Avocados are a finicky fruit. One second they are perfectly ripe and ready to be made into dips, spreads and more, and the next they're brown and squishy on the inside. So how do you pick the perfect avocado? And what do you do with it besides spread it on avocado toast?
From stuffed avocados to avocado smoothies, there are plenty of uses for the fruit that range from breakfast treats to lunch or dinner delights. Yahoo Life asked celebrity chef Nyesha Arrington, a Southern California native and avocado fan to share her own quick and easy tricks for getting the most out of avocados.
How do you pick perfect avocados at the grocery store?
When staring down a bin of avocados in the produce aisle, it can be tough to make sure you grab the one that's perfect for your Cobb salad or avocado salsa. Arrington says with a bit of knowledge, choosing the perfect avocado doesn't have to be intimidating.
"You don't want to see tons of bruising," says Arrington, adding that avocados arrive at grocery stores and farmer's markets in a range of ripenesses. The more firm the avocado feels the less ripe — or less soft — the inside is going to be.
Arrington, who spoke with Yahoo Life as part of her work promoting the California Avocado Commission and California Avocado Month, says before going on an avocado run, it's important to know what you're going to do with them.
"It is important to have a plan," says the Top Chef star, Chopped judge and Next Level Chef mentor. "I think that's going to indicate what level of ripeness of an avocado that you're looking for. Because ultimately, you can eat avocados at different ripeness based on the use of the actual avocado."
She says more ripe soft avocados are best for guacamole, while firm avocados are great for slicing and eating or using on top of a salad. "It's important because it's not like a one-size-fits-all situation," she explains. "The different levels of ripeness are going to dictate the experience of the avocado."
Arrington says the best way to test the ripeness of an avocado is to give it a little pinch: If it gives just a tiny bit, it's good to use.
What's the best way to ripen avocados?
It's a common problem to bring avocados home from the grocery store, only to find the fruits are a bit too firm to use. So what's a home cook to do?
"I'm going to let it sit on the counter," says Arrington. "I'm actually picturing my counter now — there's two windows so the sunlight can help ripen [things]."
No time to wait for nature to take its course? Arrington has a suggestion. "If you want to ripen it very quickly, you can store it in a paper bag and that's going to help a lot faster," she says.
If your avocados are ripening too fast and taco night is still a few days away, Arrington says you can put them in the refrigerator to slow down the process, but she warns that an avocado is at its most robust flavor-wise when its room temperature, so be sure to let it sit before serving.
How do you cut into an avocado safely?
When it comes to cutting into an avocado, social media hacks abound. But just how safe is it to slice an avocado in your hand, or go at the squishy fruit with a knife without the support of a cutting board?
"It can be a tricky thing," says Arrington. "I rarely suggest to people that they cut things in midair. That's not really very safe."
Her first tip is to lay the avocado flat on your work surface so the stem end is facing you and the larger middle portion of the avocado is on a cutting board. Then take your knife and start at the stem end and put it into the avocado until you hit the seed. "Keep rotating the avocado," she says, "and that will create an even cut around it, just kind of tracing that seed."
After twisting the two sides apart, Arrington says she doesn't prefer to get the seed out with a knife like most other chefs or home cooks. "What I like to do is I just kind of gently squeeze half of the avocado just on the top and on the side and it kind of releases [the pit] a bit," she explains.
And Arrington puts those pits to good use: "I've become so freaking annoyingly passionate about saving my avocado seeds and re-growing them," she says. "I actually had like four little avocado plants that were like my COVID project."
What can you do with overripe avocados?
Arrington is a big fan of avocados for non-cooking applications as well, especially if a few have gotten a little too overripe on her kitchen counter. "I really am so passionate about avocados," she says. "I have been making hair masks out of them if they're overripe. I blend it up in a spice grinder and toss it in my hair with a couple of eggs, or I blend it with some manuka honey and I use it as a facial mask."
"If it's a little overripe, it doesn't have to hit the trash necessarily," she adds.
Why are avocados so healthy?
Avocados have long been considered part of a healthy lifestyle — but what makes them so special?
"Avocados are really rich in vitamin E," says Arrington, "and they have natural fats in them that our body loves. We want those good fats and don't want the trans fats, so that's really beautiful. That's why I put it on my skin."
Can avocados be used in sweet and savory dishes?
Arrington says avocados are great for a multitude of culinary applications from sweet to savory.
"I think we've all seen the interesting way to use avocados, which is like an avocado chocolate pudding, sort of blending cocoa powder and agave or whatever sweetener you want," she says. "For me, I like to do all kinds of things — I mean BLTs with avocado are one of my faves, and I think avocado and seafood go really well together."
One of her favorite snacks is heavy on the avocado goodness. "I take a rice cracker and smash avocado onto it, drizzle sesame seed oil and sprinkle everything bagel spice into it and do some sliced eggs. It's my favorite snack."
Another way to use avocados in a savory way is to grill them. "When you grill an avocado some of those natural fibers in the avocado sort of break down and it takes on this next level of smokiness," she says. "You get those charged flavors and it makes it a lot more robust."
To create a full and balanced avocado dish, Arrington says to think about flavors, textures and fat. "We can use something like seafood as a vessel to complement avocado, which happens to be naturally sort of fatty and rich and luxurious," she says. "You can offset textures with different fish and acidity, like lime juice."
How can you combat browning on avocados?
We've all seen it: the oxidation of avocados as they sit out exposed to air waiting to be eaten can put a damper on things. Luckily, Arrington has a simple tip to combat that browning.
"You can tell the mouthfeel and texture is different for an avocado that's been cut open and has started to oxidize after being exposed to air," she says. "But a way to combat that is controlling the time and thinking ahead and being proactive. I like to get everything prepared as much in advance as possible, and then once my guests come, I can just crack the avocado open and fold it in the at last minute."
Celebrate California Avocado Month every day with two of Arrington's favorite avocado dishes.
California Avocado Crab and Tuna Stack
1 small heirloom tomato, diced
1/2 cup peeled and diced English cucumber
1 tablespoon minced chives
1 tablespoon minced shallots
1 tablespoon minced parsley
1 medium lime, juiced and zested
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons Japanese-style mayonnaise
6 ounces jumbo lump crab, picked through to ensure no shells or cartilage remain
6 ounces raw ahi tuna, diced
4 ripe fresh California avocados, seeded and peeled
1 teaspoon sesame oil
5 sprigs fresh cilantro, chopped including stems
1/8 teaspoon hot sauce
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
In a large bowl, combine the tomatoes, cucumber, chives, shallots, parsley, lime zest, olive oil and mayonnaise. Spoon half of this mixture into another bowl.
Add the crab to one of the bowls with the tomato-cucumber mixture and fold ingredients together. Add the tuna and half of the salt to the remaining tomato-cucumber mixture in the second bowl and fold ingredients together.
Cover and place both bowls in the fridge to chill until ready to use.
In another bowl, lightly mash 3/4 of the avocado with a fork, ensuring large chunks remain visible. Fold in sesame oil, cilantro, lime juice, hot sauce, cayenne pepper and remaining salt. Set mixture aside.
To assemble, use a 2-inch ring mold. If a ring mold is not available, substitute with a small can (about 2 3/8" diameter) with both ends removed. Evenly spread 1/6 of the avocado mixture to create bottom layer in the ring mold. Next, layer 1/6 of the crab mixture over the avocado and gently press into the mold. Finish the stack with 1/6 of the tuna mixture, gently pressing down. Gently remove from the ring mold by pulling mold off the stack in an upward motion.
Repeat five more times with the remaining mixtures to create six stacks.
Finally, with the remaining avocado, cut into thin slices and place three thin slices on top of each stack just before serving.
Grilled California Avocado and Peach Salad
1 cup black quinoa
2 ripe, fresh California avocados, halved, seeded and peeled
2 medium firm peaches, seeded and halved
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, for frying
1 tablespoon kosher salt, separated
1 (5-ounce) package wild arugula, 1/2 cup reserved for vinaigrette
1/4 cup no-shell chopped pistachios (optional)
1/2 cup wild arugula
1/2 cup baby spinach
5 no-shell pistachio nuts
1 1/2 teaspoon creamy Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon honey (local if available)
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup grapeseed oil (may substitute extra virgin olive oil)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 clove garlic
1 pinch cayenne pepper
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste
1/8 teaspoon pepper, or to taste
Prepare quinoa according to package directions. Drain well using a fine strainer and spread on a rimmed baking sheet. Let stand, tossing occasionally until dried, about 30 minutes.
While quinoa dries, place all the Pistachio-Arugula Vinaigrette ingredients in a blender. Blend on medium speed until combined. Set aside.
Once the quinoa is thoroughly dry, heat oil for frying in a large skillet on high until waves begin to form in oil. Carefully add the quinoa, reduce heat to medium and fry until puffed, approximately 30 seconds. Drain the quinoa in a fine strainer to remove excess oil and transfer to paper towels. Sprinkle lightly with salt.
On a tray or baking sheet, place avocados and peaches cut side up, drizzle with olive oil and lightly season the avocados with salt.
Heat grill to medium high, add avocados and peaches cut side down, reduce heat to low and grill until tender and slightly charred (peaches 5 minutes; avocados 2 minutes).
To assemble salad, toss arugula with a small amount of the vinaigrette and place on the platter. Next, sprinkle quinoa on the platter.
Cut avocado and peaches into wedges and place onto the platter.
Drizzle with vinaigrette.
Garnish with chopped pistachios if desired.
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