Avocados, those old smoothies


The avocado has become a year-round regular in most produce departments, but it's at its peak right now.

Avocados have a pale yellow-green flesh with a smooth texture and rich, buttery flavor most complementary to crunchy, spicy foods. That's why avocados work so well in cuisines of Mexico, Central America and the Southwest.

Advantages: Avocados are high in mostly unsaturated fats but have no cholesterol. They are low in sodium but high in vitamin B complex and copper, magnesium and potassium.

Selecting avocados: Choose firm ones without tears or bruised skins. Also, shake the fruit and reject the ones with loose seeds. Check the stem end and make sure the button is in place; that will help prevent spoilage. Avocados ripen after they are picked, so to ripen an avocado, place it in a paper bag for three days.

Preparing a ripe avocado: Cut the fruit in half lengthwise around the seed, then twist the two halves to separate. Carefully stick the base of the knife blade into the seed. Twist the knife with the seed attached to remove it. Using a paring knife, slice parallel and opposing cuts through the avocado flesh, but not through the skin, into an even grid of dice. Turn the avocado skin inside-out to eject the dice.

Tricks of the trade: Avocado flesh will brown after being peeled or scooped, so rub the exposed surfaces with lemon or lime juice or vinegar to slow the process.

The key to making a beautiful chicken and avocado salad (see accompanying recipe) is a precise, medium-size dice of ingredients. Though you can use your favorite ingredients, here are my suggestions to provide flavor as well as color and texture:

Red is best provided by diced, vine-ripened tomatoes or roasted red peppers. Blanch the tomato skin and remove, cut in half and remove the seeds before dicing the meat. Roast the red peppers until the skin is black, then transfer to a bowl and cover with plastic wrap until cool. Remove the skin and seeds, then dice.

Green is provided by the avocado, but you can add spicy green chilies such as poblano, anaheim, serrano or jalapeno. Green onions, chives and cilantro are also great herbs in this dish.

White may be provided by red onions for flavor. Jicama adds color and crunch.

Making the salad: Carefully toss all of the vegetables together in a large bowl and assemble the rest of the ingredients.

Start by grilling the chicken, then allow it to cool slightly and cut it into a medium dice. Add the chicken to the vegetables. Add the seasonings, herbs, lime juice and Tabasco until well seasoned. Lastly, add the avocado, tossing just to combine so that the avocado does not get mashed.

Presenting the salad: Lay a few favorite greens that have been tossed in dressing onto the center of the plate. Artistically mound the salad atop the greens and garnish with fresh herbs.

The chicken-avocado salad makes a pretty dish for lunch or brunch.

Spring Grilled Chicken and Avocado Salad

Makes 4 servings.

1/4 cup lime juice

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

salt and freshly ground black pepper

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, washed, patted dry

4 to 6 vine-ripened roma or pear-shaped tomatoes, blanched, skin and seeds removed, cut into medium dice

1 large red pepper, roasted to blacken the skin, placed in a bowl and covered with plastic wrap until cool, skin and seeds removed, cut into medium dice

1 small red onion, peeled, finely diced

1 small jicama, peeled, finely diced

1/4 cup cilantro leaves chopped, plus whole leaves for garnish

1/4 cup green onions, green part only, diced

hot pepper sauce to taste, if desired

2 avocados, cut in half, seeds removed, then diced

4 cups baby salad greens

Preheat the grill or broiler.

In small bowl, combine lime juice and olive oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Reserve and set aside.

Season chicken breasts with salt and pepper. Place on grill, cooking until well seared, about 3 to 4 minutes. Turn over and continue cooking until done, about 4 minutes, depending on size and thickness of chicken. Remove from heat and let cool. Then cut into large dice.

In large bowl, combine tomatoes, red pepper, onion and jicama. Add chicken, chopped cilantro and scallions.

Pour half of lime-olive oil dressing over this mixture, season well with salt, pepper and hot sauce, if desired, tossing to combine. Add avocado and toss only to combine, being careful not to mash avocado.

In a medium bowl, combine greens and remaining dressing, tossing to coat. Place greens artistically in center of serving plates. Divide and mound chicken-avocado salad onto center of greens. Sprinkle with cilantro leaves and serve.

Per serving: 530 calories (57 percent from fat), 34 grams fat (6 grams saturated fat), 21 grams carbohydrate, 40 grams protein, 113 milligrams sodium, 96 milligrams cholesterol, 60 milligrams calcium, 10 grams fiber.

Pub Date: 5/31/98

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