Avocado is a strange and wonderful salad vegetable, which is actually classified as a fruit although it isn’t sweet. Buttery in texture and with comparatively high fat content, it is now grown in Bangalore and the hill stations of Ooty and Kodaikanal and is available all over India.
It was apparently planted by the British as a windbreak between the coffee and tea plantations. The locals had no use for it and called it ‘honey fruit’ because they would eat it with honey. Even the method of plucking to this day remains a bit primitive. The fruit is often hit with a stick or bamboo and knocked down, bruising the precious flesh. Varieties here in India also vary and there is no real authority on the subject. The fruit sometimes has a thin, green skin, similar to a variety known as Fuerte from Latin America and California. Another variety, known as Hass, has a more pebbly skin which turns from green to purple-black when ripe. This resembles the ones we find in Kodi, only the latter can weigh up to 500gm each and Hass are generally smallish fruit.
Knowing when an avocado is ripe is tricky. Books tell you to press it gently near the neck and when it ‘yields to the touch’, it is ready. In layman’s terms, this means, ‘a little soft’, but not mushy. It is best to buy firm avocados and ripen them yourself by wrapping them in newspaper and placing them in your fruit bowl (never in the fridge). Check every day. If you want to speed up this process, wrap a banana in the newspaper along with the avocados. Ripe ones can be stored in the fridge for a few days.
To use, cut the fruit in half lengthways and twist halves to separate. Remove the seed by pressing a knife gently to separate it from the flesh. You can peel and slice the fruit for use in salads or puree it for a dip, cold soup or even ice cream, but never cook it. I sometimes use it instead of butter in a tomato sandwich. The flesh of an avocado will brown once you have cut it. To avoid this, rub with the side of a cut lime. You can serve the fruit in halves, with the skin on, with French dressing or stuffed with a sinful filling of crab or prawns in mayonnaise or cocktail sauce. This is one of my favourite recipes for avocado, using the tang in citrus fruit such as orange or grapefruit to complement its buttery texture.
Avocado and Citrus Salad
4 ripe avocados, peeled, seed removed and cut into slices
4 oranges, peeled and segmented
½ cup fresh lime juice
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
½ tsp salt
½ tsp ground black pepper
1 tbsp honey
1 tbsp wholegrain mustard
1 big iceberg or any lettuce for the base
Make the dressing by whisking together the lime juice, salt, pepper, mustard, honey and olive oil until you get a smooth emulsion. Place the lettuce in the bottom of a bowl or platter. Put the avocado slices in a bowl and toss gently with the dressing. Spread the avocado over the lettuce. Meanwhile, take a small, sharp knife and peel the oranges. It is preferable to use imported oranges, since they are firmer, failing which mosambi is easier to segment than santra. Peel to remove the skin and pith. Then cut each segment out separately, leaving the membrane behind. You should never make a salad using oranges or any citrus fruit in which the membranes are left on. Scatter the orange segments on top. Serve the salad chilled. If you are making this last minute, it is perfect if the orange segments and avocado are chilled and the dressing is at room temperature.
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