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Avocado (c)2012 LaDomestique.com

This week at la Domestique we welcome summer by opening up the summer pantry. It’s officially hot outside, and we’re soaking up the sunshine by the pool. Most nights, dinner is cooked on the patio grill. The farmer’s market is our playground, and each week brings new finds- like the first cherries of the season! We’re craving lighter fare, looking for nourishing meals to give us fuel for bike rides and ballgames. Hearty salads and chilled soups are just the thing for days when temperatures soar into the 90’s.

The first ingredient of our summer pantry is the avocado. Full of nutrients like vitamin E, potassium, and monounsaturated fat, avocados make lighter meals more satisfying. Native to Central America, this pear-shaped tree fruit has a soft, buttery flesh when ripe, and rich, nutty flavor. A tough, dark, leathery skin surrounds the flesh, which ranges from pale yellow to green in color and holds a large brown seed. A diverse variety of avocados can be found, all originating from three strains: Mexican, Guatemalan, and West Indian. Hass avocados are the most popular here in the United States, and they grow year-round, peaking in the summer. Fuerte avocados are available in the U.S. during autumn. California is the largest U.S. producer of avocados, but the fruit is also grown in various areas across the world, including: Florida, Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, Hawaii, Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean, Portugal, Spain, Indonesia, Vietnam, Australia, and New Zealand. Avocados require a warm climate and will not tolerate frost.

Reading The Produce Bible, I learned that avocados are a member of the laurel family. The fruit matures on the tree, but will not ripen until picked. Avocados are a funny fruit -instead of getting sweeter during ripening, their fat content increases, making them richer and softer. In Chez Panisse Vegetables, Alice Waters suggests avoiding soft, ripe avocados at the market, as they bruise easily and may already be damaged before you get them home. Instead, purchase firm, underripe fruit and put it in a paper bag at room temperature to ripen over a day or two at home. To check an avocado for ripeness, hold it in the palm of your hand and squeeze very gently. A ripe avocado will give ever so slightly to the pressure. For instructions on cutting an avocado, check out this photo tutorial from Bon Appétit.

The flesh of an avocado quickly oxidizes, turning brown, once cut. The best method I’ve found for preventing/slowing this process is to pour lemon juice over the avocado flesh, using a pastry brush to get all the nooks and crannies. Cut avocado into chunks and add it to salads or as a garnish for soups. Slice it into half-moons and place in tortilla wraps or atop toasted bread. Be careful not to expose the fruit to too much heat in cooking, which can bring out its bitter tannins. Tomorrow is 10 Ways Tuesday at la Domestique, and you’ll find plenty of creative ideas for cooking with avocados during summer.

Do you cook with avocados? Share your favorite varieties, tips, and stories in the comments section. Click Here.