Ideas for Starters Using an Avocado, and a couple of useful tips
In this post you will find:
- introduction – what gave me the idea for writing this post, and a short bio of the artist who painted this fabulous image – now available as a print
- how to ripen a rock-hard avocado
- how to stop an avocado from going brown
- how to get the stone cleanly, quickly and easily out of an avocado
- ideas for starters made from avocados
- an impressive recipe for smoked salmon with avocado and sun-dried tomatoes
Introduction – what gave me the idea for writing this post
I recently went to see the wonderful Ayckbourn farce, How The Other Half Loves at the Theatre Royal Haymarket (see the clip at the bottom of the post). It’s a ’60s revival featuring orange telephones and shocking pink, thigh-high patent boots. It’s a pretty daring play, a searing social commentary, involving three couples whose different houses and times are merged on the stage – you can tell by the colour of the sofa seat, or the table cloth which upper, middle, or lower class household the speaker is in. You can see a scene from the play at the bottom of this post.
The posh (Fiona) and less-posh (Teresa) wives, in their respective kitchens, each simultaneously plan a dinner party. Fiona, kicks off with an avocado…… and adds courgettes, sour cream, pork, marron glacé, and kirsch. Teresa opts for a packet of chicken noodle soup, sprouts, spuds, chops, treacle pud, and ‘booze’.
Culinary class wars indeed, but Fiona is right to look to the avocado as a stalwart starter – if you don’t have much notice (she was inviting the third couple for the following evening) you can usually throw something interesting together quite quickly and easily if it involves an avocado. In the ’60s (for other ’60’s recipes go here), just a simple avocado with vinaigrette poured into the hollows vacated by the stone was considered exotic and sophisticated, but these days we have higher expectations.
It’s not surprising – far from being exotic and rare avocados these days are ubiquitous. Sales this year have reached record levels – up 39% on the previous year. In June 2016 a dedicated avocado pop-up restaurant, er, popped up in London. In 2021 it was the most popular superfood. We might eat a simple avocado vinaigrette for a quick lunch (or, like Daniel Boulud, see further down this post, for a quick dessert), but for a dinner party something a little more exciting is anticipated. Below, as well as some quick, but not-very-commonly-known tips, there are some more exciting suggestions.
About Ollie Le Brocq – the artist who painted the featured image
Ollie Le Brocq, is an oil painter based in Suffolk. He specialises in cityscapes, interior scenes, people, and still life, of which many are of food. He captures the classic subjects – pears, lemons, peppers, apples – giving them drama, by a daring use of light, and an aversion to ‘perfect’ edges which he says make him feel uneasy! He also captures less obvious subjects – some glowing orange turmeric for example; or an egg broken into a glass; a cup cake; various reflective glass jars.
Ollie tells me that the avocado which is the featured image of this post originally caught his eye because of the interplay between light, form, and colour found in the subject. “It’s proved to be very popular, I imagine because people like healthy veg, haha, I jest! Though I think the red flash in the background seems to perfectly set off the green of the avocado. If nothing else, it’s striking and simple”. If you are interested to buy one of these limited edition prints, follow this link.
How to ripen a rock-hard avocado, or what to do with it in its rock-hard state
Have you somehow ended up with a rock-hard avocado? Theoretically you can ripen it, wrapped in foil, in an oven pre-heated to 210°C. This works because, as avocados ripen naturally they release ethylene gas. What happens in the wrapped-in-foil-in-the-oven method is that the ethylene is released by the heat, but captured around the avocado by the foil thus launching the ripening process into overdrive.
I must be frank and say that I have tried this, admittedly on a diamond-hard avocado, and it remained diamond-hard. The problem may have been the time – I only gave it ten minutes and I understand it may take up to an hour – but if I ever get this to work I will revise this post! Of the four avocados I had, two ripened naturally (out of the fridge of course) a couple of days later and two (including the one I put in the oven) never ripened.
Alternatively, if you aren’t in quite so much of a rush you can put it in a paper bag with an overripe apple or tomato, and leave somewhere cool and dry overnight.
If you have already cut into a rock hard avocado, and there is nothing for it but to use it immediately, one solution is to make a sort of avocado spread, by chopping it into small dice, and putting it in a blender with some ricotta, walnut oil, sherry vinegar, mint leaves, salt and pepper. You can add hard boiled egg afterwards if you like, and snip in a spring onion.
In the meantime console yourself with this quote from Oliver Pritchett’s My Sunday Best, where he bemoans the fact that avocados at his local greengrocer have been kept out of reach, out of the prying, testing fingers of customers, and goes on to remark:
“The staff at our local greengrocers must be expert at avocado-squeezing; they probably went on a course; there is probably a diploma in avocado-squeezing. If there is these people have got it made and the world is their Galia melon. They are urgently needed in supermarkets where, at present, avocados (and peaches and pears) are marked ‘Perfectly Ripe’ and remain rock hard for the next ten days”.
How to stop an avocado from going brown
There are three main ways, but all are aided if you can keep the stone in:
- cover the cut surface with lemon (or lime) juice and then tightly with clingfilm
- cover the cut surface with olive oil
- make a bed of sliced red onion in an air tight container and put the avocado on top of it
How to get the stone cleanly out of an avocado
- avocado mousse with pesto and smoked salmon
- avocado and crunch with nuts, celery and capers
- avocado and prawn cocktail
- or a salade 632 with prawn and mango
- or in an insalata tricolore – a three-hued, Italian flag of a salad of white mozzarella, red tomatoes, and green avocado – I add capers to mine….
- avocado, smoked chicken and clementines in mayonnaise
- avocado with vinaigrette and crispy bacon, or with chorizo
- avocado mousse made by mashing the flesh with cream, lemon juice and brandy
- or a quick, classic avocado mousse
- smoked trout fillets with avocado and dill-flavoured crème fraîche
- a salad of avocado and artichoke hearts – garnish with a whole prawn
- or, as one Saucy Dressings reader suggests, having tried Mushroom-embraced quails eggs, “Made these and also did it with halved avocados, seasoned with smoked paprika, onion and garlic powder and fresh cracked pepper! Yummy”
- or, as described below, with smoked salmon and sun-dried tomatoes
Avocados aren’t only for starters
Chef Daniel Boulud, of Daniel in New York, is a big fan of avocados but like eating them as a pud. When asked what is his comfort food, he replies,
“… I always have avocado on hand. I split one in half, put a little balsamic, oil, salt and pepper inside, and eat it like a dessert. I have a supplier in Queens – all he sells is avocados straight from Mexico. He ripens them to the perfect texture, then when he delivers, it’s butter.”Daniel Boulud, interviewed in Food and Travel Magazine, March 2022
This is an impressive and elegant starter, but it’s easy to do and it goes down well with most people. The sun-dried tomatoes give it a bit of edge. It might seem as if it uses a lot of limes – but have faith, they help to pep up the avocado.
I usually make this the day before, because it needs a bit of time in the fridge to get the moulds to hold together, but you might get away with a couple of hours.
- 600g/1 lb 5 oz good quality smoked salmon in slices
- 2 large avocados, peeled and stoned
- 4 tbsps olive oil from the sundried tomatoes
- 4 limes
- 6 sun-dried tomatoes (in olive oil), drained and finely chopped
- 18 basil leaves
- 120g4 oz/couple of packs mixed salad leaves
- Smoked salt and Indonesian long pepper
- 2 tbsp walnut oil
- Grease eight ramekins and line with cling film so that it drapes over the edge.
- Line with slices of smoked salmon, leaving no holes and also draping over the edge.
- Mash the avocados with two tbsps. of the oil.
- Zest two of the limes and add their juice to the avocados.
- Add ½ tsp salt and a few grinds of the pepper.
- Tear ten of the basil leaves with your hand as small as you can and mix with the oil and the tomatoes
- Divide the avocado between the ramekins.
- Divide the tomato and basil mix between the ramekins, making a layer over the avocado – try not to let the layers mix.
- Put into the fridge to chill.
- Just before serving turn the moulded ramekins onto eight plates.
- Garnish the plates with the salad leaves, tear over these leaves one basil leaf for each person, drizzle over. 1 tsp walnut oil per person.
- Divide the remaining two limes into 16 wedges and distribute two to each person.
Scene from Alan Ayckbourn’s How the Other Half Loves