Versatile avocados serve as base for fine game-day nosh, guacamole

So, Sunday’s the big game. Which we in the news business (unlike those who are promoting an event) can safely call the Super Bowl.

We in the Living department always look for a theme for our Super Bowl stories. Last year, since the game pitted the San Francisco 49ers against the New England Patriots, we weighed western crabs against eastern ones. This year, it’s the Seattle Seahawks versus the Denver Broncos, teams based in the two states where marijuana has been legalized, which means that it is, inevitably, being called the Pot Bowl.

A recipe for Alice B. Toklas Brownies, perhaps? Yeah, we’re pretty sure that wouldn’t fly. But munchies are not only a safe subject but also apropos.

Which brings us to avocados. This year, the Hass Avocado Board is forecasting the consumption of 208 million Hass avocados on Super Bowl Sunday. (While Hass are not the only variety consumed in the United States, they represent 98 percent of U.S. sales.) They say that’s enough to fill a football field — end zone to end zone — over the top of the goal posts.

So, beyond the oval shape, what’s the affinity of football for avocados, and vice versa? In a word: guacamole.

Which doesn’t appear to make sense to Tacho Kneeland, executive chef at Cabo Wabo in the Miracle Mile Shops at Planet Hollywood.

“It’s American football, and it’s a Mexican dish,” said a somewhat bemused Kneeland, whose restaurant serves its share of guacamole.

Emiliano Escobedo, executive director of the avocado board, thinks the connection makes absolute sense.

“Avocados are a perfect party food, because guacamole is very easy to make and has great taste,” Escobedo said. “You can serve it and munch with chips and stuff throughout the game.”

And guacamole is one of those things that’s amazingly versatile.

“The thing with guacamole is you can always change it,” he said. “There’s all sorts of variations, different ways people serve their guacamole. You can go very basic, from really spicy to not spicy, or make some fusion guacamole, putting seafood, fruit like mango, or bacon in it — use that smoky flavor. And then there are the different types of chilies you can use: fresh Serrano or jalapeno, smoked chipotle.”

And you can — within reason — feel good about it while you’re eating it. Mary Wilson, a registered dietitian and extension nutrition specialist with University of Nevada Cooperative Extension, notes that Americans eat 8 million pounds of guacamole on Super Bowl Sunday. And that dietitians aren’t really unhappy about that.

“We like avocados, because they’re good sources of fiber and potassium, vitamins C and K, folate and B6,” Wilson said. “Now, granted, half of an avocado has about 160 calories and 15 grams of fat, but most of that is unsaturated fat. As dietitians, we think that’s a great way to add flavor to salads and sandwiches without adding things like salad dressing. Instead of using things like mayonnaise, add a few slices of avocado to get that rich flavor.”

Wilson said she knows some people put mayonnaise in their guacamole, but she doesn’t.

“I cheat,” Wilson said, but she means that on a labor-saving level, not a nutritional one. “I just put salsa in my guacamole. Mix that up really good, maybe put in a little lemon juice and a little lime juice. That’s the cheater way.”

How do you ensure your avocados are nice and soft? When shopping, squeeze gently; ripe avocados will yield just slightly. If they’re not ripe and you have time, you can just leave them on the counter to ripen.

There’s also a way to speed up the ripening process. Avocados, Wilson said, don’t start to ripen until they’ve been cut from the tree, because a hormone that comes from the leaves inhibits the production of ethylene gas, which ripens the fruit.

“Put them in a paper bag and set them on the counter and allow them to ripen that way,” she said. “You’re trapping the ethylene in the bag.”

But you don’t have to limit your avocado use — on Super Bowl Sunday or any other time — to guacamole. George Jacquez, executive chef of Aliante, said it’s a very versatile fruit, and one that is finding more and more uses. He remembers back in 1979, when he worked for The Cheesecake Factory, helping to develop a recipe using avocados in egg rolls.

“I thought that was the weirdest way anybody could use an avocado,” he said.

Ah, how times have changed. At Aliante they make avocado fries, breaded with panko and deep-fried. Or sometimes, in the resort’s The Salted Lime, they serve fried avocados, the halved fruit filled with a stuffing — say, seafood — and then tempura battered and fried.

“It just lightly warms it with the salad,” he said. “It’s a really good texture.”

And it gets weirder.

“Believe it or not, avocado pairs very well with chocolate,” Jacquez said. “It’s finding itself in puddings and pies, avocado brownies with avocado frosting.”

Avocado caesar dressing. Avocado-lime bread. Avocado deviled eggs. Avocado hummus. Soups, cold and hot.

“Then you get into the weird ones,” Jacquez said. “Ice cream, popsicles.”

He said to think of avocado as a substitute for cream cheese in some dishes, like that brownie icing.

“Those are the kind of things you could take to a party like the Super Bowl and people won’t know they’re eating them until after they eat them.”

So, will Jacquez be watching the Super Bowl and eating guacamole?

“I’m not a big football fan,” he said. “I’ll be at work, as I am during all the holidays. My wife actually asked me who was in the Super Bowl and I did not know.”

Obviously, no Alice B. Toklas Brownies for him.

FIELD OF GUACAMOLE

6 large ripe avocados, seeded, peeled and cut in chunks

Juice of 3 limes

2 teaspoons salt, or to taste

1 medium sweet white onion, diced

2 large ripe Roma tomatoes, seeded and diced

2 medium fresh jalapeno peppers, seeded, if desired, and diced

½ cup chopped cilantro leaves

2 cups Mexican-blend finely grated cheese, or finely grated cheddar

1 pint sour cream

Food coloring for team colors (optional)

Colorful tortilla chips for dipping

Mash avocados with lime juice and salt in large bowl, until just creamy. Add diced onion, tomatoes, jalapenos and cilantro and combine gently. Stir in grated cheese. Taste and adjust seasoning with more salt if desired. In a glass 9-by-13-inch (rectangular) pan, spread mixture evenly and smoothly.

If using sour cream for team colors, divide it into three bowls. Tint one portion with desired amount of food coloring, repeat for second bowl, and leave third bowl plain. To create design on guacamole, follow next procedure for piping, using three separate plastic zipper bags.

Place sour cream in a zipper bag and squeeze carefully to let all air escape before sealing. Squeeze all the sour cream to one corner and snip a tiny hole in the bottom of that corner. Now use the bag as a pastry bag to pipe your design. Use plain white to pipe on the yard lines and colored sour creams to designate Xs for the defense and Os for the offense. Or, use small yellow and red grape or cherry tomatoes and arrange in a football formation.

Tuck a few tortilla chips around the edges of the pan to add color and eye appeal. Place remaining chips in a serving basket.

Serves 16.

TOMATILLO TOUCHDOWN GUACAMOLE

4 medium tomatillos, husks removed and diced

4 green onions, sliced

2 tablespoons lime juice

2 teaspoons green pepper hot sauce

½ teaspoon salt

4 large ripe avocados, seeded, peeled and diced

Place tomatillos, green onions, lime juice, hot sauce and salt in a medium bowl and toss to combine.

Add avocados to bowl and stir to combine, somewhat mashing the avocado.

Serves 8.

GRILLED AVO BACON SKEWERS

2 large, ripe avocados, halved

4 Roma tomatoes

16 strips peppered bacon

16 pieces of thick sliced deli turkey

Salt, to taste

Pepper, to taste

16 short skewers

Ranch or creamy blue cheese dressing for dipping (optional)

Take each avocado half and remove from the skin with a large spoon, keeping the fruit of the avocado intact. Cut each half into quarters. Set aside.

Cut each tomato into quarters and remove all the seeds. Set aside.

Lay each strip of bacon flat. Fold one piece of turkey to fit on top of each bacon strip. Top the turkey slices with one piece of avocado and tomato. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

Roll the bacon and turkey around the avocado and tomato pieces tightly and skewer, putting one roll on each skewer.

Cook over a medium-hot grill until the bacon is fully cooked.

Serve with dressing for dip, if desired.

Serves 8.

Contact reporter Heidi Knapp Rinella at hrinella@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0474.

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