Friday, February 4, 2011

Got Arvocardos?

After nearly 24 years of marriage, the dietary predilections of my spouse continue to amaze me. Don’t get me wrong – Bill has an excellent palate, loves good food (especially mine) and has become an active participant in my business, not only acting as Sous-Sherpa (his self-description) but actually helping me in the kitchen, slicing, dicing and saucing. The cheeky guy even wants his own chef’s coat!

For the most part, Bill and I are on the same culinary wavelength, but there is one particular foodstuff, which I consider a masterpiece of Mother Nature, where Bill’s food frequency is way out of whack. The man will simply not eat avocados; not only that, he can’t pronounce the name correctly, inserting an “r” or two in between the “a’s” and “o’s”. Being a California girl who grew up in the heart of avocado country, and even in the same town where the Haas variety originated, I’ve taken Bill’s ‘cado aversion personally. But then I remind myself that he’s a New Yawker, born and raised, who grew up with limited access to any fruit or vegetable remotely exotic and with a mother whose Catholic Friday night fish dinners can only be described as shoe leather. It’s a miracle he’s as discerning as he is!

So…can this marriage be saved? Of course! We have agreed to disagree on the virtues of Persea Americana. Like any evangelist, I hope to one day convert my loving husband into an avocado aficionado. With all the nutritional benefits, variety of uses and simple ease of eating this divine, if somewhat ugly, fruit, it shouldn’t be too hard to win him over, despite two decades of battle, right?

 Avocados are an ancient fruit that originated in Mexico, dating back millennium before being domestically cultivated. Introduced to California by Santa Barbara resident J.B. Ord in 1871, the fruit's virtues were recognized by growers and commercial production of avocados began in earnest by the 1900's.

As I wrote earlier, I grew up in Avocado Central – Whittier, California. Now known as the hometown of a certain former president, Whittier was in the 1920’s a small agricultural center 30 miles southeast of Los Angeles. According to the California Avocado Commission, “A.R. Rideout of Whittier, an innovator and pioneer in avocados, was always searching for new varieties and tended to plant whatever seeds he could find, often along streets or in neighbors' yards.

In the late 1920s, Mr. Rudolph Hass, a postman, purchased the seedling tree from Rideout, and planted it in his new orchard. He planned to graft another variety on it, but when repeated grafts didn't take he planned to cut the tree down. Fortunately for avocado lovers everywhere, Hass's children talked him out of it. They preferred the taste of the tree's fruit to that of the Fuerte, the predominant variety and industry standard in those days.”

Mr. Hass’s tree, planted not far from Whittier in La Habra Heights, was the mother of all the Hass trees that now populate the orchards of over 6,000 growers in California. Though lovingly tended for 76 years, she succumbed to root rot in 2002. Growing up, a block from Avocado Crest Drive, no less, I had the good fortune of being able to ramble through the Heights with my siblings and friends, plucking avocados from the bountiful trees of benevolent neighbors. We brought home future bowls of guacamole, or a chunky additive to a morning’s omelet or a simply savored pitted half served with a squeeze of lemon and a sprinkle of salt - my mother’s favorite lunchtime treat! Knowing that our treasure would have to spend several days ripening in a paper bag - avocados do not ripen on the tree - only made our haul all the more special. We waited in anticipation for the day when the pebbly, dark green giant teardrops would be ready to eat!  

From Aztec times, the alligator pear, as it was once known, has been a staple crop in tropic and sub-tropic climes; in the US, 43% of all households purchase the fruit (why didn’t Bill eat them in NYC, for cryin’ out loud?!) . The Golden State now produces 90% of the nation’s crop, with San Diego County accounting for a whopping 60% (there goes some of good ole La Habra Heights’ claim to fame!). With Cinco de Mayo now a truly American celebration, avocado consumption rises precipitously in early May; Early February is a close second with that certain major sporting event coming up very soon.

Though guacamole is ubiquitous this time of year – it’s Super Bowl time after all and right in the middle of the avocado season - there are many unique and flavorful ways to incorporate the luscious, buttery, green-yellow flesh of Persea Americana into every day dining enjoyment. With the following recipes, I’m hoping to win an Avocado Convert or two, perhaps even my dear husband. If not, all the more for me to eat!

Pineapple Chipotle Mango Guacamole
2010 California Avocado Best Guacamole Contest Winner –
Most Original/ Creative Category, Trisha Krus
Photo compliments of the
California Avocado Commission

4 ripe California avocados, seeded peeled and diced

½ medium sweet onion, minced

2 chipotle peppers in Adobo sauce, finely minced

½ teas salt

2 TBS chopped cilantro

½ cup crushed pineapple, drained, juice reserved

2 TBS reserved pineapple juice

1 medium ripe mango, seed peeled and diced

Place diced avocado in a medium bowl and coarsely mash.

Add onion along with chipotle peppers, salt, cilantro and pineapple juice.

Gently mix in mango and pineapple.
Serve with tortilla chips or use as a topping on grilled fish.

Chinese Black Rice, Orange and Avocado Salad
From Whole Grains Every Day by Lorna Sass, James Beard award winner

Lorna is one of my favorite cookbook authors. I've served this at several catered events to rave reviews. The black rice and the avocado lend an exotic taste and texture to a simple yet captivating salad.

Photo by Jen, from

Forbidden Rice
3 cups Chinese black rice - follow package instructions.

Available in specialty stores as Forbidden Black Rice by Lotus Foods

3 cups diced peeled oranges

3/8 cup freshly squeezed orange juice

3/8 cup unsalted pumpkin seeds, toasted. I substituted pine nuts with success, though almost any nut would be fine. Or leave them out completely, but you'll miss some extra crunch.

2 ¼ teaspoons grated orange zest

3/8 teaspoon salt, or to taste

1/8 teaspoon ground chipotle

1 ½ ripe Hass avocado, peeled, pitted and diced

Peeled orange slices for garnish

In a bowl, combine the cooked black rice, oranges, orange juice, pumpkin seeds, orange zest, salt and chipotle. Gently mix in the avocado. Add more salt if needed.
For individual plating, place a lettuce cup on each plate and spoon the salad onto the lettuce. For a larger service, line a serving platter with lettuce leaves - butter of red/green leaf - and spoon salad over the leaves. Garnish with orange segments.
Wehani or wild rice can also be used in this recipe.

I don't think our marriage is threatened by avocado aversion. Bill just doesn't know what he's missing so, all the more for me!
Thanks to The California Avocado Commission  where you can explore more avocado recipes and James Beard Award Winner Lorna Sass


  1. Yum, I am adding that salad to my repetoire! I so enjoy your writing, Margie.

  2. I too enjoy Margie's cooking and writing, even having received the dubious nombre of "Sous Sherpa". That said, I love avacarrrrdos. I just hate removing all those leaves with touches of the core fruit on them. Oh, we weren't talking about artichokes??? Damn, another California culinary delight that I don't like!