Few raw foods are as rich, creamy, and buttery as the avocado. Full of good fats — the kinds your body requires for deep health — the sliceable, diceable, mashable, blendable avocado is a smart ingredient in a surprising range of recipes.
The avocado is technically a fruit, but it’s usually classified as a vegetable in the culinary world. Of the hundreds of varieties grown, many (like Hass) have a soft texture that is excellent for guacamole. Others (such as Reed) are firmer and great for salads. The most important factor, though, is finding avocados at the peak of freshness and using them at the peak of ripeness.
Next time you’re at the grocery store or farmers’ market, pick up a few and try some of the ideas here. Your body will thank you.
Quick & Easy
- Simple snack: Cut an avocado in half and remove the pit. Sprinkle with a little flake sea salt and some fresh ground pepper, and drizzle with a fruity extra-virgin olive oil. Eat with a spoon right out of the shell.
- Quick guac: Add diced avocado — and fresh cilantro if you like — to your favorite salsa, then mix. Serve with healthy corn, rice, whole-grain, or bean chips.
- Green smoothie: Add half an avocado to your favorite smoothie. Celebrate the green by using fruits, veggies, or liquids that don’t turn the avocado an unappetizing shade of brown (which berries often do): Try pineapple, citrus, banana, mango, coconut water, kiwi fruit, spinach, or kale.
- Bread spread: As an alternate to butter or mayo, rub toast with a garlic clove and simply spread the avocado right out of the peel onto the toast and sprinkle with coarse flake salt. Avocados are also a welcome addition to your favorite burger.
- Salad dressing: Use puréed avocado as a base for a ranch, Caesar, or green goddess dressing.
- Avocado aioli: Make an egg-free aioli by adding some mashed avocado, lemon juice, and white-wine vinegar to avocado, olive, or grapeseed oil. Use as a dip for fresh seasonal veggies.
Know Your Avocados
We’re used to seeing Hass avocados in our grocery stores because they’re harvested year-round. But there are so many others to choose from – 500 different varieties in all, and eight kinds grown in California alone. Here’s a rundown of the tastiest, most accessible options:
- The most commonly available variety of avocado, Hass has creamy, nutty, flesh and is perfect for guacamole.
Season: All year.
- The pale green flesh of the large Fuerte fruit, which tastes somewhat like hazelnuts, is best eaten when it’s fully ripe. Slice it on your plate or over a salad.
Season: Late fall through spring.
- Similar to Hass but slightly smoky, Gwen avocado can be sliced or used as a spread.
Season: Late winter through summer.
- With a high oil content, silky texture, and intense flavor, the slender Pinkerton avocado is excellent in omelets.
Season: Early winter through spring.
- The creamy flesh of the Reed avocado is quite firm, making it perfect for dicing into salads, Try is in a fruit salad with a squeeze of citrus.
Season: Summer to early fall.
- The mild-tasting, pear shaped Zutano is excellent eaten with a spoon right out of the skin.
Season: September to early winter.
- More than half the fat in avocados comes from oleic acid, which helps the body absorb nutrients and lowers the risk of heart disease. Avocados also contain several kinds of anti-inflammatory fats, phytosterols, and polyhydroxylated fatty alcohols (PFAs).
- Avocados get additional anti-inflammatory power from alpha-linolenic acid (an omega-3 fatty acid), carotenoid antioxidants, and other antioxidants such as vitamins C and E.
- When avocado or avocado oil is added to a salad or salsa, the oil helps facilitate higher absorption of fat-soluble carotenoids, including beta-carotene and lycopene, according to a 2005 study published in the Journal of Nutrition. In salsas containing avocado, the nutrient absorption can be 260 to 440 percent higher.
- Thanks to its unusual combination of anti-inflammatory and antioxidant nutrients, the avocado is a great supporter of healthy cells. It also helps fight cancer cells by increasing their oxidative stress.
- Avocados promote blood-sugar regulation thanks to some unusual carbohydrates called seven-carbon sugars, including mannoheptulose. These are thought to help improve the way glucose is metabolized.
- Avocados’ combination of healthy fats and rich nutrients is great for hydrating skin and hair. The fats and nutrients also encourage collagen production. To make simple and nourishing masks, mix avocado with honey and yogurt for skin, or honey and olive oil for hair. Leave on for about 20 minutes before rinsing off or shampooing out.
Shopping and Storage Tips
- Look for firm avocados that show no dark or sunken spots.
- You know avocados are ripe when they no longer feel rock hard and have an
- You can also check ripeness by popping off the small round stem. If the fruit is dark brown underneath, you have an overripe, slimy avocado inside. If the flesh is bright yellow-green, the avocado should be just right.
- After they ripen — not before — avocados can be kept in the refrigerator for up to a week.
- To prevent browning, sprinkle lemon juice on unused portions of ripe avocado and store in a covered glass container in the refrigerator.
- To slice open an avocado, cut lengthwise, rotating your knife around the pit. Twist the two halves and pull apart.
- Use a spoon to pop the pit out. Or, strike the pit with the heel of a chef’s knife. Once the blade is embedded in the pit, gently twist the knife to dislodge the pit.
- Cut each of the halves lengthwise, so the avocado is quartered. To peel, take the skin of an avocado quarter between your thumb and forefinger and peel the fruit like a banana.
- If you plan to eat only half the avocado, don’t remove the pit from the other half. This will help prevent browning.
These simple, healthy tacos are a snap to prepare. They make a great family meal and can be assembled according to each person’s preference. Add grilled meat as an option if you like.
Makes four servings | Prep time 30 minutes
- 2 tbs. olive oil
- 4 to 6 cloves peeled garlic
- 1 24- to 29-oz. can pinto beans or black beans, undrained
- Salt to taste
- 1/2 tsp. smoked Spanish paprika
- Dash of cayenne (optional)
- 8 sprouted corn tortillas
- 2 firm but ripe avocados, sliced
- 8 radishes, thinly sliced
- 1 cup chopped fresh cilantro
- ½ cup salsa
- ½ cup crumbled Cotija cheese or queso fresco
- 4 cups coarsely chopped baby kale, spinach, or arugula
- Heat the olive oil in a large cast-iron skillet and add the whole garlic cloves. Turn the cloves while cooking to an even golden brown, being careful not to let them burn.
- Carefully pour in the beans and their liquid, and stir until the sizzling settles down.
- Add the seasonings.
- Turn the heat to low and stir the beans continually until thickened (about 15 minutes), occasionally mashing with a potato masher or fork.
- While the beans cook, warm the tortillas and prepare the remaining ingredients, placing them in individual bowls.
- To prepare each taco, fill a tortilla with a scoop of beans and a couple of avocado slices, then top with the radishes, cilantro, salsa, crumbled cheese, and chopped greens as you like.
Quinoa, Avocado, and Citrus Salad
This spring salad can morph with the seasons: Use cubes of fresh melon or diced tomatoes in the summer, or cubes of roasted squash in the fall or winter. You can also add a cup of diced chicken, smoked ham, or shrimp.
Makes four to six servings | Prep time 30 minutes
- 1 cup uncooked quinoa, rinsed and drained
- 1 1/2 cups boiling water
- 1 ripe avocado, diced
- 1/2 cup diced red onion
- 1 1/2 cups citrus segments (oranges, blood oranges, white or pink grapefruit, or a combination)
- Juice reserved from cutting citrus, about ½ to 2/3 cup
- 2 tbs. white-wine vinegar
- 1 tbs. Dijon mustard
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 6 cups arugula
- 1/4 cup toasted pumpkin seeds
- Cook the quinoa in the boiling water until tender, about 10 minutes. It should yield about 3 cups.
- Spread the quinoa on a baking sheet, cover, and chill while you prepare the other ingredients.
- Whisk the citrus juice, vinegar, mustard, and olive oil together, and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.
- Toss the avocado, red onion, and citrus segments with the chilled quinoa, and dress with half of the vinaigrette.
- Dress the arugula with the remaining vinaigrette.
- Arrange the greens on plates and top with the quinoa salad. Top with the toasted pumpkinseeds before serving.
Zucchini Noodles With Avocado Sauce
A light and refreshing alternative to pasta, “noodles” made from zucchini — or turnips or other root vegetables — taste terrific topped with an herbed avocado sauce.
Makes four to six servings | Prep time 30 minutes
- 2 medium zucchini
- 1 tsp. sea salt
- 1 ripe avocado
- Zest and juice of one lemon
- 1 cup vegetable stock
- Freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 1/2 cup coarsely chopped parsley
- 1 to 2 cloves garlic
- 1 tbs. olive oil
- 1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
- Slice zucchini into thin strips with a mandoline or vegetable peeler, setting aside any seed-filled slices for the sauce. Toss the zucchini “noodles” with the salt and allow to sit in a bowl for about 10 minutes to release any excess water.
- Move the zucchini to a colander, and while the strips drain, blend the sauce: In the blender, add the seedy strips of zucchini, the avocado, lemon zest and juice, vegetable stock, black pepper, parsley, garlic, and olive oil.
- Blend until smooth.
- Arrange zucchini noodles in a bowl, pour the sauce over the zucchini, and sprinkle with pine nuts before serving.
Avocados make a great base for this creamy frozen dessert, which doesn’t require dairy or eggs. If you like the combination of mint and chocolate, add 1/4 cup raw cacao nibs to the mix before freezing.
Makes four servings | Prep time: 10 minutes (plus 12 hours of freezing time)
- 2 ripe avocados
- 1 14-oz. can coconut milk
- 1/2cup honey
- 1 cup fresh mint leaves, packed (stems removed)
- Pinch of sea salt
- Blend all the ingredients together in a blender until smooth.
- Pour the mixture into a glass container and place in the freezer.
- Stir every two hours until it is uniformly frozen.
- Cover and store in the freezer. The mint flavor develops as it freezes. This sherbet will keep well for at least two weeks.
Avocado Breakfast Puddings
Purée an avocado, banana, or mango, and mix with chia seeds for a tropical, fresh breakfast. Or try a chai version. Make ahead and store in small canning jars for a healthy breakfast on the go.
Makes two servings | Prep Time 5 minutes
- 1 ripe banana
- 1/2 cup cubed avocado
- 6 ounces fresh orange or grapefruit juice
- 1/4 cup chia seeds
Chai Chia Pudding
- 8 ounces cashew, almond, or coconut milk
- 1/2 cup cubed avocado
- 2 dates or a couple tablespoons of raisins
- 2 tbs. maple syrup
- 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
- 1/8 tsp. ground cloves
- 1/4 tsp. ground cardamom
- 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
- 1/4 cup chia seeds
- Pour the chia seeds into individual jelly jars or small bowls.
- Blend the avocado with juice, coconut water, milk, or fruit purée and add sweeteners and flavors as you like.
- Pour over the chia seeds and cover the top with a circle cut from parchment paper to prevent discoloration. Cover with a lid and refrigerate overnight.
- The pudding will be thick and ready for breakfast the next morning.|
Grilled Lamb Kabobs With Avocado-Mint Sauce
Seasoned with Middle Eastern spices, skewered and grilled grass-fed lamb, chicken, beef, or pork kabobs are terrific with a refreshing avocado mint sauce Serve with cauliflower “couscous.”
Makes four to six servings | Prep time 60 minutes
- 1 1/2 pounds grass-fed lamb, cut into 1×1-inch cubes
- 1 medium red onion, cut into 1×1-inch squares
- 2 tsp. ground coriander
- 2 tsp. ground cumin
- 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
- Zest of one lemon
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 2 tbs. olive oil
- 10-12 6-inch skewers
- 1 whole ripe avocado, peeled, seeded, and cubed
- Juice of one lemon
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh mint
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1/4 cup water
- Salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
- 1 head cauliflower, grated
- 1 tbs. olive oil or ghee
- Salt and pepper
- 1 cup chopped fresh parsley
- Dried currants and toasted pine nuts
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F and preheat the grill, if using.
- Mix the coriander, cumin, pepper, lemon zest, garlic, and olive oil together in a bowl. Add the cubes of meat (lamb, chicken, pork, etc.) and mix to coat them evenly with the spices.
- Allow the meat to marinate in the refrigerator while you prepare the remaining ingredients.
- Lightly oil a baking pan with olive oil or ghee.
- Grate the cauliflower coarsely in a food processor or with a box grater. Spread the grated cauliflower on the oiled baking sheet and season with salt and fresh ground black pepper.
- Roast in the oven for 20 to 30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes to brown evenly and allow excess moisture to evaporate.
- While the cauliflower is roasting, thread the lamb and red onion alternately onto the skewers. Season with salt and then grill over a preheated grill or sauté in a hot, lightly oiled pan. Grill or sauté to sear on all sides.
- While the meat is grilling, prepare the sauce by combining all the sauce ingredients in a blender and blending until smooth, adjusting the seasonings to taste. Scrape ingredients down with a rubber spatula to make sure it is smooth. When the cauliflower is evenly roasted, mix in the parsley, pine nuts, and currants and season to taste.
- Check to see if the meat is cooked as you like it and allow it to rest for 10 minutes while you prepare the plates.
- Serve the grilled meat and onion over the roasted cauliflower and serve with the avocado-mint sauce.
This article originally appeared as “Amazing Avocados” in the March 2015 issue of Experience Life.