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Avocados: Nature's Butter

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Every week we get Down & Dirty, in which we break down our favorite unique seasonal fruits, vegetables, and more.

We can't get enough of avocados around here, and if you can't either, we've got ideas for enjoying them from now till next week.


Full disclosure: we're totally biased when it comes to avocados' smooth, buttery flesh -- to remind you, we’re card-carrying members of The Avocado Toast Fan Club. We can't take credit for starting the club, though; that goes to European sailors all way back in the 1700s. They used to spread their mashed avocados on biscuits, and it became known as “midshipman’s butter.”

The fruit (and berry, actually, if we're being specific) has a reputation for being an aphrodisiac, probably thanks to the Aztecs and their name for it: ahuacatl. (Avocados often hang in pairs on trees, and resemble a male body part. We’ll let you work that out.) Over time, the avocado became known by a number of different names (like alligator pear and avocado pear), so when the fruit became popular in the US, there was considerable debate as to which name to go with. Eventually avocado was agreed upon, and dictionary publishers were informed of the correct spelling, as well as that the plural would be "avocados" rather than "avocadoes."

What to Look For
Although there are over a thousand varieties of avocados -- a very small percentage of which are grown in the US -- the vast majority are Hass (rhymes with "pass") avocados. Hass avocados turn a deep green-black when they ripen (this never happens on the tree), but color isn’t the best cue to use, as other varieties stay lighter green. Choose avocados that have a uniform feel -- gently squeeze them with your palm, not your fingers (as that will bruise the fruit). If they feel firm, but give a little, they're ready to eat. The fun way to tell if your avocado is ripe is to pop off the stem (1). If you see a yellow-green patch (2), you’ve probably got a perfectly ripe avocado, but a brown patch means it’s past its prime. Discretely set it back on the pile.

Have you ever opened up what seemed like a perfectly ripe avocado only to find dark spots or stringy flesh? Your avocado picking skills aren’t to blame, there’s no way you could have known. Stringy avocados are either from young trees (they’ll start to produce better fruit as the tree matures) or were improperly stored. Discolored flesh could be due to excessive handling or a bumpy ride to get to your plate.

More: Ready to visit a farmers market to stock up on summer fruits? Find one near you on Real Time Farms.

How to Store and Prep
Avocados can be stored on your counter, or in a paper bag to hasten their ripening. (Add an apple or a banana to the bag to speed it up even more.) Once they’re ripe, they can be stored in the refrigerator for a couple of days.

If you’re confident with your knife skills, cut the avocado in half around the seed (3), twist it apart, and strike the knife blade into the seed (don’t get crazy -- watch your fingers and start from only a couple of inches above the seed). Then just twist the knife to release the seed. Or use a spoon to safely dig it out instead; we’ve had our fair share of kitchen mishaps. Another less-finger-threatening option is to cut the avocado in quarters around the pit, twist to separate, and then use your fingers to pry the seed out. As an added bonus, once quartered, the peel comes off easily.


How to Use
We put avocado on and in everything, so it might be easier to discuss ways we don’t recommend using avocados. (Give us a minute. We’ll come up with something.) Branch out from basic avocado toast and pair them with radishes or sweet potatoes and arugula. Tuck them into a crab roll or a taco. And don’t forget about salads; pair avocado with charred corn, grilled peaches, roasted carrots, or broiled pineapple. Dip everything in sight into a giant bowl of guacamole -- classic, grilled, or with a Southeast Asian twist. (Unfortunately it's a myth that putting the seed in the dip will prevent it from browning, so stick with lemon or lime juice.)

Avocados even shine in desserts. Try them in gelato, chocolate mousse, or a shake. Needless to say, pick up a bag of avocados, and you’re well on your well to at least five delicious dinners. Still not satisfied? We’ve got a whole week’s worth of ideas for you, and we can’t wait to hear how you’ll be eating avocados in the days ahead.

Friday: Full Belly Stuffed and Baked Avocado 
Saturday: Fried Avocado Tacos with Sesame and Lime 
Sunday: Avocado y Huevos Caliente 
Monday: Patricia Wells’ Zucchini Carpaccio with Avocado and Pistachios 
Tuesday: Plum Avocado Summer Salad 
Wednesday: Avocado Lassi 
Thursday: Avocado Caesar Salad 

Photos by James Ransom 

Tags: down and dirty, diagrams, avocado, avocados, alligator pear, lindsay-jean hard, special diets

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