The internet—that digital sinkhole, a waiting room for articles, pictures, stories, interviews, recipes. We surf blithely, as its shadowy peripheries remain mysteries to us. Last night, I found myself face to face with a late-stage mutation of millennial gastronomic fascinations: a recipe for Avocado Mac ‘n Cheese.
Originally conceived of in 2015 by Nicole Iizuka of PopSugar food, the recipe presents itself as a healthy, avocado-laden take on the comfort food favorite. And while the cheesy pasta is known—and allowed—to take many forms, this version incensed online audiences when it manifested as a recipe video on Glow by PopSugar’s Facebook page over the weekend. Twitter users took to the platform to defend the integrity of their favorite cheesy childhood snack or decry the seemingly boundless limits of the contemporary avocado moment. Food media responded accordingly, documenting the frenzy and pondering the integrity of the recipe. So like a brave Spartan, I preheated my oven and set sail to pay a visit to this creamy green Helen of Troy, this baffling recipe that launched a thousand tweets.
The recipe for “Comforting Avocado Mac ‘n Cheese” is simple. 12 ingredients total. I had half of the ingredients in my house, so I headed to the grocery store to finish stocking my mise en place. It was at the avocado display that things first went awry. I asked a fellow shopper what she thought about the recipe. Would she try it? Does it sound like a good idea? Our hands darted around the tender green fruits, squeezing the rough skins in search of a perfect mushy give. She gave me a look that balanced between disgust and incredulity. Why? She mused. Why does that have to exist? "I like my mac and cheese with cheese and I like my avocado on toast." I nodded in sympathetic agreement. She wished me luck, she laughed, and we parted ways.
Back in my kitchen, ingredients in tow, I set out to bring this recipe to reality. With diligence, I toasted almond flour in coconut oil and set that aside. Meanwhile, I brought my pasta water to a boil. In my Magic Bullet (shout out to my favorite kitchen appliance), I combined two whole soft avocados, basil, lime juice, some goat cheese, a clove of garlic, and red pepper flakes. The recipe calls for a splash of skim milk, but I used whole because I don’t believe in skim milk. What came out of my blender was a creamy, tangy, avocado mousse. It was strange, but not sickening; a fluffy soft smoothie the consistency of yogurt. After draining my pasta, I folded in the green puree, sprinkled it with mozzarella cheese and the toasted almond flour, and popped it in the oven.
As it cooked, I rewatched the recipe video, which said that avocado is “a healthier substitute for cheese.” A small semantic unpacking of that statement would reveal that yes, in many ways, avocado is healthier than cheese, but no, avocado is not a substitute. Cheese is cheese, while avocado is a fruit. It’s an alternative perhaps, but in no way is it a substitute. Call me a traditionalist; I’ll just shrug my shoulders and agree with you.
I pulled the pan out of the oven and called out to my roommate. She shuffled out of her room and begrudgingly took her plate. Her apprehension did not bode well for the rest of our dinner. We dusted our plates with salt and pepper and took our first bites. To be friendly, the meal was earthy; to be honest, it tasted like dirt. The recipe called for whole wheat pasta, which only magnified the musky depth of the avocado. Cooked avocado is a rarity for a reason: the heat renders the fruit’s refreshing flesh mushy. The creamy tang of the goat cheese, while a bright addition, did little to satisfy an urge for cheese. And the scantily grated mozzarella on top created few, if any, gooey cheese strings. The salty comfort of mac and cheese was nowhere to be tasted. In its place was a decent, at best, plate of whole wheat elbow pasta, with a moussey sauce that kind of gathered around the pasta’s ridges.
Maybe it was a branding problem. Maybe I wanted mac and cheese and got something different. Maybe I was too caught off guard by the unconventional approach to a beloved cafeteria favorite to make space for this lower-calorie version. But maybe the recipe was also bad. And maybe avocado, blended, was never meant to adorn pasta.
So, I finally arrived. I docked my ship on the shores of this recipe’s coast, brazen, bewildered and hungry. I blended and baked and tasted. And then I left, full, a little annoyed, and probably none the wiser.