HASS PLEASE!: The humble avocado is flavour of the year

The food world’s gone a bit mad for avocados lately. In the States, ‘guac’ (guacamole) is bigger than Donald Trump’s ego. Okay, maybe not quite that bigly. But in South Africa, they’ve always been in fashion. Here’s a bit of lore about the humble avo, and some ways to turn them into bigly desirable dishes.

There’s fruit, and there’s veg, and then there’s the avocado. They call it a fruit, but it needs a classification all of its own. It stands apart from all other fruit and vegetables; it’s the eccentric of the food world, an ingredient that generally does not fit in; like a drop-dead gorgeous wallflower at the hoedown, or a rhinestone cowboy who’s too shy to come over and say hi, while all the oranges and mangos are doing their thang on the dance floor. New York Times writer Frank Bruni said of the pear-shaped green fruit: “I suppose there are people who can pass up free guacamole, but they’re either allergic to avocado or too joyless to live.” It’s been claimed that they’re named after the Aztec word for testicle, but this has been debunked by people who have time to debunk things like that. (Surely life is too short?) Guacamole, too, has been claimed to derive from the Aztec phrase “testicle sauce”, and one must hope this too had been debunked. And let’s ignore memes such as “You guac my world”. Or “Guac-a-Mole is Here to Stay”. (Okay, I did actually write that. I will now return to my customary spot of the back of the class.) If you were stuck on a desert island and could only eat one food, the avocado would be a good bet. It doesn’t need cooking, it’s delicious and beautifully textured just as it is; you don’t even need salt and pepper. Then again, salt and pepper are the perfect seasoning for it, giving its flavour a gentle lift without altering its own taste at all. We think of it as more of a vegetable, even though we know it’s a fruit, because the mind just does not want to accept it as that. Like plums and apples they grow on trees, though unlike the two former, we don’t wait until they’re ripe to pick them; we pick them hard and inedible and within a week of picking they’re sensuously soft. And at that point, we need do no more than halve them, pop the pip out, and tuck in with a spoon. Anyway, nuts grow on trees too, but we don’t presume them to be fruit; so why not let avos have their own category. They even crop up in folk lore. The story is told on AncientFoods and several other websites of a Mayan folk tale about a man, Seriokai, who was harvesting avocados when his wife was seduced by a tapir (I know, I thought that too, but just go with it). As would any man thus jilted, he skulked off to collect avos, but his wife joined him, pretending to be collecting firewood but in fact intent on grievously injuring him. She managed to sever his leg, and ran off with her beloved tapir, taking a basket of avos with her. This proved to be her undoing because, as she fled, avocados fell and took root all along the way, each sprouting a tree. On recovering, the man followed the trail of trees, to quote AncientFoods, “farther and farther from the centre of the Earth, noticing that the trees became younger and younger. At last he came upon freshly dropped seeds, and knew that he was drawing near. Finally he came to the edge of the world, where he saw the runaway couple. He shot an arrow at the tapir, which struck his eye. Howling with pain, the beast leapt over the edge. Following her love, the woman jumped as well. Seriokai followed, and chased them through the sky. He follows them to this day, for he became Orion, the wife is the Pleiades, and the wicked tapir is Hyades, with a bleeding eye.”Cooking with avocados” is one of the tags for this piece, but we don’t really, do we. They’re almost always prepared raw, although – who would have thought – you can grill them on the braai. Just halve avos, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with herbs or spice and salt and pepper, and pop them face down on the grid to char for a few minutes. You can make a creamy avocado sauce for pasta, whether hot, or cold as a salad. Capers would be a nice addition to the latter. Here are two madly simple avocado recipes I came up with this week, and a somewhat less simple one from my Graaff-Reinet chef mate, Gordon Wright. Avocado and Smoked Salmon Salad 4 slices smoked salmon each, rolled and trimmed Half avocado each, diced 1 small red onion, finely diced 1 fat garlic clove, very finely chopped 10 pitted Spanish olives and a few more whole ones 2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil 2 Tbs olive brine 1 Tbs spicy orange balsamic reduction (or 1 Tbs balsamic reduction and 1 Tbs orange juice) 1 Tbs lime juice 1 tsp hot chilli sauce Salt and pepper to taste Chop each of the 10 olives into 4 pieces. Combine the diced onion, garlic and olive bits in a bowl and add the liquid ingredients. Season and stir well. Roll up salmon slices and arrange on a plate. Dice avocado and scatter on top. Place a few whole olives around. Spoon the dressing over the top. You can add a little chopped feta if you like. Tony’s Chilled Avocado Soup 3 to 6 avocados, depending on size (I had those enormous KZN ones, so used 4) 3 or 4 spring onions, sliced, including some of the green part 2 tsp lime juice 250g crème fraiche 500ml full cream milk Salt and pepper to taste Place everything in a blender and blend thoroughly. If it’s too thick, you can thin it out with more milk. Adjust seasoning to taste. Chill and eat within a couple of hours. Gordon Wright’s Avocado, Salmon Gravadlax and Cucumber salad with Horseradish Drizzle Avos are such a great tasting fruit, buttery and soft; if there was a list of cold comfort foods, avos would be right up there at the top. This hearty salad combines the best of summer’s flavours in a wholesome and tasty dish. The horseradish drizzle certainly adds a bit of zest and spunk, so be sure to have a really nice chilled glass of Chenin Blanc or even a crispy Brut of a Cap Classique at hand to wash it down. 60g Smoked salmon Gravadlax (or just smoked salmon) ripped into thin strips ¼ of a cucumber 1 ripe avo – sliced lengthways 2 baby marrows 2 tsp capers ½ a red onion thin sliced Handful sprouts (bean or beetroot) 60g olives pitted 60g Roma tomatoes – halved 30g mixed lettuce leaves 30g rocket leaves 1 carrot 1 lemon, cut into wedges Using a veggie slicer, slice cucumber, marrow and carrot into thin strips, lengthways. Toss into a suitable serving dish and add the rest of the ingredients topping with sprouts and capers. Drizzle with Horseradish sauce and a squeeze of lemon and serve immediately. Horseradish drizzle 1 Tbs cream 1 Tbs crème fraîche or sour cream 2 Tbs Creamed horseradish 1 tsp chives 1 Tbs freshly squeezed lemon juice 1 tsp fresh chopped dill Salt, to taste Freshly ground black pepper, to taste Whisk the cream lightly until it forms soft peaks. Fold in all the rest of the ingredients and chill for 30 mins before serving. DM Gordon Wright is the author of Karoo food and Veld to Fork. Tony Jackman is author of foodSTUFF.