Food & Drink: Nutty fruit of a well-hung tree: So smooth it used to be known as 'midshipman's butter', the avocado makes delicious salads, soups and sandwiches

I have never thought of the avocado as a particularly suggestive fruit, but the Aztecs did: our word avocado derives from their ahuacatl, which meant 'testicle tree'. I suppose those plump green fruit dangling down among thick, glossy leaves made the tree seem spectacularly well endowed.

Be that as it may, one of the quirks of the avocado is that it will not ripen on the tree. Nature ensures that the avocado drops to the ground when it is mature in the sense that it has reached full size and is ready to ripen, but before it begins to soften. Commercial growers have to time their harvest carefully. If they pick too soon, the fruit will be too immature to ripen properly; too late, and the crop may become too bruised to sell.

Plucked from the tree at just the right moment, avocados will take between one and two weeks to ripen at room temperature. Their thick, waxy skin ensures that they will not dry out, unlike so many fruit. At home, the final ripening process should present no problem. Avocados need no more than a warm, airy place - the ideal temperature is 60F/15.5C but a little warmer will not hurt. They should not be refrigerated before they are ready to eat.

Avocados originated in Mexico, but long before the Spanish reached the New World they were being cultivated as far south as central Peru. They belong to the laurel family, and botanically fall into three groups. The West Indian avocado, famed for its size if not its savour; the Guatemalan, with medium-sized fruits encased in a gritty, granular skin; and the Mexican, small-fruited with anise- perfumed leaves that are sometimes used as a flavouring.

Many of the best varieties of avocado are crosses between the main groups. Dark, pebbly- skinned Hass, for instance, is a Guatemalan-Mexican hybrid and so, too, is one of the other most common varieties, Fuerte. Hass has a particularly good, nutty flavour and is as smooth as butter (one of our old names for it was 'midshipman's butter'). Both qualities are largely the result of the high oil content (depending on where the Hass is grown, it can contain up to 35 per cent oil), which unfortunately also means that it is loaded with calories.

Many of the West Indian varieties can grow almost as big as footballs but contain little oil (as low as 2 per cent). The consequence is plenty of watery, dull-tasting flesh, which needs a generous hand with spices, herbs and other seasonings to make it worth eating.

Avocado and grapefruit salad

An inherited favourite from my mother, and what I shall be having for supper when I finish this article. You will need to choose an avocado that is only just ripe; firm enough to slice neatly.

Serves 3-4

Ingredients: 1 grapefruit, pink for preference

1 just-ripe avocado

chopped tarragon, chervil or parsley

For the dressing: 1tbs white wine vinegar or tarragon vinegar

a hint of Dijon mustard

a pinch of sugar

5tbs olive oil

salt and pepper

Preparation: Make the dressing in the usual way. Peel the grapefruit, removing as much pith as possible, then divide into segments. Pull off the papery skins as well as you can. Slice the avocado and turn in some of the dressing.

Arrange avocado and grapefruit segments on a plate, drizzle over a little more of the dressing (you will not need it all), and scatter with herbs.

Avocado and yoghurt soup

A perfect, simple summer soup, full of verve but refreshing and satisfying, and an elegant pale green.

Serves 4-6

Ingredients: 2 ripe avocados

1/2 pint (290ml) thick Greek

yoghurt

1/2 pint (290ml) water

lemon juice

2 cloves garlic, crushed

2tbs chopped fresh mint

2 firm tomatoes, deseeded and diced

salt and pepper

Preparation: Halve the avocados and remove the stones. Rub the cut surface of one half with lemon juice and set aside. Scoop the flesh of the rest into a blender and quickly add the yoghurt, a dash of lemon juice, the garlic and the mint. Whiz to a smooth paste and gradually mix in the water. Season to taste. Cover with clingfilm and chill for an hour. (If you want to keep it for more than an hour, get the clingfilm right down on to the surface of the soup to delay oxidisation. It will still be edible 24 hours later, and the light-brown surface can be stirred into the soup with no harm done.)

Shortly before serving, dice the remaining avocado and mix into the soup. Serve in small bowls, garnished with tomato.

Avocado and smoked bacon ciabatta

This is a recipe stolen from London sandwich bars. I adore the taste of salty bacon against the smooth richness of avocado. Adding basil and generous seasoning, and wrapping it in chewy ciabatta bread puts it among my favourite sandwiches. If you want to get really fancy, use home-made mayonnaise sharpened with lemon juice and lifted with finely grated lemon zest.

Serves 3-4

Ingredients: 1 ciabatta, split in half horizontally

4 rashers smoked back bacon, grilled until crisp and broken up

1 ripe avocado

4tbs mayonnaise

6 basil leaves, roughly chopped

2 ripe tomatoes, sliced

a generous handful of frisee lettuce

lemon juice

salt, pepper and cayenne papper

Preparation: Mash the avocado roughly with 2tbs of the mayonnaise. Stir in the bacon and basil leaves. Taste and season with salt and cayenne pepper and a little extra lemon juice if needed. Spread thickly over the lower half of the ciabatta. Lay tomatoes on top, season with salt and pepper, then add the frisee. Spread the upper half of the ciabatta with the remaining mayonnaise and clamp it down firmly on top. Eat straight away, cut into large wedges.

Sweet avocado fritters

This recipe may sound far from enticing, but I promise you, the result is astonishingly good. The avocado itself is just heated through, but not so cooked that it goes slimy, and it marries very well with the rum.

Serves 8

Ingredients: 2 ripe avocados

2oz (55g) castor sugar

3tbs rum

a little icing sugar

wedges of lime to serve

oil for deep frying

For the batter: 3oz (85g) flour, sifted

pinch of salt

1tbs rum

2 eggs, separated

1tbs oil

Preparation: Peel and stone the avocados and slice thickly across the width to form crescents. Mix with the castor sugar and 3tbs of rum. To make the batter, sift the flour with the salt and make a well in the centre. Add the rum and egg yolks and gradually mix in enough water to give a smooth batter with the consistency of thickish single cream. Rest for half an hour. Just before using, whisk the egg whites until stiff. Add the oil to the batter and fold in the egg whites.

Heat the oil to about 195C/ 385F. Drain the avocado, and dip pieces into the batter, coating evenly. Fry until puffed and golden. Drain briefly on kitchen paper, dust with icing sugar and eat quickly with a squeeze of lime juice before the butter turns soggy.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
Sport
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
Voices
A meteor streaks across the sky during the Perseid Meteor Shower at a wind farm near Bogdanci, south of Skopje, Macedonia, in the early hours of 13 August
voicesHagel and Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise, says Robert Fisk
News
peopleEnglishman managed quintessential Hollywood restaurant Chasen's
Life and Style
food + drinkHarrods launches gourmet food qualification for staff
Arts and Entertainment
Michael Flatley prepares to bid farewell to the West End stage
danceMichael Flatley hits West End for last time alongside Team GB World champion Alice Upcott
Life and Style
Horst P Horst mid-fashion shoot in New York, 1949
fashionFar-reaching retrospective to celebrate Horst P Horst's six decades of creativity
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
i100
Life and Style
Black Ivory Coffee is made using beans plucked from elephants' waste after ingested by the animals
food + drinkFirm says it has created the "rarest" coffee in the world
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T plays live in 2007 before going on hiatus from 2010
arts + entsSinger-songwriter will perform on the Festival Republic Stage
Life and Style
food + drinkThese simple recipes will have you refreshed within minutes
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Oracle 11g SQL 2008 DBA (Unix, Oracle RAC, Mirroring, Replicati

    £6000 - £50000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: Oracle 11...

    Recruitment Consultant (Graduate Trainee), Finchley Central

    £17K OTE £30K: Charter Selection: Highly successful and innovative specialist...

    SQL DBA/ C# Developer - T-SQL, C#.Net

    £45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Working with an exciting ...

    Sales and Office Administrator – Sports Media

    £23,000: Sauce Recruitment: A global leader in sports and entertainment is now...

    Day In a Page

    All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

    Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

    Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
    Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

    Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

    So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
    Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

    Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

    Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
    What happens to African migrants once they land in Italy during the summer?

    What happens to migrants once they land in Italy?

    Memphis Barker follows their trail through southern Europe
    French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

    French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

    The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
    Frank Mugisha: Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked

    Frank Mugisha: 'Coming out was a gradual process '

    Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked
    Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

    Radio 1’s new top ten

    The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
    David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

    David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

    A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
    Florence Knight's perfect picnic: Make the most of summer's last Bank Holiday weekend

    Florence Knight's perfect picnic

    Polpetto's head chef shares her favourite recipes from Iced Earl Grey tea to baked peaches, mascarpone & brown sugar meringues...
    Horst P Horst: The fashion photography genius who inspired Madonna comes to the V&A

    Horst P Horst comes to the V&A

    The London's museum has delved into its archives to stage a far-reaching retrospective celebrating the photographer's six decades of creativity
    Mark Hix recipes: Try our chef's summery soups for a real seasonal refresher

    Mark Hix's summery soups

    Soup isn’t just about comforting broths and steaming hot bowls...
    Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'

    Tim Sherwood column

    I would have taken the Crystal Palace job if I’d been offered it soon after my interview... but the whole process dragged on so I had to pull out
    Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

    Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

    Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
    Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

    Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

    The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
    Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

    Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

    The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition