Today: Our new favorite thing to do to an avocado (plus a DIY curry powder to oust the faded jar in your spice drawer).
It seems foolish to do very much to a ripe avocado. That's why we've advised layering it on toast with only scant dressing; scattering thick slices on a salad or BLT; leaving creamy, unbroken lumps in guacamole; and eating it plain with a spoon. All of these are Food52-approved uses of nature's butter, because they don't mess with a good thing.
So everything about this recipe from Indian cookbook author Julie Sahni feels, at first, a little dicey -- for one thing, you're going to cook a perfectly good avocado. But just a little. And you'll season it not with restraint, but at a full clamor: Chiles, cilantro, onions, and lime will feel familiar; less so the mustard seeds and curry leaves and seven different spices (assuming you go all the way and make Sahni's suggested master curry blend, which I suggest you do).
But rather than muting or drowning out avocado's subtleties, these bold strokes frame and magnify them. Much like the guacamole we love most, a vibrant sauce gives avocado something to play against, while keeping it intact and fully present, not at risk of losing itself in the din.
You'll chop your avocado in big pieces; then, on the same board, gently blend in a few other fresh ingredients -- minced chiles, cilantro, curry leaves, and lime -- in the efficient manner of a knife pesto.
Next you'll sizzle mustard seeds, garlic, onion, and curry powder in rapid succession to make a lit-up curry and allium paste, then finally turn off the heat, scrape in your knife guacamole, and stir it around.
In this simple division of ingredients, you're seasoning the avocado twice -- first with the fresh, fiesty types, then the rich, meaty ones. The result, not surprisingly, is electric. Every element balances another: spice on cream, hot on cool, earthy and smoky on grassy and clean. The richness of the avocado, like a cooling yogurt raita or lassi, slakes the heat.
More: Next up -- try making your own paneer.
Even if you, like me, haven't been fond of cooked avocado in the past, you'll like this -- because you're not really cooking it, just letting everything latch on in a still-warm pan, fusing and melting it together at the edges. By the time you get the avocado back into a serving bowl, it will be at a very lively room temperature.
While you can use your own favorite curry powder, I stand behind Sahni's recipe, which will leave you with a bounty. We haven't had any trouble putting it to use.
I sprinkled it into an olive oil-fried bread panzanella -- both in the lime dressing and with the toasting bread. Our Assistant Editor Sarah Jampel has roasted cauliflower with it, and substituted it into a sweet potato and tempeh curry -- omitting all the spices that were called for, adding only cayenne for extra heat. We also talked about stirring it into yogurt. And of course, having a ready supply of spice blend puts curried avocado within everyday reach.
Sahni recommends serving the avocado as a side dish (I'd love it with a good tandoori chicken, or a mess of vegetable dishes), but we treated it like a dip for naan. It would be an unexpected spread for other flatbreads or sandwiches, or brunch with eggs and crispy roasted potatoes. And, true to its nature, it too would be good eaten with a spoon.
From Classic Indian Vegetarian and Grain Cooking (William Morrow and Company, 1985)
1 large ripe avocado
Juice of 1 lime or 1 small lemon
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro
8 curry leaves (fresh or dry, optional)
Coarse salt, to taste
1 tablespoon coconut oil, light sesame oil, or light vegetable oil
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 teaspoon Curry Powder Master Recipe (see below)
2 to 4 hot green chilies, minced
Curry Powder Master Recipe:
1/2 cup coriander seeds
15 dry red chili pods (optional)
1 1/2 teaspoons cumin seeds
1 1/2 teaspoons mustard seeds
1 1/2 teaspoons fenugreek seeds
1 1/2 teaspoons black peppercorns
15 to 20 curry leaves (fresh or dry, optional)
3 tablespoons turmeric powder
Got a genius recipe to share -- from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected]. Thanks to our Associate Editor Marian Bull and Heidi Swanson for this one!
Photos by James Ransom