One Question Quiz
Image: Getty / Tina Tiller
Image: Getty / Tina Tiller

KaiFebruary 3, 2023

Ingredient of the week: Avocado

Image: Getty / Tina Tiller
Image: Getty / Tina Tiller

They can be environmentally unsound and are a symbol used to shame millennials, but everyone still loves an avo. 

I love avocados, always have, always will. The buttery golden-green flesh from a perfectly ripe avocado is a culinary blessing.

Today I’d love to simply wax poetic about twisting open a perfectly creamy, silky avocado, and gag at the fact that Countdown’s “creamy guacamole dip” is only 3.5% avo puree, but unfortunately, avocados are more complicated than that. I feel that it’s only right to mention the bigger global picture before telling you about my favourite toast toppings.

Here in Aotearoa, smashed avo on toast has for years been a local symbol for reckless spending; the “it’s your own fault” jab at young people who can’t afford to buy homes. In the warm climates of Mexico, Chile, and California, where most of the world’s avocados are produced, the water needed to grow these buttery fruits can cause water shortages. Each avocado requires about 70 litres of ground or surface water – 18 times more than is required to grow a tomato.

Meanwhile, in the Mexican state of Michoacán, the huge global demand for avocados has led drug cartels to extort avocado producers, leading to the phrase “blood guacamole”. It’s all quite grim when you peek behind the creamy green curtain.

An avocado crop in California, where water shortages make this thirsty vegetable (OK, fruit) controversial. (Photo: Getty)

Luckily for us in Aotearoa, our avocados are produced locally (until recently, many of mine were produced by a large tree at my grandma’s house), so we aren’t really fuelling the North American fires. But now you know, and perhaps your loving avocado gaze will also be tinged with some “it’s complicated”, too.

To lighten the mood, did you know that avocados have been domesticated for over 5,000 years, first by Mesoamerican tribes, and that technically the avocado is a big berry with a single large seed? Alright, enough of that. On to the eating part.

Where to find it

Of course, the best avocados are picked from your grandma’s tree, or bought from an honesty box on the side of a road. Otherwise, you’re basically looking at $2.49 each from New World, $2.60 from Countdown, or $2.26 (or 2 for $4) from Pak’nSave. Supie has the best price, with $2 per avo or $5.50 for a bag.

How to make it terrible

Besides buying avocados in season only, there are some things you can’t easily avoid, like the dreaded stringy avocado (more common earlier in avo season), or avocado that’s been bruised by too many prying, squeezing fingers. For best avocado odds, I usually buy avocados that are still hard and bright green, then play the long game, watching them gradually darken in the fruit bowl.

Then there’s the question of when to open ’em up. Because avocados are delicate, when left at room temperature they only have a one-to-two day window where they’ll be perfect. Either side of that, you’ve missed your shot. Unripe avocado is watery instead of creamy, with a squeaky texture best left to halloumi. Overripe avocado takes on a subtle, nauseating smell that not even a big squeeze of lemon juice and overzealous salt grind will disguise.

No matter which way you slice it, it’s too late for this guy. (Photo: Getty)

If your avocado is almost ripe but you’re not ready to eat it, pop it in the fridge. Avos last a bloody long time in the fridge, even when they’re half eaten. Squeeze over some lemon, keep the stone nestled in there, and just slice off the browned layer when you want the rest a day or two later.

A final note: I’m strongly against cooking avocado. If you overdo it, the avocado flesh becomes bitter (because, chemical reaction). If you do it right, you’ve got weirdly flavoured, mushy, warm avocado, so you’ve done it wrong by doing it at all. Recently my dad baked black bean nachos with the guacamole already on top. Just, don’t. Why ruin a good thing?

How to make it amazing

Sure, a salad that includes some avocado is nice, a green smoothie is better creamy, and avocado chocolate mousse is interesting. Avocado plays a very solid supporting role in sushi, sandwiches, and chicken burgers. But are any of these the best use of an avocado? Not to me.

In my humble opinion, there’s only one way to truly make the most of an avocado, and that’s guacamole. If I had to choose only one food to sustain myself for the rest of eternity, and nutrients didn’t matter (assuming strangely constricting yet generous overlords), guacamole and corn chips would have a strong case for being The One. Creamy, slightly tangy, slightly spicy, perfectly salty, and totally delicious.

Guacamole: chili, salt, garlic, tomato, onion, coriander, lemon or lime and, of course, avocado. (Photo: Wyoming Paul)

Another excellent use case? Avocado on toasted Vogel’s – thin layer of mayonnaise, sliced avocado (not smashed, for silkier texture reasons), big squeeze of lemon, salt and pepper, maybe a few leaves of basil or coriander. Plain avocado and bacon on toast is also damn good, now that I’m salivating over Vogel’s. And I’d happily eat a cream cheese, avocado, pesto, and fresh tomato bagel any day of the week.

If you want to step away from the wonderful world of toast, I’d also recommend this creamy avocado fettuccine with fresh red onion, where the avocado flesh is blitzed with lemon juice, garlic, olive oil and salt to make a smooth and creamy sauce. While the avocado gets slightly warm, I think it passes the “raw not cooked” test.

Avocado puts the cream in this creamy pasta dish. (Photo: Wyoming Paul)

Wyoming Paul is the co-founder of Grossr, a mealkit alternative. 

Read all the previous Ingredients of the Week here.

Keep going!