Sweet and savory: Surprising recipes to enjoy California avocados

By Evan Kleiman

Avocados are seasonal, and varieties change throughout the year like these from JJ’s Lone Daughter Ranch in Redlands, Calif. Photo courtesy of JJ’s Lone Daughter Ranch.

Avocados – with their smooth texture, rich yet subtle flavor, healthy fats, and gorgeous color – continue to satisfy us, primarily smashed as in guacamole, or slathered as in avocado toast. But there are more ways to enjoy the California staple. But before we get into recipe ideas, let’s pause here for a moment to acknowledge how lucky we are to live in a state that produces so much of the fruit. 

I reached out to our listeners on Instagram and asked what they do with avocados (besides toast). I got a deluge of responses that run the gamut from savory to sweet, and every part of a meal, from breakfast smoothies, to dessert cakes and pie. So let’s dig in. Let’s start with a shoutout to the Mexican embrace of the indigenous fruit. It’s an example of how a few slices of avocado can top nearly everything and make it better.

Each variety of avocado has a slightly different flavor profile and texture, from creamy smooth and slightly sweet, to a bit watery with nutty overtones. Photo courtesy of JJ’s Lone Daughter Ranch.

Now to some ideas. What I love about all of these is that the recipes can be personalized using your favorite palate of spices. Avocados are a flavor foil because of the fat and texture. There is the stuffed avocado half, for example, a dish I associate with the ladies who lunched in the ‘70s and ‘80s when it was most frequently filled with a salad of lightly-dressed, small bay shrimp. I don’t love those tiny shrimp anymore, but a good shrimp salad in an avocado is both easy and a treat.

Avocado makes a welcome appearance in the Italian tomato salad panzanella. Photo by Shutterstock.

Chopped salads are very much in vogue again and avocados act as a liaison – an element that brings together all the other textures and flavors. But the fruit (yes, avocado is a fruit) is also excellent in a more featured role as in a chicken salad. Use your favorite rotisserie chicken, some chopped avocado, and mix it with minced red onion, a bit of chopped parsley, and some mayo to taste. It’s one of the most satisfying simple meals I make. 

And another listener suggested adding it to panzanella, the Italian tomato, cucumber, sweet pepper bread salad, which I think is a genius idea. It’s good to remember that on the salad front, avocados play well with grains. Google “avocado and grain,” and a zillion bowls come up, many using quinoa as the grain. But I encourage you to try barley, or my favorite these days, coarse bulgur. It has a good chew which works well with the tender avocado.

Because of the fat profile of avocados, it’s not surprising that many vegans use them in lieu of dairy or eggs. Try them instead of mayonnaise in tuna salad, for example, or in breakfast smoothies. The most creative vegan use submitted to us was as a faux Alfredo sauce where it’s blended with nutritional yeast, olive oil, and garlic.

Avocado pie is a riff on a key lime pie, but even smoother and richer. Photo courtesy of the California Avocado Commission and John Scudder.

I was surprised by how many listeners use avocados in a sweet application. A few said their earliest memories is eating it cut up with milk, sweetened condensed milk, and ice. It seems it’s a child’s treat as well as a dessert for everyone. In this theme is the suggestion to simply mash it, top with brown sugar, and eat. This leads us to using avocados in desserts in general. For years I’ve made an avocado pie from an old-fashioned recipe that relies on sweetened condensed milk that’s very similar to a key lime pie. Because of the avocado’s fat, it’s super smooth. One of our listeners substitutes one of the bananas in banana bread for a small avocado. And this avocado loaf cake sounds delicious. And a vegan listener said that her Valentine’s Day go-to dish is this chocolate orange avocado mousse.

I’ll leave you with this idea from Heidi Swanson of “101 Cookbook” fame. She takes the idea of the Indian tarka or tadka of spices bloomed in oil and tops smashed avocado with it. Kind of a mash-up (sorry) of guacamole and Indian flavors. There’s a natural affinity there to explore. I would use a bit of grated ginger and whole cumin and mustard seeds with chile pods.