PURPLE, DARK green, light green, black, thick or thin-skinned, smooth or rough-textured, what lies inside is always the same: a silky smooth-textured fruit, green around the edges and yellow in the center. The avocado is enjoying more attention than usual this year. Unlike, its other semitropical compatriots, the orange and grapefruit, the avocado has yielded a bumper crop, predicted to be 166 percent above last year's. (It would be nice if avocados were also 166 percent cheaper, but even so, avocados are a relatively good buy.)
Now what do you do with them besides make guacamole or put a few slices on top of a green salad?
Just about anything, if you are so inclined.
They made delicate, subtly flavored desserts, superior containers for hot and cold mixtures, velvety soups and excellent salads in which they either star or play an important supporting role.
The texture of the avocado is as important -- some would say more important than -- as the flavor. The flavor is so subtle that in combination with certain ingredients, such as spicy sauces, the buttery quality of the avocado is almost all that comes through.
That description of an avocado is buttery has followed it throughout its rather long history. Known to the Mayans and Aztecs 300 years before Christ, it was described in the 16th century as a fruit with "a taste similar to butter . . ." That may account for one of the many names by which it has also been known -- butter pear. Custard apple, another of its aliases, also carries with it the implication of a smooth, buttery texture.
There's only one thing seriously wrong with avocados: You've got to plan ahead when you want to eat them. It is almost impossible to find them ripe enough to eat the same day you buy them, or even the next day, or even the day after that.
Avacados are one of those fruits which ripen after harvesting. Sometimes it can take a week after you get them home from the grocery store. People have tried dozens of tricks for speeding up the ripening process: putting them in a brown paper sack, putting them on the window sill, burying them in the flour bin. Putting them in a warm environment where the ripening gasses can accumulate should be helpful. And perhaps that is the reason the expert on the other end of the line thought I might have a good idea: to put the avacados in a container with bananas, which give off ethylene gas as they ripen. I've never actually tried this because last week I made an important discovery -- a store where avocados are already ripened. Like so many of the fruits and vegetables it carries, the avocados are ripe and ready at the Bethesda Avenue Coop in Bethesda.
Once avocados ripen they should be refrigerated until needed. A fully ripe avocado will keep in the refrigerator for several days.
To test for ripeness, gently press the fruit.If it yields to the touch it is ripe. Once it has been cut, the surface will darken if it isn't brushed with an acidic liquid such as lemon, lime or grapefruit juice. Avocados also should be stored tightly wrapped with plastic and the seed should be replaced in an unused half-shell.
To open, halve avocados lengthwise, twisting gently to separate halves. If the seed does not come out easily, whack it with a sharp knife and then twist to lift out.
To peel, place cut side down in palm of hand. Strip or pare the skin.
Above all, except in recipes that specify otherwise, avocados taste best at room temperature.
As to the matter of calories . . . Avocados are not diet food, but neither are hamburgers or steaks, though they often appear on diet menus. Half an avacado has 150 calories. Fill it with a shrimp or chicken salad made with yogurt instead of mayonnaise and it is easily within the calorie limits of most people.
The calories in avacados come from their high fat content, the same thing that makes them satisfying and gives them a stick-to-the-ribs quality not found in most fruits and vegetables.
It's a long way from guacamole, but these recipes offer a hint of the fruit's versatility. CHICKEN AND AVOCADO WITH GRAPES (4 or 5 servings) 4 whole chicken breasts Flour Salt and pepper 6 tablespoons oil 2 medium onions, chopped 2 cloves garlic, minced 1 green pepper, chopped 1 cup tomato sauce or puree 1/2 cup raisins 1 cup dry white wine 1 1/2 cups green grapes 2 medium, ripe avocados Cinnamon
Dredge chicken in flour that has been seasoned with salt and pepper. Heat oil in skillet and brown chicken on both sides. Remove; add onion, garlic and green pepper and saute until onion is soft. Return chicken to skillet with tomato, raisins and wine. Reduce heat, cover and cook about 10 minutes, until chicken is tender. If sauce begins to thicken too much, add a little water. Season to taste.
If grapes are not seedless, halve and seed. Peel and cut avocados into chunks. Add grapes and avacados to skillet; cover and heat 2 or 3 minutes until avocado and grapes are hot. Sprinkle lightly with cinnamon and serve. AVOCADO AND POTATO SALAD (4 to 6 servings)
Salads are not only for summer. This one is fine for winter, too. 6 slices nitrate-free bacon 3 cups diced, cooked potatoes 1 cup onion, finely chopped 1 tablespoon scallion, chopped 2 hard-cooked eggs, cut up 1 tablespoon pimiento, chopped Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste 1/2 cup mayonnaise 2 tablespoons lime juice 2 medium, ripe avocados
Fry bacon until crisp; drain and crumble. Toss potatoes, onion, scallion, eggs, pimiento, salt and pepper and bacon. Combine mayonnaise with lime juice and fold into potato mixture. Peel and cube avocados and gently mix in to salad. AVOCADO CURRY SOUP (4 or 5 servings) 1 tablespoon butter 1 to 2 teaspoons curry powder 3/4 cup chicken stock or broth 1 cup light cream 1 slightly beaten egg yolk Few dashes hot pepper sauce 1 medium, ripe avocado
Melt butter; stir in curry and add stock. Bring to boil; cover and simmer 10 minutes. Combine cream with yolk and hot pepper sauce and gradually stir into soup, cooking over low heat. Remove from heat. Mash half of avocado and dice the other half; add both to soup.
This soup can be refrigerated, even frozen, until serving time. If it is to be served hot, reheat, stirring constantly. To serve cold if frozen, defrost and beat vigorously to blend. AVOCADO "MAYONNAISE" (Makes 1 cup)
Mayonnaise with about half the calories of the "real" kind.Lovely over salmon, or fruit salad and in potato salad. 1 medium, ripe avocado 3 1/2 tablespoons salad oil 1 egg Juice of 1 lemon Salt to taste 1/2 teaspoon dijon mustard
Peel and coarsely cut up avocado and add to food processor with remaining ingredients. Process until smooth. Cover with plastic wrap and chill. "GREEN GODDESS" DIP (2 cups) 1 medium, ripe avocado, mashed 1/2 cup sour cream or plain yogurt 1/2 cup mayonnaise 2/3 cup chopped ripe olives 2-ounce can anchovies, drained and mashed 1 clove garlic; crushed
Combine ingredients; cover with plastic wrap and chill. Serve with raw vegetables, crackers or freshly fried tortilla wedges. GUACMOLE (6 servings)
A story about avocados without a recipe for guacamole would be incomplete. This is one of the best. If you want to eat it the way they do in Mexico, serve it as a first course or salad, with warm tortillas. The guacamole is spread on the tortilla, the tortilla then rolled up. 3 medium, ripe avocados 1 1/2 ounces canned hot chilies 2/3 cup coarsely chopped tomato 1 small onion, minced 1 spring fresh coriander (Chinese parsley), minced Warm corn tortillas, or corn chips
Peel and mash avocados. Rinse, drain and finely mince chilies. Combine the avocado and chilies with tomato, onion and coriander. If not used immediately sprinkle the surface with lemon juice and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Refrigerate. Serve with warm tortillas on corn chips for dip or salad