Guacamole or toast—the avocado test
Identifying the perfectly ripe avocado is a gift. If you do find it, you deserve the classic avocado vinaigrette
Word has reached me from India that the nation is in the grip of full-blown avocado hysteria; that avocado toast may even have replaced aloo paratha as the nation’s favourite breakfast. In a bid to keep both body and Instagram feed in tip-top condition, it seems health- and image-conscious folk are going to extraordinary lengths to secure the world’s latest “miracle" food. Some of the more desperate are securing the services of avocado bootleggers and are willing to part with up to Rs200 per fruit.
As we all know by now, as well as being delicious, easy to eat and pretty to look at, the avocado is power-packed with an abundance of great nutrients, including vitamins K, C, B5, B6 and E; they are high in potassium, heart-healthy monounsaturated fats and fibre; they’re low in saturated fat and some studies have suggested that avocados can reduce cholesterol levels. They might even make your hair shinier. Food writer Jane Grigson gives this anecdote in her 1978 Vegetable Book, “A Ghanaian friend told us that in Accra there is a (avocado) tree in every garden….everyone gets bored with the fruit during the season….Barrow-loads are put by the road, at the end of gardens, with notices saying Help Yourself. The stray dogs make up their dietary deficiencies, becoming sleek and glossy on the tumbled fruit that no one bothers to pick up."
No wonder then that we’re all so keen to get a piece of the avocado action. Sadly, though, even when a reliable regular source of fresh avocados (also known as makhanphal, or “butter fruit" in India) has been secured, the Indian consumer’s woes are far from over. How often have you bought a hard avocado which has resolutely refused to ripen? Or bought what you thought was a ripe fruit, only to find a greying mush when you cut into it? Buying the right avocado is tricky business—I’ve even heard of women choosing boyfriends on their ability to identify a perfectly ripe fruit.
In the UK, where once the avocado was a rare, exotic treat, we now spend more on avocados than oranges and competition to increase the share of this booming market among the leading supermarkets is stiff. The supermarkets that can most reliably judge and convey to customers the ripeness of individual avocados will undoubtedly steal a march. International retail chain Asda, whose avocado sales have tripled in the past four years, believes that thanks to its state-of-the-art infrared testing, the days of avocado guesswork will soon be a distant memory. Their £350,000 (around Rs30 crore) machine can listen (I kid you not) to the fruit. The sound of a ripe fruit is different from that of an unripe one, making it possible to accurately label them for sale. It uses a traffic light system—green for “ripe and ready to eat", amber for “needs 1-2 days to ripen" and red for “needs 5-8 days".
For now, in India, while we wait for infrared listening devices, or a particularly gifted boyfriend to come along, the most reliable test of ripeness is the one carried out by your own fingertips. A ripe avocado will feel firm with only a slight amount of “give" when pressed. Anything softer than this is likely to be grey and mushy. If it feels rock hard, it may require up to a week of ripening at home (but may never ripen). To ripen a stubbornly hard avocado at home, put it in a brown paper bag with a couple of bananas.
If you do find yourself in possession of a perfectly ripe avocado (neither too hard nor too soft), I truly believe there is no finer dish than the classic avocado vinaigrette. If the flesh is very soft, it is more suited to guacamole or that Instagram favourite, avocado toast. More interestingly, you could make it into this delicious fresh and zingy salad dressing.
1 perfectly ripe avocado
4 tbsp good extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp wine vinegar
Salt and pepper, to taste
Chopped herbs—like parsley, chives, dill
Fresh bread to serve
Whisk together the oil and vinegar and stir in salt, pepper and herbs to taste. Cut the avocado in half lengthways, take out the stone and pour the vinaigrette into the cavities. Eat with lovely bread.
Avocado and lime salad dressing
2 softish avocados
Juice of 1 lime
A handful of chopped coriander
1 green chilli, finely chopped
Salt and pepper, to taste
Blend all the ingredients together until perfectly smooth. Use as a dressing for green salads, salads containing bulgur wheat (dalia) or couscous. It would also be a fine accompaniment to grilled chicken or fish.
The Way We Eat Now is a fortnightly column on new ways of cooking seasonal fruits, vegetables and grains.