Yesterday In New York, the temperature reached 104 degrees F.—and that was the mean temperature, not the heat index (which was probably 112-114 degrees). Today, we’re told, ain’t going to be much better. With heat like that, the idea of cooking anything is out of the question. Even lighting up the old grill seems onerous. So what better way to fight heat and hunger than with AVOCADOS! Yes, that delicious fruit. That’s right, it’s a fruit, not a vegetable.

In my family we’ve consumed avocados forever. And not only as guacamole. We have it with eggs for breakfast; or in sandwiches for dinner. Mainly we eat it anywhere with a dash of salt and pepper. Avocados are perfect for summer since they need no cooking. Just peeled, remove the pit, slice, drizzle with a little olive oil and salt, and there you have it. But more, avocados and perfect for salads.

Avocados were introduced from Mexico to California in the 19th century, where they proliferated and became an extremely successful cash crop. In fact, Fallbrook, California, claims to be the “Avocado capital of the world.” The most common type of California avocado is the Hass variety, which is found everywhere these days. In my clan we like the Mexican /Guantemalan breeds life the Fuerte or Mexicola. These are bigger, have a smooth green skin and, to my palette, a richer nuttier flavor. But our prefer variety are those from Florida (like the type called Spinks)  which are larger, rounder, with a smoother flavor.

Avocados got their name from Spanish Explorers who couldn’t pronounce the Aztec word for it: “ahuacatl” or “testicle” (because of its pear shape appearance). The Spanish mispronounced it as “aguacate.”

Below are 3 quickie  avocado salad recipes, all from my cookbook Puerto Rican Cuisine in America (Avalon Books: Thunders Mouth Press). Now, the main question: how can you tell when an avocado is ripe? Simple. It’s outer skin will yield to gentle thumb or finger pressure. Eat ripe avocados right away. If they are green and hard, store in a cool place a day or two before using. If you want it to ripen faster, put the avocado in a brown paper bag.

1) GAZPACHO DE AGUACATE:  In a bowl, combine 1 large ripe tomato, diced; 1 medium cucumber, diced; 1/2 medium green bell pepper, seeded and diced; 1 small onion, finely sliced; 2 cloves garlic, minced; 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley; 1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil or 1/2 teaspoon dried; 3 tablespoons olive oil; 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar; 1/4 teaspoon oregano;  salt and ground black pepper to taste. Mix well and let stand in the refrigerator for15 minutes. Take 3 fully ripened avocados,  cut in halve; and place an avocado half on a salad plate with a bed of crisp lettuce leaves. Fill each avocado half with the vegetable mixture and serve. 6 servings.

2) ENSALADA DE AGUACATE Y HONGO: In a mixing bowl, combine 3 tablespoons olive oil, 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar, 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard, 2 cloves minced garlic, salt and pepper to taste. Add  1/2 pound fresh mushrooms,  washed and thinly sliced. Mix well. Cut an avocado in half; and cut each half into 1-inch cubes. Add to mushrooms and blend gently. Serve immediately. 4 servings.

3) ENSALADA DE AGUACATE Y JUEYES: In a bowl, combine 1 pound fresh lump crabmeat, 1 cup mayonaise, juice of 1/2 lemon, 2 tablespoons finely chopped onion,1 minced clove garlic, 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley, 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano, salt and pepper to taste. Mix lightly. Cut 2 ripe avocados into slender wedges and squeeze juice of  remaining 1/2 lemon over the avocado to prevent discoloration. Place crabmeat in the center of a serving platter. Arrange avocado wedges along with slices of 2 medium tomatoes, alternately, around the crabmeat. Sprinkle avocado and tomatoes with salt; garnish with a few parsley springs and serve.4 servings.

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