The Mexican avocado revisited: Getting to know its sweet side
Having written about the avocado earlier, I was recently inspired to take another look at this remarkably versatile Mexican favorite, and see it as the fruit it is, rather than as the vegetable it is so often considered, and use it in sweet, instead of savory, dishes.
Trying to come up with a title for the article, I thought of "Avocado Redux" (too pretentious) or maybe a kitschy reference to horror films, perhaps "Son of Avocado" (too weird.) "Revisited," on the other hand, seemed just the right word because almost every time I think about avocados, which is a lot (I'm a food writer, okay?) I revisit the avocado orchards in the countryside on the outskirts of Uruapan, in the Mexican state of Michoacan.
Some years ago, on a trip through that beautiful state, my husband and I were walking along the edge of a huge expanse of avocado trees on our way to an old balneario, or bathing spot, when we came to a long bridge made of rope that spanned a deep ravine. Knowing my fear and loathing of these wobbly things, he decided it would be terribly amusing to run ahead of me, shaking the bridge from the other side. I was so terrified that I refused to cross it on the way back.
We ended up walking to the nearest village on gravel paths through miles of avocado orchards, accompanied part of the way by two girls managing to navigate the rough paths on five inch high spike heels (which, by the way, were in improbably pristine shape when we all finally reached the paved road).
There are approximately 8,000 avocado farms in Michoacan and, although Mexico exports a great many, supplying 45% of the world's avocados, there must be a lot of room for avocado-themed culinary creativity among the region's cooks. What do they do with them besides making guacamole, cold soup, salads and dressings, salsas, and using the dried leaves as seasoning?
For one thing, they make ice cream.
La Michoacana ice cream, which originated in the town of Tocumbo, Michoacan (see Mexican Frozen Treats: Helados, Nieves and Paletas) offers an avocado ice cream that consists of nothing but avocados, cream and sugar. It is pure, creamy bliss, and is easy to copycat at home. Avocado, it turns out, is perfect for blending with milk and/or cream to make incredibly simple desserts.
Latin Americans have long considered the avocado as a dessert ingredient, using it in mousse, smoothies, ice cream and paletas, or popsicles. And with the current touting of avocado as a health food, more inventive chefs both north and south of the border are including it in pies, cakes, frostings and cookies. Who wouldn't enjoy a dessert even more knowing that is has significant health benefits?
Avocados have a higher soluble fiber content than any other fresh fruit or vegetable, and contain more than 20 vitamins and minerals. They are high in monounsaturated fats, raising the HDL, or "good," cholesterol and lowering the evil LDL.
Avocados ripen at room temperature, faster if placed in a paper bag. It is better to buy them hard and let them ripen than to make the mistake of buying a soft one if it is not being used immediately. In Mexican markets, it helps to ask for them "para hoy" — for today — or "para mañana" — for tomorrow — because the vendors know exactly which is which and do not appreciate customers squeezing the fruit.
Following are some sweet recipes using avocados. Over the last few years, we've gotten used to including them in morning smoothies, where they pair well with both bananas and strawberries. But I still haven't learned to walk on gravel with five inch spike heels.