because of an abundance of phenolic compounds, avocados turn bitter when they are heated. It is a rubber egg/evil custard type of flavor and smell that is an assault on the taste buds on par with frozen peas/Miracle Whip.

Besides containing a mother lode of phenols, the avocado is rich in enzymes. It is this enzymatic action that browns the flesh of an avocado quickly, but not all the enzymes are bad. The tree fruit is full of lecithin. Lecithin is a natural emulsifier; it is extracted industrially from mustard and soy as a binding agent for use in such commercial products as mayo and Miracle Whip. On a smaller scale, foods that are rich in lecithin can hold nearly endless amounts of liquids – for this reason you can add copious amounts of acidic liquids (all of which prevent browning) like the tomato, lime juice or vinegar to guacamole without it leaking.

And fat: 20-30% of the avocado is fat - slightly less than the fat content of cream. The fat content along with the presence of lecithin make the addition of mayonnaise a curious choice to for any recipe – avocados are the perfect binding agent, they should be used, as Alice Waters does with Chez Panisse’s Green Goddess Dressing, as a substitute for mayo – making dishes fresher, lighter, natural.

There are dishes where the avocado is a good fit – like substituting slices of avocado for fresh mozzarella in Caprese salad but mostly if you are going to use the avocado in your kitchen, play to its strengths – it is rich, will help bind foods together and is better served unheated – Instead of mixing canned crab with mayo and serving on an avocado half, try mashing half an avocado with crab, lime and maybe some wasabi. Use it as a substitute for mayo in deviled eggs. Use instead of mayo or butter on a sandwich. Or enjoy the half smoothie/half milkshake drink you find at Vietnamese restaurants of avocado blended with cream, milk and sugar. In science, the lack of heat is always cold - with avocados the lack of heat doesn't mean guacamole.

1 comment:

dani said...

avocado/cucumber salad - w/shredded carrots (few), salt, tuscan dressing & parmesan cheese (little). mostly cucumbers & avocado. summertime in a salad. in california, summertime anytime. yum.