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Avocados: Go Beyond Guacamole

In recognition of Hispanic Heritage Month, "The Early Show" featured avocadoes, a hugely popular ingredient in Latin and South American cooking. You probably know the avocados as the star ingredient in guacamole, but there is so much more you can do with them. Ingrid Hoffmann, a native of Colombia and Food Network host and author of "Simply Delicioso," presented many ways to enjoy one of America's favorite fruits.

The avocado is a wildly popular ingredient in Latin cooking for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, the majority of avocadoes come from the Caribbean, Mexico, Central and South America. Also, it is a cooling ingredient, which works really well to counteract some of the spicier elements of Latin dishes. The name "avocado" also refers to the fruit (technically a large berry) of the tree that contains a pit (hard seed casing) which may be egg-shaped or spherical.

Avocados are a commercially valuable crop whose trees and fruit are cultivated in tropical climates throughout the world -- and some temperate ones, such as California -- producing a green-skinned, pear-shaped fruit that ripens after harvesting.

Avocados were first discovered in the pre-Incan city of Chan Chan in Mexico in 660 AD. The fruit is sometimes called an avocado pear (due to its shape) and alligator pear (by folk etymology, perhaps influenced by the rough green skin). The avocado is a climacteric fruit (the banana is another), which means that it matures on the tree but ripens off the tree. Once picked, avocados ripen in a few days at room temperature and faster if stored with other fruits such as apples or bananas, because of the influence of ethylene gas. Premium supermarkets sell pre-ripened avocados treated with synthetic ethylene to hasten the ripening process. Avocados are often best from about late April to September.

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When you're looking for an avocado, Hoffmann explained, you should look for a firm fruit, with perhaps a small touch of softness. When an avocado becomes soft throughout, it is no longer edible.

Farmers' Market Roasted Vegetable Salad-Stuffed Avocados

4 medium carrots, cut into 1/2-inch rounds and half-rounds
1 medium zucchini cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 medium yellow squash, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 medium red pepper-chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 ear fresh corn -- husk and silk removed
Handfuls of fresh parsley, dill, and chives -- chopped
3 ripe avocados
Zest and juice of 1 lemon (2 to 3 tablespoons juice and 1 tablespoon zest)
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Handful of mixed greens or arugula (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a large bowl, mix the carrots, zucchini, squash, and red pepper. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt and mix well. Spread in one layer on a baking sheet and roast in the oven for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. When done, set aside to cool.

Remove the corn kernels by standing the cob on a plate or in a wide shallow bowl. Set the blade of a small, sharp knife at the juncture of the kernels and cob and slice downward to remove the kernels. Repeat this procedure, working your way around the cob, until all the kernels are removed. Set aside.

Prepare the avocados by carefully peeling the rough skin with a vegetable peeler. Cut lengthwise in half and remove pit. Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon of lemon juice to prevent avocados from discoloring. (As it can be tricky to peel the avocado, feel free to skip this step and simply serve the avocado in its shell.)

In a large bowl, mix roasted vegetables, corn, remaining lemon juice, salt, pepper, 1 tablespoon olive oil, and fresh herbs.

Place each avocado half on a small bed of lettuce or arugula, top with a generous serving of the salad, sprinkle lemon zest on top and serve.

Yummy Avocado Sopita (lower fat)
Serves 4

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 white onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1/2 red, orange, or yellow bell pepper, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
3 medium Hass avocados, halved, seeded, peeled, and roughly chopped
1 1.2 cups 2 percent milk
1/2 pound small raw shrimp, peeled and deveined
Fresh basil leaves, finely chopped, for garnish
2 tablespoons olive oil
Sesame seeds, to taste

Melt the butter in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion, garlic and bell peppers and cook until they are soft, about 4 to 6 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the dill, season with salt and pepper. Put the mixture in the blender jar.

Add the avocado and milk and to the blender and purée. When completely smooth, transfer the purée to a bowl, cover, and refrigerate until chilled (the soup can be made up to 1 day in advance).

Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add the shrimp and cook until curled, pink and opaque, about 2 to 4 minutes. To serve, pour the chilled soup into small glasses or bowls, add a few of the shrimp to each glass and garnish with the basil, sesame seeds, and a drizzle of oil.

For an Avocado Breakfast Tostada recipe, go to Page 2.

Avocado Breakfast Tostada
Serves 2

2 large whole grain tortillas
1 haas avocado, mashed
1 medium tomato, sliced
1 tsp olive oil
2 eggs, sunny side up
1-tablespoon pine nuts or pumpkin seeds
2-tablespoons cilantro, chopped
1/2 jalapeño, sliced (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste

In a small non-stick brush the olive oil and fry each egg. Warm the tortillas on a separate skillet or comal (no need to add any oil).

To assemble:
Spread half of the avocado mash on each tortilla, add a couple of tomato slices and the egg, top with some cilantro, pine nuts or pumpkin seeds and jalapeños, a drizzle of olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Fold over like a wrap and serve.

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