Kitchen Shrink: Get out of the pits with California avocados


Summer reaps a bumper crop of California’s green beauties. The awesome avocado, in particular the Hass variety with its creamy texture and buttery, smoky flavor, has become a state treasure. Here is a little Hass history, avocado facts, tips for picking the perfect fruit and recipe ideas for expanding your guacamole horizons.

Although the avocado’s roots are entrenched in south-central Mexico circa 7000 B.C., the popular Hass has recent California origins. The “mother tree” was planted by mail carrier and amateur horticulturalist Rudolph Hass in the 1920s in his modest grove in La Habra Heights. Through serendipity, the tree grew a fruit with an unusual dark, knobby shell and a rich, succulent texture and flavor.

The original tree recently died at the age of 76, infancy in a tree’s world, after battling a terminal case of root rot. But the legacy of the fruit that bears Hass’ name lives on, and the tree’s offspring represents the most important avocado crop in the commercial market, accounting for 80 percent of avocados grown globally. Seven varieties are produced in this state, but Hass is the run-away champ, taking 95 percent of the total crop volume in California. The Bacon, Fuerte, Gwen, Pinkerton, Reed and Zutano share the remaining 5 percent of the market.

Once a luxury fruit exclusively for royals, the avocado is now a nondiscriminatory food crossing all socioeconomic and cultural barriers. In Brazil, avocado chunks are a popular ice cream topping; in the Philippines, they are blended with sugar and milk for a smooth and creamy dessert drink; and in Southwestern regions, the avocado is tossed into salsas, relishes, ceviches and grilled chicken dishes. Asian Pacific chefs blend avocados with sake, scallions and ginger, creating an exotic eastern version of classic guacamole. California foodies are substituting french fries for panko-dipped avocado frits, and constructing towers of heirloom tomatoes, avocado slices and rounds of buffalo mozzarella with a balsamic-virgin olive oil drizzle.

Avocados are a sodium- and cholesterol-free food, a powerhouse of almost 20 vitamins and minerals, phytonutrients and heart-healthy mono and polyunsaturated fats, making them a great substitute for saturated fat spreads and dips. They contain carotenoid lutein, a natural antioxidant that has been linked to maintaining healthy eyesight, and a natural plant sterol that is believed to support healthy cholesterol levels.

Toss some hearty chunks in shrimp cocktails, gazpachos or green salads for an added oomph of nutrients. Split it in half and stuff with chicken salad, roasted corn kernels or drizzle some olive oil and a pinch of sea salt and eat it straight up. Mashed, their smooth and creamy texture make a great baby food loaded with folic acid, potassium, fiber, vitamins C and E, iron and unsaturated fats that are known to boost central nervous system and brain development.

An avocado, like Baby Bear’s porridge, has to be “just right” before ready to eat. In the case of the Hass, the green, pebbly skin turns a dark, purplish-black when ripe. Other varieties keep their emerald hue even when ripe. The fruit should be firm, yet yield to gentle finger pressure. Avoid mushy or overly soft avocados and ones with cuts or blemishes on the skin. If the flesh is black or grayish inside, it has turned rancid. Choose a fruit that has good heft in the palm, is oval-shaped and average to large in size.

For a crash course in avocado ripening, the California Avocado Commission recommends placing the fruit in a brown paper bag at room temperature, usually for two to five days. To hasten the process, add a banana or apple, as these fruits emit ethylene gas, which is a ripening agent. Once cut, sprinkle with lemon or lime juice to prevent discoloration.

My contribution is a knock-your-flip-flops-off avocado seafood cocktail. It’s almost as scrumptious as handcrafted guacamole. Cheers!

Southwest Seafood Cocktail

Serves 2

(Where possible, use organics)

  • 10 ounces of assorted seafood - lobster, lump crab and scallops, cooked and chopped
  • 4 jumbo shrimp, cooked
  • 1 cup of vegetable cocktail juice
  • 1/3 cup of tomato juice
  • 1 teaspoon of lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon of Tabasco sauce
  • 1 tablespoon of yellow onion, minced
  • 1 tablespoon of Persian cucumber, minced
  • 1 teaspoon of minced cilantro
  • 1 Roma tomato, minced
  • 1 firm, ripe avocado, diced
  • Lemon twists

In a large glass bowl, combine all the ingredients for the sauce. Add the seafood and toss gently. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours. Evenly distribute the mixture into 2 cocktail glasses. Add 2 jumbo shrimps to the rim of each glass, top with the avocado chunks and garnish with lemon twists.