Expert Vegan Cooking Tips
Heating Up a Fresh Favorite
by Ricki Heller
Next time you're looking for a versatile ingredient to add to your dinnertime arsenal, think "creamy." Think "rich-tasting." Think "velvety." And then, think "green." That's right: avocados are a multi-purpose food that works beautifully as a key ingredient in all kinds of dishes.
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Adding Avocados to Cooked Foods
Avocados, also known as "alligator pear" in some regions, are often typecast as a base for guacamole, topping for tacos, and not much else. Since they were originally cultivated in Mexico as far back as the 1500s, it's understandable we'd continue to use them in traditional ways. But this satisfying comfort food offers not only a subtle, buttery flavor—
class="sectionlink">the perfect base for a variety of dishes—
class="sectionlink">but also an abundance of healthy monounsaturated fats and a high potassium content (great to keep blood pressure levels in check and cholesterol within a healthy range).
Given their mild flavor and high fat content, avocados are actually a great addition to all kinds of vegan baking. They can be used to confer richness of texture, as a binder in batters, or as an egg substitute, much like you'd use other fruit purees. Adding a couple of tablespoons of avocado puree to an existing recipe for baked goods will also increase the moistness of the finished product.
Even unbaked desserts can benefit from the addition of avocados. How about a raw chocolate pudding, or slightly more elaborate chocolate pate (perfect for special occasions), made from avocado flesh, dark chocolate, and a splash of maple syrup?
And you don't have to limit yourself to sweet recipes. Try adding avocado as part of a creamy sauce over pasta, or in casseroles or burgers, such as the flavorful Lentil-Pistachio Patties, below. And if you wish, top them with a dollop of guacamole, for old time's sake.
Choosing and Freezing Avocados
Whether you prefer the crinkly-skinned Hass variety or the smoother, slightly larger Fuerte, avocados are ripe and perfect to eat fresh when they're just soft and "give" a little to pressure from your thumb (be sure to press at the top of the fruit, rather than the side, to avoid bruising the flesh). Most of the time, avocados in the supermarket aren't quite ready to eat, so keeping them out at room temperature for a few days will yield the perfect ripeness. Once they're ripe, they can be kept 2 to 3 days longer in the refrigerator without any negative effects.
And what if you've left the avocado out too long, and it's overripe? No worries—
class="sectionlink">at this point, it's perfect for cooking or baking. Simply peel, remove the pit, and either slice or puree the flesh. Freeze the puree in ice cube trays (you can sprinkle on a little lemon juice if you'll eventually be using it in a dip or spread; if not, freeze as is). Once frozen, pop out the cubes and pack in zippered plastic bags. Slices can go straight to the bags to freeze. Stored this way, the avocado meat will keep up to 5 months. To defrost, place in the refrigerator overnight, or on the counter, covered, for a couple of hours.
If you'd like to try a new way to incorporate this delicious, healthy food into your cooking, here's are a couple of recipes to get you started.
These substantial patties offer a full bodied flavor and wonderful protein content courtesy of lentils and pistachios. The trio of avocado, olive oil, and pistachios together add richness and a healthy serving of monounsaturated fat.
1/2 cup shelled natural pistachios
1 medium carrot, trimmed and cut into chunks
1 medium onion, cut into quarters
2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
2-1/4 cups cooked green lentils (about 1 cup dry)
2 small ripe Hass avocados, cut into quarters
1/4 cup ground flax seeds
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon tamari soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/3 cup whole rolled oats (not instant)
In the bowl of a food processor, whir the pistachios until coarsely chopped. Add the carrot, onion, garlic, and lentils, and process until you have a fairly smooth puree. Add the remaining ingredients except for oats and process to combine well.
Turn the mixture into a bowl and stir in the oats. Allow to sit for 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat a nonstick frypan over medium heat. Scoop about 1/4 cup of the mixture per patty into the pan and flatten slightly. Cook about 4 minutes per side, until deep golden brown. Gently remove to a platter or place in hamburger buns with desired toppings. (Suggestions: lettuce, tomato and hummus; sliced red onion, ketchup and a sprinkling of nutritional yeast; or lettuce, chutney and mustard). Makes about a dozen patties.
Decadent Chocolate Pāté
Make this pāté as a treat on special occasions, or use it to wow guests at a dinner party. Use the best quality chocolate you can find, as it provides the bulk of the flavor in this recipe. Served with a fresh raspberry coulis and some non-dairy "whipped cream," this is vegan heaven.
1- 1/2 cups non-dairy chocolate chips or 6-9 oz. nondairy bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1/4 cup freshly squeezed (essential!) orange juice (remove large pieces of pulp)
1 small ripe avocado
1 tablespoon pure maple syrup
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Fresh or frozen raspberries, if desired
In a top of a double boiler or a glass or metal bowl set over a pan of simmering water, melt together the chocolate and orange juice, stirring occasionally, until smooth.
Meanwhile, peel avocado, remove pit, and puree the flesh in a food processor. Add the melted chocolate and other ingredients and puree until perfectly smooth, creamy, and glossy (be sure there are no specs of green visible!)
Turn the mixture into a small loaf pan (4 x 6") that has been lined with plastic wrap. Refrigerate about an hour, until the top is firm, then cover with plastic and refrigerate overnight.
To unmold, remove plastic from the top of the loaf. Place a clean platter upside down over the top of the pan, and, holding the pan tightly against the platter, turn both over and shake once or twice until the pāté falls out onto the platter. Remove pan and peel away the plastic liner. Serve in thin slices (it's very rich!) with berries or cream. May be frozen until ready to use if desired. Top with raspberries or other fruit. Makes about 6 servings.