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Ahuacatl/aguacate/abacate/avocat/avocado/alligator pear/palta.

When the Aztees ruled Mexico, game animals were scarce, and most of the available protein lived in the water or on the wing. To supplement their largely vegetarian diet, the Aztecs developed a taste for such delicacies as frogs, iguanas, newts, tadpoles, water flies, larvae and winged ants. A special favorite, the agave worm, was often served with a sublime sauce of chili pepper, tomato and avocado.

The Aztecs considered the avocado an aphrodisiac and called it ahuacatl, or testicle, perhaps because the fruit hung in suggestive pairs from shiny-leafed, anise-scented trees. The Spanish conquistadors called the avocado aguacate and the fiery sauce aguacamole, later shortened to guacamole.

Mexicans today have more meat on their menus, but guacamole remains the favored accompaniment. The descendants of Aztec and conquistador alike eat it with everything from beef, poultry and fish to refried beans, cheese and tortillas--or with nothing but a fork or spoon. And for every way to eat guacamole, fifty different recipes seem to exist. This is my favorite:

GUACAMOLE (Serves 4 to 6)

3 ripe avocados 1 tomato 1 small red onion 3 serrano or jalapeno chili peppers juice of l lime or 1/2 lemon 1 tablespoon chopped fresh coriander (optional)

Mince the onion and peppers and place them in a bowl with the lime or lemon juice. (For milder guacamole, use fewer peppers and remove the veins and seeds before mincing.) If you like, you may add coriander (cilantro), but be advised that it is an acquired taste that not everyone manages to acquire. Cut the tomato in half horizontally. Gently squeeze the halves to remove and discard the seeds and juice, then chop the tomato into small pieces and add them to the bowl. Cut the avocados in half lengthwise, twist them open, and remove the pits, prying them loose and lifting them out with your fingernails or the tip of a sharp knife. Cradling the avocado halves in your palm, mash the flesh with a fork, then scoop the pulp out of the shells with a spoon. If you like a smoother texture, force the pulp through a sieve with the back of a spoon. Add the mashed avocado to the bowl and stir briefly with a wooden spoon. Serve the guacamole with tortilla chips.

Some cooks recommend leaving a pit in the bowl to keep the avocado from turning dark with exposure to the air. I don't think the pit helps, but lime or lemon juice certainly does.

As the Aztecs were savoring their agave worms, European sailors making the passage to the Americans were munching worm-infested hardtack, a flat bread so dry that seafarers reasoned it would take half a century to rot. They tried to soften the bread with water and vinegar, but nothing made it palatable until the ships began taking on fresh provisions, inlcuding avocados, from Caribbean shores. In no time at all, avocados became known as midshipman's or subaltern's butter.

The English-speaking inhabitants of Jamaica dubbed avocados alligator pears. Despite speculation that the fruit's reptilian skin inspired the name, it most likely came from settlers' substituting the familiar and easily pronounced alligator for the unfamiliar ahuacatl or aguacate. Pear, which is what Jamaicans call the avocado today, simply described the shape. Elsewhere, the alligator pear is now known as the West Indian avocado.

Identifiable by its thin, tough, green rind and somewhat watery flesh, the alligator pear was cultivated in the United States as far back as 1766, when it reportedly thrived in St. Augustine, Florida. But consumers generally ignored the fruit, until 20th-century merchandisers changed its name to avocado--apparently a cross between the French avocat (avocado or lawyer) and the Spanish abogado (lawyer), both of which sound a bit like aguacate or ahuacatl, spoken rapidly. Avocado growers also boosted sales in the 1920s by publicly, if disingenuously, denouncing the false notion that the fruit was an aphrodisiac.

Probably the greatest boon to the avocado's popularity in the United States has been the availability of the small, thin-skinned Mexican and the large, dark, bumpy-skinned Guatemalan varieties now grown in California. I recommend either variety or a hybrid of the two. (When selecting an avocado, test for ripeness by gently pressing the stem end. If it yields, the avocado is ripe. If the end is hard, you can hasten ripening by placing the avocado in a paper bag and letting it sit for a few days at room temperature.)

Most of the avocados eaten in the United States today are chopped into salads, blended into dips, spread on sandwiches, or stuffed with crabmeat. My family's love for avocados peaks every year on Christmas Day, when we bite into a molded avocado mousse. No turkey dinner should be without it.

AVOCADO MOUSSE (Serves 8)

1 cup boiling water 1 6-ounce package lime-flavored gelatin 8 ounces softened cream cheese 2 ripe avocados 1 16-ounce can crushed pineapple (or 1 cup fresh or frozen pineapple, which must be poached to prevent it from inhibiting the jelling) 1 cup whipping cream

Add the boiling water to the gelatin and stir until it has dissolved completely, about 2 minutes. Put the mixture in the refrigerator (not in the freezer) to cool.

Beat the cream cheese until it is soft and smooth. Mash the avocados and add the puree to the cream cheese. Beat for several minutes, until smooth. Add the cooled gelatin solution and stir well. Strain the pineapple to remove the juice, then add the fruit to the avocado mixture.

Whip the cream until it forms soft peaks, then fold the avocado mixture into it. Pour into a greased (with vegetable oil or mayonnaise) 1-1/2-quart mold and refrigerate for 4 hours, or until the mousse sets.

To remove the mousse, immerse the mold up to its rim in hot water for 10 seconds, then invert the mold onto a platter and shake the mold lightly. If necessary, run a thin knife around teh edge to release the vacuum seal, before inverting the mold.

A member of the laurel family and kin to sassafras, camphor and cinnamon, the avocado originated in Mexico and Central America more than 9,000 years ago and eventually spread through much of Latin America and the Caribbean. According to Garcilaso de la Vega, son of an Inca princess and a Spanish conquistador, Peru acquired the avocado in the 15th century A.D. Archaeologists working at numerous sites on the Peruvian coast, however, have found avocado seeds or leaves, sometimes buried with mummies, dating back to roughly 750 B.C.

Although Garcilaso seems to have got his dates wrong, his claim that the Palta Indians of Ecuador introduced the Incas to the avocado might explain why the fruit is called palta in the Quechua language and by Spanish speakers in Peru, Bolivia, Chile and Argentina.

By any name, the avocado continues to be an abundant and nourishing staple food of the Americas. People throughout the hemisphere stuff avocados with everything from ham and eggs to rice and olives. Cubans heap them wth diced vegetable salad. Nicaraguans fill them with cheese, then batter, brown, sauce and bake them. Mexicans put them in tacos for picnics. Brazilians mash them with cashews for sandwiches. Chileans slather them onto hot dogs. Californians cram them into pita bread with bean sprouts and cheese. New Yorkers chop them with tomatoes for scallop serviche. Colombians, Ecuadorians and Mexicans slice them into soups and stews, where they practically melt, imparting a delicate, buttery flavor. Nearly every American country has its own avocado soup--hot or cold. In Chile, for example, the heavenly crema de palta regularly brightens dinner parties.

CREMA DE PALTA (Serves 4)

2 tablespoons butter 1/2 cup minced onion 1/4 cup shredded carrot 1/4 cup shredded green pepper 1/4 cup fnely chopped parsley 4 cups chicken broth (preferably homemade) 1 cup milk or cream 2 tablespoons cornstarch 2 ripe avocados salt and white pepper 4 sprigs fresh coriander or parsley (optional)

Saute the onion, carrot, green pepper and chopped parsley in butter until the vegetables are tender. Add the chicken broth and simmer for 25 minutes. Mash the avocados in their shells, then sieve the pulp into a 1- quart bowl or pitcher.

Strain the broth and discard the vegetables. Return the broth to the pot and add the milk. Blend thoroughly, then stir in the cornstarch and cook over medium heat for a few minutes, until the broth thickens slightly.

Remove the pot from the heat. Gradually stir some of the broth into the avocado puree, adding half a cup of broth at a time. When the puree is as thin as the remaining broth, pour the puree into the pot and stir well. Heat the soup, but do not let it boil, or it will curdle and taste bitter. Season to taste with salt and white pepper. Ladle into consomme cups or small bowls, and garnish with fresh coriander or parsley.

Brazilians call avocados abacates and usually eat them sweet--straight from the shell, mashed with lime juice and sugar, or straight from the freezer, in ice cream. Juice-bar proprietors add milk and sugar and whip up avocado vitaminas, aptly named cousins of the fruit-and-yogurt smoothies found in North American health-food restaurants.

Although high in fat, avocados contain much more protein than other fruits contain. Avocados also provide eleven vitamins and linoleic acid, which plays a major role in preventing heart attacks by helping to break down cholesterol and fatty deposits and to keep blood cells from clumping together. So drink your vitamina. It's good and good for you. Even better is creme de abacate, which is thick enough to eat with a spoon.

CREME DE ABACATE (Serve 4)

2 ripe avocados 2 tablespoons lime juice 1/2 cup sugar dash of salt 1 cup milk 2 tablespoons port wine (optioned) grated lime peel or thin wedges of lime

Halve the avocados and remove the pits. Mash the avocados in their shells and put the pulp in a bowl. Cover with the lime juice and sugar, and let stand 5 or 10 minutes. Add a dash of salt, then puree in a blender with the milk, or mix with the milk and press through a sieve. Beat in the wine and chill. Serve from chilled parfait glasses or dessert dishes, and garnish each portion with grated lime peel or a thin wedge of lime.

After one bite of creme de abacate, you'll know why an 18th-century sugar planter called the versatile avocado "charm of sense." Whether you spike them with port wine or chili peppers, mash them into mousse, or swirl them into soup, avocados will mellow any meal.
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Title Annotation:includes avocado recipes
Author:Meadows, Anne
Publication:Americas (English Edition)
Date:Jan 1, 1990
Words:1776
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