Ask cookbook author Pat Tanumihardja about some of her favorite food memories growing up in Indonesia, and avocados will figure prominently in her response.
"Half an avocado, drizzled with palm sugar syrup," she says with a happy sigh.
In many cultures, from Indonesia to Brazil to Sri Lanka, the avocado is treated as the fruit it actually is, sometimes topped off with a squirt of chocolate syrup or sweetened condensed milk, and, more often, incorporated into sweet drinks. The frosty avocado-based shake known in Vietnam as sinh to bo is a simple combination of avocado, condensed milk, ice cubes and sugar syrup that is replicated variously around the world: Indonesians add coffee or chocolate syrup, calling it Es Alpukat, while Brazilians enliven the same shake with a squirt of tart lime juice, and a Moroccan version sweetens the mix with confectioners' sugar and a hint of orange flower water.
Known across Asia as "butter fruit," the avocado has a mild flavor and creamy texture that makes it a remarkably adaptable ingredient for many recipes, including desserts. While avocados are normally consumed raw, and can become bitter if cooked over direct heat, they can be mashed or pureed in baking, and they are increasingly being found whipped into smoothies and bubble teas as Americans discover that avocados can go far beyond standard chip-and-dip fare.
Using avocados for something besides guacamole or other savory dishes was a tough sell for Pati Jinich, host of the PBS television series "Pati's Mexican Table," who grew up in Mexico City.
"The first time I ever heard of using avocados in something sweet was from my sister, Sharon, who is a vegan," Jinich says. "She made this avocado chocolate mousse, and I was totally disgusted by the thought of it."
But because of its thick, buttery consistency, avocado does seem to particularly shine when paired with chocolate, notes Tanumihardja. "Chocolate mousse is a great way to introduce someone to avocado as a dessert, because you really don't know there's avocado in it," she said.
Indeed, Jinich's sister had the last laugh, because that mousse turned out to be delicious, claiming another convert to the avocado-as-dessert movement. Inspired by her sister's mousse, Jinich began experimenting with avocados in smoothies, pancakes and popsicles, leading her to create desserts such as Avocado and Coconut Ice Cream, a surprisingly rich dairy-free confection with a velvety mouthfeel reminiscent of gelato.
"I found that avocados could be one of the most luscious, sensuous, silky, exuberant ingredients ever," says Jinich. "In my house, we use avocados as a savory ingredient 65 percent of the time. We throw it on top of everything. But these days, I'm also putting it in cakes."
The creamy texture of ripe avocados makes it a natural ingredient for rich desserts that are deceptively healthful, because, although there's up to 28 grams of fat in a medium-size fruit, it is largely monounsaturated fat, which can lower LDL cholesterol. A tablespoon of avocado has 25 calories, compared to 100 calories in the same amount of butter, and just over two grams of fat, primarily unsaturated, in contrast to 12 grams of mostly saturated fat in butter. Substitute mashed avocado 1-to-1 for at least some of the butter in baked goods and suddenly that brownie seems like less of a no-no.
When Lara Ferroni set out to research avocado recipes for her book "An Avocado a Day" (Sasquatch Books, 2017), she wasn't necessarily a fan of the dessert avocado, either. Four months and 300 avocados later, she has seen the light.
"Avocados don't really have a savory flavor," Ferroni says, "but they have an umami quality. Once I got over that mental hump of 'It's just for guacamole,' it was really easy to take avocados in a sweet direction."
It was a trip to Australia and New Zealand in December 2015, that got Ferroni, who typically writes single-subject cookbooks on such topics as doughnuts and eggs, thinking about exploring avocados: "You'll find avocados in so many applications there - pickled or mixed with other types of fruit or mashed on toast with goat cheese and balsamic vinegar."
Indeed, avocado can play as well with mango, pineapple and citrus as it does with chocolate, coffee and vanilla. If you're having trouble embracing avocado as a fruit, both Jinich and Ferroni recommend tossing chunks of it into smoothies, which Jinich called "a perfect gateway for avocados" - or even margaritas.
"Once you've done that, it's easier to take the plunge for adding it to cookies and cakes," Jinich says.
Ferroni's "Cado-ritas" blend just a smidgen of avocado with lime juice, sugar, tequila and orange liqueur to add a touch of creaminess to a traditional margarita. "Once I started to explore avocado-based beverages, I really became interested in how to achieve different degrees of creaminess without using dairy," she says.
Her Avocado Key Lime Pie combines many of the same ingredients as her cocktail into a cool green custard inside a graham cracker crust. "It's deliciously tart and creamy," she says. Best of all, the no-bake filling makes it a standout summer recipe with a handful of ingredients and a minimum of prep.
With avocado prices rising this year due to a smaller harvest, the good news is that a little avocado can actually go a long way - although, for some, that may lead to concerns about how to store any fruit that didn't make it into that pie or ice cream.
Ferroni thinks she has found the solution: freezing avocado, either in cubes or lightly mashed, then defrosting it for later use in baked goods or smoothies - but not in guacamole or any other applications where fresh is best.
"I'm pretty sure there was a period of time that I was the country's largest avocado purchaser as a home cook," says Ferroni. "I had to figure out what to do with all those leftovers."
Hartke is a Washington, D.C., writer.
Avocado and Coconut Ice Cream
6 servings (makes 1 quart)
Neither eggs nor dairy is required for this luscious frozen treat, which gets its creamy texture from pureed avocado and rich coconut milk. Calling it "ridiculously yummy," Mexican American chef Pati Jinich notes that the nutty flavor is enhanced by a topping of toasted coconut flakes or nuts - and a drizzle of chocolate syrup would not be amiss.
This recipe calls for an ice cream maker, but this coconut-avocado mixture can be chilled and served as a cold mousse, or packed into a container and frozen to a dense soft-serve consistency.
MAKE AHEAD: For an optimal ice cream consistency, the churned ice cream needs a few hours in the freezer before serving.
Adapted from chef and cookbook author Pati Jinich.
1 1/2 cups regular coconut milk
3/4 cup sugar
Flesh of 3 large ripe Hass avocados halved, diced (about 3 cups)
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1/4 cup dried shredded coconut or sweetened coconut flakes lightly toasted, for garnish (optional; may substitute toasted almonds, pine nuts or pistachios)
Combine the coconut milk and sugar in a saucepan over medium heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Turn off heat and let the mixture cool for a few minutes. then transfer to a blender or food processor, along with the avocado and lime juice. Puree until completely smooth.
Transfer the puree to an ice cream maker; churn according to the manufacturer's directions. It will still be somewhat soft. Place in a separate, freezer-safe container with a tight-fitting lid and freeze for a couple hours before serving.
If using, lightly toast the coconut in a small saute pan over medium-low heat, stirring constantly to avoid scorching. The coconut toasting should take less than a minute. Once the coconut becomes fragrant and acquires a tan, remove from the heat. Sprinkle as a garnish over the ice cream.
Nutrition | Per serving: 320 calories, 2 g protein, 34 g carbohydrates, 22 g fat, 12 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 20 mg sodium, 5 g dietary fiber, 25 g sugar
Iced Avocado and Coffee Drink (Es Alpukat)
Singapore native Pat Tanumihardja grew up on refreshing avocado drinks like this one, which combines chunks of avocado in a coffee-laced milk sweetened with a thick simple syrup. This version is blended into a creamy vegan shake, but it can also be made with regular or low-fat milk.
The syrup is steeped with pandan leaves, which have a lightly citrusy vanilla flavor. Use the same syrup to sweeten tea and cocktails; if you have trouble finding pandan leaves, you can substitute a split vanilla bean and add a squirt of lime juice.
MAKE AHEAD: You'll have syrup left over, which can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 2 months.
Pandan leaves are available at Asian markets (typically frozen).
Adapted from a recipe by Seattle food writer and cookbook author Pat Tanumihardja.
For the syrup:
2 cups sugar
1 cup water
2 pandan leaves, trimmed and tied into separate knots (see headnote)
For the drink:
Flesh of 1 large ripe avocado
1/3 cup espresso plus
2/3 cup water (may substitute 1 cup strong brewed coffee, cooled)
2 cups almond milk (may substitute other plant-based milk)
1/2 cup ice cubes, or more as needed
Chocolate syrup, for serving
Instant espresso grounds, for serving
For the syrup: Combine the sugar, water and pandan leaves in a large saucepan over medium-high heat; once the sugar has dissolved and the liquid is bubbling, reduce the heat to medium and cook for 8 to 10 minutes, until thickened, adjusting the heat as needed.
Discard the leaves, then pour the syrup into a heatproof container or bottle. The yield is about 2 1/2 cups; you'll need 1/4 cup for this recipe.
For the drink: Combine the avocado, espresso coffee, almond milk and pandan syrup in a blender. Add ice cubes, cover and blend on HIGH speed until smooth and frothy. Add ice cubes and blend again, as needed, for a thicker consistency.
Divide the drink among individual glasses or cups. Drizzle the top with chocolate syrup, and then sprinkle lightly with ground espresso. Serve right away.
Nutrition | Per serving: 100 calories, 2 g protein, 10 g carbohydrates, 7 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 5 mg sodium, 2 g dietary fiber, 1 g sugar
Avocado Key Lime Pie
6 to 8 servings (makes one 9-inch pie)
The natural creaminess of avocado provides the perfect texture for this tart pie filling, with the added bonus that it requires no stovetop cooking.
If you can't find Key limes, you can substitute regular limes or even use bottled Key lime juice - just don't forget the fresh lime zest.
MAKE AHEAD: The baked, cooled crust needs to be refrigerated for 1 hour before using. It can be tightly wrapped in its dish and frozen for up to 2 weeks. Defrost before using. The assembled pie needs to be refrigerated for at least 2 hours, and preferably overnight.
Adapted from a recipe by Lara Ferroni, author of "An Avocado a Day: More Than 70 Recipes for Enjoying Nature's Most Delicious Superfood" (Sasquatch, 2017).
For the crust:
2 cups finely ground graham cracker crumbs (from about 10 squares)
1/4 cup sugar
Scant 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
2/3 cup coconut oil (liquefied) or unsalted butter, melted
For the filling:
Flesh of 2 ripe Hass avocados, smashed (2 cups; may use fresh or frozen/defrosted)
4 teaspoons finely grated zest and
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons fresh juice (from about 5 Key limes; see headnote)
1/2 cup sweetened condensed coconut milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch kosher salt
Whipped cream, for garnish (optional)
Finely grated lime zest and/or thin lime wheels, for garnish (optional)
For the crust: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Combine the graham cracker crumbs, sugar and salt in a medium bowl. Add the oil or melted butter and stir until the crumbs are evenly coated, with the consistency of wet sand.
Use a spoon or the underside of a measuring cup to press the mixture evenly into the bottom and up the sides of a 9-inch pie plate, Bake (middle rack) for about 10 minutes, until lightly browned. Transfer to a wire rack to cool for 15 minutes, then refrigerate for 1 hour, or until well chilled.
For the filling: Combine the avocado, lime zest and juice, condensed milk, vanilla extract and salt in a blender. Puree until smooth and silky. Transfer the mixture to the chilled crust, then use an offset spatula to spread it smooth and evenly. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, and preferably overnight, before serving.
Garnish with whipped cream and the lime zest and thin lime wheels, if using.
Nutrition | Per serving (based on 8, using coconut oil in the crust): 410 calories, 3 g protein, 34 g carbohydrates, 30 g fat, 22 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 280 mg sodium, 4 g dietary fiber, 16 g sugar
Nutrition | Per serving (based on 8, using butter in the crust): 380 calories, 3 g protein, 34 g carbohydrates, 27 g fat, 14 g saturated fat, 40 mg cholesterol, 280 mg sodium, 4 g dietary fiber, 16 g sugar
Chocolate-Dipped Avocado Cookies
28 to 30 servings
Avocado adds a mild flavor and tenderness to these tea-time-size cookies.
MAKE AHEAD: The dough needs to be refrigerated for at least 1 hour, and up to 1 day. The dipped cookies need to set for about an hour before serving or storing.
Adapted from a recipe by chef and cookbook author Pati Jinich.
For the cookies:
1/4 cup coconut oil (solidified), at room temperature
1/4 cup ripe, diced Hass avocado
3/4 cup confectioners' sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Finely grated zest of 1 lime, plus 2 tablespoons juice
1 1/3 cups flour, plus more for the work surface
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch kosher salt
For the icing:
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate coarsely chopped or broken into pieces
1 tablespoon coconut oil
For the cookies: Combine the coconut oil and avocado in the bowl of a stand mixer or handheld electric mixer; beat on medium speed, until smooth. Stop to scrape down the bowl.
Add the sugar; beat on medium speed for a few minutes, until fluffy, then add the egg, vanilla extract, lime zest and juice; beat until well incorporated. Stop to scrape down the bowl.
Combine the flour, baking powder and salt on a sheet of parchment or wax paper. On low speed, gradually add the flour mixture, beating to just long enough to form a soft, well-blended dough.
Lightly flour a work surface. Transfer the dough there and sprinkle lightly with flour so you can gather the dough into two logs, each about 9 1/2 inches long and 1 1/2 inches wide. Roll in plastic wrap, twisting the ends to make a tightly packed log. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour, and up to 1 day.
If the logs of dough aren't fairly firm, place them in the freezer for 15 minutes.
Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven; preheat to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone liners.
Unwrap the dough logs and place on a cutting board. Use a very sharp knife to cut each one into 14 to 15 thin slices. You may want to wet the blade of the knife after 4 or 5 slices to make it easier to cut. Arrange the dough slices at least 1 inch apart on the baking sheets. Bake (upper and lower racks) for 9 minutes, rotating the sheets top to bottom and front to back halfway through. The cookie should be pale but lightly browned at the edges.
Cool on the baking sheets for a few minutes, then transfer the cookies to wire racks to cool completely.
Meanwhile, make the icing: Re-line the baking sheets with new parchment paper or wipe clean the silicone liners.
Melt the chocolate and coconut oil in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of barely bubbling water (medium-low heat), stirring until shiny and smooth. Remove from the heat.
While the icing is warm, dip one side of each cookie halfway into it, then transfer to the baking sheets to set for about 1 hour before serving or storing.
Nutrition | Per cookie (based on 30, using half the icing): 70 calories, 1 g protein, 10 g carbohydrates, 4 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 5 mg cholesterol, 5 mg sodium, 0 g dietary fiber, 4 g sugar