Avocado small in size yet still a superfood

Adrienne Freeman Originally Published June 13, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated June 12, 2013 at 10:17 a.m.
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Adrienne Freeman

Creamy avocado paired with sweet poached shrimp and accented by fresh cilantro is simple to prepare and can be served in avocado shells for an impressive presentation.

One of the buzzwords in the food and diet industry is “superfood.” Although used by widely esteemed medical experts such as the Mayo Clinic, finding a consistent, concrete definition for this term is tedious. Scientists and nutritionists at the Institute of Food Technologists, the leading professional society in food science, recognize that some foods by their basic nature pack a healthy punch by adding vitamins and minerals, cancer-fighting antioxidants and other healthy components. The institute, however, cautions that the term “superfood” can be misused as a marketing tool.

According to the Mayo Clinic, superfoods must meet at least three of the following five criteria:

• Be a great source of fiber, minerals and other nutrients;

• Be high in phytonutrients;

• Assist in reducing heart disease and other illnesses;

• Have a low caloric density; and

• Be readily available.

Many foods that are traditionally known to be good for you, such as leafy greens, nuts and berries, appear on most superfood lists. Some newer lists delightfully feature the creamy, nutritious avocado. This interesting little fruit (yes, it’s a fruit, not a vegetable — the same conundrum as the tomato) used to have a bad reputation because of its high fat content, but now it is recognized that avocados have the desirable monounsaturated fats, the same kind found in olive oil.

The California Avocado Association tells us that the delicious delights are also chock full of polyunsaturated fats, vitamin E, fiber and folic acid. Avocados contribute nearly 20 vitamins, minerals and nutrients to the diet but are higher in calories per portion, so as in everything, moderation is appropriate.

According to various websites, the bumpy, egg-shaped fruit was introduced to California from Mexico in the 19th century, and now 95 percent of U.S. production is in Southern California. Avocados ripen after being harvested, so choose one with dark-green skin that is firm, not hard, to the touch.

Follow these simple tricks when working with avocados. Run a sharp knife around the pit longways, and twist to halve. Using your knife, rap the pit with the blade; it should be slightly imbedded. A quarter twist will loosen the pit cleanly. After opening the avocado, its flesh can darken, but a little toss with lemon juice will help. Although most diners are familiar with the old standby guacamole — a spicy dip made simply from the mashed flesh of the avocado mixed with spices and lime juice — the ideas below add interest to this “super” ingredient.

AVOCADO STUFFED SHRIMP SALAD

Sweet shrimp with a touch of tangy lemon, fresh cilantro and familiar mayonnaise bind tasty avocado chunks into a great light summer salad. Serve it in avocado shells for an easy and impressive presentation.

Ingredients:

1 dozen medium shrimp, peeled and deveined

2 tablespoons seafood boil spices (like Old Bay or Zatarain’s)

1 ripe avocado, halved and flesh diced (avocado half skins left intact)

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon fresh cilantro, chopped

1 rib celery, diced

1/4 cup mayonnaise

Kosher salt and ground pepper to taste

Directions:

In a large saucepan, boil 1 quart water with seafood spice. Add the prepared shrimp to the boiling water, return to boil, cover, and remove from heat.

Cook’s note: The shrimp just needs to cook until opaque to remain tender and sweet. Sitting in the hot water about 5 minutes should be sufficient.

In a small bowl, gently toss diced avocado with lemon. The lemon juice will add flavor and also keep the diced avocado from discoloring.

In a separate bowl, stir together the mayo, seasoning, celery and cilantro. Add shrimp and toss with dressing, stirring gently to combine. Stuff the avocado skins with the mixture and garnish with a few cilantro leaves. Serve immediately, or chill in the refrigerator for up to an hour.

CHERRY TOMATO BOMBS

Adapted from the California Avocado Commission

Cherry Tomato Bombs are a dynamite way to start a meal with zip and zing. Firecrackers you can eat, these spicy single bites combine creamy avocado and cheese with the bang of exotic Sriracha.

Ingredients:

32 cherry tomatoes

4 teaspoons Sriracha chili sauce, divided use (your favorite hot sauce can be substituted)

1/2 cup cream cheese, softened

1 ripe, fresh avocado, peeled and seeded

1 teaspoon lemon juice

32 (1/2-inch long) thin strips red bell pepper or chili pepper (for spicier appetizers)

Directions:

With a sharp knife, cut a small slice off the top of each cherry tomato. Using a melon baller or small spoon, hollow out the center of each tomato, discarding seeds and juice. If the tomatoes will not stand up, cut a very thin slice off the bottom so they are flat.

Blend cream cheese and Sriracha sauce well. Spoon mixture into a zip-close bag, clip a small edge off the bag, and fill each tomato about halfway with cheese mixture.

Halve avocado and remove seed. Cut the flesh into 1/4-inch cubes, and toss with fresh lemon juice to prevent the fruit from discoloring. Place avocado cubes on top of the cream cheese in each tomato, pushing down gently.

If desired, add a generous drop of Sriracha on top of each tomato, and insert a pepper strip to look like a cherry bomb fuse. Serve.

CREAMY AVOCADO SLAW

This spicy variation of traditional coleslaw is a perfect topping for fish tacos and taco salad or as a new summer side dish to serve with the season’s grilled favorites.

Ingredients:

1 ripe avocado, diced

1/4 cup sour cream

1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped

1/2 whole jalapeno pepper, finely diced and seeded

1 tablespoon lime juice, freshly squeezed

1/2 tablespoon honey, agave or preferred sweetener

Kosher salt and pepper to taste

2 cups (1 bag) shredded cabbage

Directions:

In a blender, puree the avocado, sour cream, cilantro, jalapeno pepper, lime juice and sweetener until smooth. Season dressing with salt and pepper. In a large bowl, toss the cabbage with a few spoonfuls of the avocado puree until lightly coated. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and chill for at least 30 minutes before serving.

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