Dining Guide: Al Rasheed: Respecting the avocado: Proper preparation is key


By Sophia Al Rasheed / Columnist

I recall the first time I laid eyes on an avocado.

As much as I can’t picture my life without it today, it’s interesting to think I didn’t initially give it a second glance. I couldn’t accept everyone’s claims that something so rugged on the outside could hold anything so vibrant and delectable on the inside. 

But this is just one of the many life lessons we can learn from the avocado: that first impressions aren’t always what they seem, that we shouldn’t judge from appearances and that which you once ignored can become a staple in your life.

The most wonderful lesson I’ve learned is that something you truly love can love you back. What has made this food so popular is not just its distinct, buttery taste, but that it’s actually good for you. Rich in vitamins and constituted of good fat — mostly monounsaturated — and minerals, it’s one of those rare foods that is as beneficial as it is enjoyable.

With that said, I think it’s very important that we treat this fruit with the respect it deserves. Too easily can its benefits be sacrificed during hasty preparation. For example, consuming the avocado in prepackaged guacamole, albeit delicious, will not likely give you its full benefits because of additives and preservatives. Let’s not forget that, out of shyness to air exposure, this guy also turns brown rather quickly. 

Take it from an obvious advocate: The best way to incorporate the avocado into your diet is to use it as your base and work your way around it, so neither its health benefits nor taste go to waste. 

One last thing before we get into recipes: You’ll have to limit consumption to the proper serving size of half an avocado. I know, it’s tough, but we can’t forget that any more than the actual serving size will rack on excessive calories and will not provide you with the maximum benefit. 

The simplest way to consume such a limited amount of avocado without the risk of tarnishing it is by scooping it and eating the fruit on its own. After pitting it, sprinkle with salt, pepper and, most importantly, a pinch of garlic powder. Minimal spices will allow you to experience the under-exaggerated flavors in the euphoric Ratatouille style — you know, where everything turns black and Remy is transported into heaven. This is at least how my first raw avocado experience —and every one after that — seemed to transpire. 

Side note, since we’re at this point, if you ever feel that your guacamole is “missing something,” it’s probably garlic.

Another step up for incorporating avocado is inspired by the Shadyside Scrambler at Red Oak Cafe on Forbes Avenue. The soft texture of eggs and the soft texture of avocado would appear to be odd complements, but trust me on this. My favorite version is scrambled eggs with spinach, topped with slices of avocado and — brace yourself — a sprinkle of feta cheese. 

Another side note: as a Pittsburgher, I find myself troubled by eating eggs without ketchup on the side. But for those with similar problems, the distinct avocado and egg taste is not at risk with the incorporation of Heinz. If it seems like we’re stretching to all corners of the globe for a dish, it’s because we are, and it’s delicious.

These are the safer routes for avocado usage, but when you’re ready to step up from the soft-core game, you might be interested in the next step: utilizing its creaminess. 

As many vegan cooks have discovered, the avocado’s buttery texture has a creamy potential conducive to soup recipes and even pasta sauce, but without the guilt that normal creaminess entails. These soups and sauces are otherwise created with high-calorie and high-fat ingredients such as butter and heavy cream. Even better, the process is pretty simple: Just toss a cubed avocado into a food processor with a thicker vegetable and a few other simple ingredients such as oil or milk — no heavy cream needed. For these recipes, you’re allowed to use a full avocado because if your experience is anything like mine, you’ll be expected to share your culinary creation.

I first discovered a soup recipe while trying to get rid of a lot of vegetables at once, and it turned out to be the best soup I’ve ever made. Try placing an avocado and a bunch of cooked asparagus in the food processor, along with a dash of oil, lemon juice and some kind of stock — a vegetable would be ideal — blend together and you have a soup you can eat either cold or hot. I was a newbie to cold soup, but my laziness soon got the better of me, and I think it tasted better without heat.

Finally my favorite recipe I discovered, which was prompted by Internet avocado enthusiasts just like me: avocado pasta sauce. If you’re someone who has shied away from thicker sauces such as alfredo because of their lack of nutrients but still miss that hearty taste, this recipe will soon become your best friend. The process is similar to the one I just described: Place a whole cubed avocado in the food processor with garlic, olive oil, a splash of some kind of milk — the recipe called for almond milk — along with a bit of sliced cucumber for consistency. 

Once the pasta is fully cooked and the avocado mixture resembles the thick texture of alfredo sauce, add it immediately to the pasta — I used spaghetti so I could have satisfaction in every swirl — so that the temperature is just right. I’ve read that it’s best not to store or reheat, but I have never run into the problem of having to store this. I topped mine with red pepper flakes and Parmesan and shamelessly Instagrammed the creation before it was gone.

I hope I’ve inspired you to try this fruit in one of the ways it’s meant to be enjoyed, although there’s no harm in sticking to the staple guacamole usage that is usually associated with avocados — it is Guactober after all. 

Write to Sophia at [email protected]