The love + care of an avocado
Capturing an avocado at its absolute peak moment of ripeness is a not an enterprise for one who lacks determination. It’s a practice really, one you take on for life, if eating avocados is something you intend to do. You’ll need courage, fortitude.
It starts, of course, with learning to pick the right one from the market; not too hard, not too soft. It still makes me a little anxious.
You can never expect to run to the grocery for a last minute avocado. The love and care of an avocado requires a strategy as well as time management skills. You must plan ahead.
And then there is the wait. You must be patient. Moreover, you must exhibit the willingness to observe, to study actually, the subtle changes as they are happening. You are building a skill here and this requires focus. Avocados ripen slowly but don’t take that for granted. There is a magic window of time for perfect ripeness; and when it closes, nothing but disappointment can come to you.
The avocado is elusive like that. I’ve squeezed and kneaded and pressed the skin of thousands of avocadoes so my game is pretty strong at this point. But don’t think I’m overconfident.
There is never a time that I cut into an avocado, even after applying everything I know about the process, that I don’t breathe a sigh of relief at the sight of smooth, blemish free, bright neon green flesh. I celebrate my luck.
Here are some tips to consider for your personal practice of avocado care:
1. While color is important, the tautness of the skin is more so. Hold an avocado in your hand and press on the skin.
If it’s rock hard and neon green, it will take time to ripen and should sit on the kitchen counter until it does.
If it’s rock hard and black, it may never ripen. Skip it.
If the skin yields slightly the touch and is neon green, it should be kept on the counter a couple of days before being refrigerated. You could take your chances on this one though and open it now.
If the skin yields to the touch and is black, this avocado has perfect potential. If not opening it the same day, it needs to go straight in the refrigerator where it will likely keep a few more days.
If the skin caves in to the touch, this is an avocado whose time has likely come and gone. If the skin buckles, that means that air has gotten in between the flesh and skin. Oxidation turns the flesh brown, and destroys the flavor.
See how the skin collapses in this video? That's a sign of a brown, mushy inside.
2. Once the skin is yielding to the touch, an avocado should be kept refrigerated to extend its potential. Continue to watch it though, because once air gets under the flesh, time’s up.
3. If you are only using half of an avocado at a time, be sure to leave the pit snugly inside the unused half. Cover it with the empty half shell and wrap it tightly with plastic wrap. Store in the refrigerator.
4. Anytime you want to extend the bright color of a dish made with avocado (guacamole comes to mind), lay plastic wrap as tight as possible on the surface.
I remember the first time I heard about fish tacos. I was in college. Where I grew up in rural Kentucky, there was only one kind of taco: hard shell with ground beef and seasoning from a little packet.
I couldn’t comprehend the idea of fish + taco.
But things change. We grow and evolve. And as we do, so does our idea of a perfect taco.
These days, I’ve seriously honed in on what’s necessary for me personally in a taco. Soft shell….mayo….fresh avocado…..crunchy cabbage + cilantro garnish. The filling is negotiable, as long as it’s healthy. Fish or vegetables, please.
Going out for tacos these days usually means a compromise of my mostly grain free diet. A corn tortilla here and there is a sacrifice I am able to make for the cause.
Life is short. Tacos are important.
But at home, there is no need for compromise of any kind. A beautiful little family food business in Austin Texas has taken care of that. Siete Family Foods Almond Flour Tortillas are as close to regular flour tortillas as is possible. They perform beautifully warmed up until they’re just pliable or beyond, if you like, to crispy in a cast iron skillet (or any kind really.)
They are also grain free + gluten free + dairy free + soy free.
These tortillas have truly been a savior for me; so you will no doubt see them here again. I use them for breakfast with scrambled eggs and lunch for a sandwich wrap. So many possibilities! I wish there were more compassionate food companies like Siete around. Check out their family story and other products here.
Cooking in Parchment
If you don't eat shrimp, you can make this same dish with any kind of fish, chicken or cubed vegetables. Whatever filling you choose for your tacos, you can follow the same directions for cooking in parchment paper. Cooking in parchment is brilliant and has become my default method for cooking protein. It's a forgiving technique, saving you from any tendency to overcook. The food steams in its juices and whatever citrus is enclosed. (Some kind of citrus should always be included.) And clean up is easy.
Avocado Cumin Aioli
The art of pampering an avocado to peak ripeness is deserving of a dedicated blog post. (Click here.) And here, this is where you will want one that is ripe with bright neon green flesh, with no internal brown spots. Without the cumin and lime zest, this recipe is really a foundational mayonnaise substitute that can be transformed into all kinds of flavored sauces. If you love heat, consider adding a few drops of Sriracha or cayenne powder. Or pulse some cilantro leaves in for a cilantro aioli sauce. The possibilities are endless.
Be sure to cover the avocado aioli at the surface with plastic wrap. This will preserve the color of avocado a bit longer than without; although admittedly this is not a very wide window of time either way. You will want to eat it within 24 hours and it will deepen in color, but should still taste fresh.
Brussels sprouts + leeks
Cabbage is my favorite garnish for tacos. Brussels sprouts are tiny cabbages. You can substitute thinly shredded cabbage instead. It's not hard to find pre-prepped cabbage mix for coleslaw these days. I buy them often.
Leeks are always paired with cabbage in my kitchen. I love their similar texture and color. Any leftovers Brussels + leeks can be stir-fried for a quick side dish.
Shrimp Tacos + Avocado Cumin Aioli + Brussels sprout slaw + Almond Flour Tortillas
Serves 2 to 4 people
1 pound medium size wild caught shrimp, uncooked and thawed
4 Siete Almond Flour Tortillas or tortilla of your choice
Olive oil pan spray
½ teaspoon Sea Salt
1 teaspoon Black Pepper
½ pound Brussels Sprouts or half head of cabbage or pre-sliced coleslaw mix
½ large leek
Handful cilantro leaves
Avocado Cumin Aioli (recipe below)
Shrimp Baked in Parchment
1. Preheat the oven to 425.
2. Line a cookie sheet with a piece of parchment paper. Spray with olive oil.
3. Lay the thawed shrimp in the middle of the parchment paper.
4. Slice one lime thinly and layer on top of the shrimp.
5. Season with sea salt and pepper.
6. Fold the long side of the parchment towards the middle and then tuck the ends under so the shrimp and limes are snug inside the parchment.
7. Bake for 18 to 20 minutes.
8. Meanwhile, make the Avocado Cumin Mayo.
Avocado Cumin Aioli
1 ripe avocado
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
½ teaspoon raw organic agave or honey
Juice of 1 small or ½ large lemon
¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon mustard powder
Zest of one lime (reserve the limes)
¼ teaspoon cumin
Process all ingredients together in a food processor into a smooth paste.
Taste and adjust seasonings to your liking.
Brussels + Leeks Slaw
Cut the stems off the Brussels sprouts and thinly slice horizontally.
Thinly slice the leeks to match the size of the Brussels sprouts (or cabbage).
Toss them together.
Heat up a heavy duty saute pan and spray lightly with olive oil. One at a time, toast the tortillas as soft or crispy as you like.
Assemble the tacos with the shrimp, Avocado Cumin Aioli, Brussels sprouts + leeks slaw and avocado slices. Garnish with cilantro leaves and fresh lime juice.
Click below for a printable version of the recipe:
Blanching garlic: a mini tutorial
In a busy restaurant kitchen, garlic is not something you will often see a cook lovingly peel and mince. There is no time for that.
Gallons of pre-peeled cloves are instead dumped into a commercial processor daily to be broken down into a fine paste, destined to be used up by the next day. It’s a high demand ingredient, a foundational part of close to every dish on the menu.
I never learned to like that task.
I never liked it because it made me face something important about cooking, and thus life. There is a distance between the intimacy of moderation and the weight of excess. What we can see and taste and hold in exuberant quantities stands to lose its charm. The senses become dulled and the sensual connection, lost.
And so, the romantic pungency of a single clove of garlic becomes noxious in high volume.
On another garlic note, sometimes we need to peel more than a couple of cloves and ASAP, so here is a little technique for making that easy: blanching.
Blanching is also an excellent way to soften the edge of garlic, and may be helpful for those who find raw garlic hard to digest. In this case, simmer a little longer, 5 to 6 minutes.
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