Cooking Like A Mexican

Avocado
BY: ALE BORBOLLA

Avocados have gotten a huge deal of press lately, being a superfood and loved by social media in pretty breakfast pics, but did you know it is one of Mexico’s native crops? The trees are a big, leafy subtropical species that flower year-round. Avocados are actually fruit, more specifically berries with only one seed, known as a pit. The green, luscious, creamy flesh is loaded with nutrients; omega 3, protein, and antioxidants, and it helps reduce cholesterol and restore liver activity.  Yes, avocados are a fruit and a berry.

Michoacán is the biggest avocado producer in the world, and almost 80% of the production is exported to the united states and Europe, making it also a big source of income for the state. 8 out of 10 avocados consumed in Mexico are grown there. Michoacán, Mexico is in the middle of Mexico between Guadalajara and Mexico City. It is Mexico's heartland, a great agricultural region as well of centers of indigenous crafts. This state has many climate and cultural variations and is known as "El Alma de Mexico"; The soul of Mexico. "Michoacán" means "place of the fishermen" due to its lakes. The native Purepecha population still retains their unusual language and many ancient customs. Some little towns have not changed for hundreds of years. Michoacán has it all: mountains, deserts, beaches and avocados.

The Hass variety, which is the most common, the one with the rugged outer skin, has the highest content of fiber of all the avocado varieties there are.

Mexican food, unlike other cuisines around the world, is the one that is most true to it’s roots, having many prehistoric ingredients in current recipes and carrying old recipes through the years. It is estimated that Mexican cuisine is about 7,000 years old, and the first ingredients used were maize, chile and avocado. According to investigators, however, the oldest remains of avocado were found in an ancient cave in Coxcatlán, in the state of Puebla, dated from around the year 8,000 and 7,000 B.C. . the Olmecs, one of the first civilizations in Mexico, developed around 2500 or 2000 B.C, and were the first to use avocado in their food.

Aguacate, avocado in Spanish, comes from a Nahuatl word: ahuacatl; meaning… you’ll never guess -testicle- probably because it is believed to be an aphrodisiac and well, because that is honestly the way it looks when it’s hanging from the tree. Nahuatl is a language that is still spoken by just a few people in Mexico, but back in the day it was spoken by many tribes in pre-Columbian Mexico, mostly around the Toluca valley, near Mexico city.

The ancient registry of the domestication of crops signals that maize, pumpkin, yucca, cotton, avocado, sweet potato ad agave were the main ingredients to be incorporated into Mexican food thousands and thousand of years ago. Most of them had their own gerogliphic sign, and avocado was pictured as a tree with teeth!

 

When the Spanish arrived, the quality of fruits described in their chronicles was a portrayal of the amazing way prehispanic people did genetical engineering in a natural way by cross-breeding crops according to the different climates they had to adapt to.

Avocado was not only used in the ancient Mexican cuisine, as you might have guessed, the whole fruit was used. The oil from the pit was used to treat rashes, the leaves of the tree to wash their clothes, and you know how if you poke the pit it turns pink? Well, that was used for pigment! Nowadays, we use the inside of the husk to exfoliate our faces, the pulp to make great hair or face masks, and the pit to massage cellulite away! If you’ve seen avocados in the market in the united states or Canada you may cringe at how we can use it for masks, but it’s because we get it for so much cheaper.

Let’s fast forward to the 50’s, when hass avocados where in full bloom and planted through Mexico in commercial fields. Before that all production was small and local, and after that they started growing in the united states.

Avocados grow on the tree, but they are actually matured once they are cut! It can take from a couple of days to a couple of weeks for the avocado to completely mature at room temperature, and once mature they can last up to seven days in refrigeration. But if rozen, the pulp can burst while defrosting and it’s no good anymore.

Do you know how to pick avocados? My grandma used to tell me to squeeze them lengthwise, if they felt tender and had a little bounce to them, they were perfect, but if they were too mushy they were no good anymore. Another trick is to remove the “bellybutton” or the small part of the branch that is often still left on the fruit. If it’s green is immature, if its brown is over mature but if it is yellowish it’s just perfect! Also, if the husk is black-brownish it will not be mature, and black-blueish is just right, but that may be a little confusing. I personally buy three at a time, one for the same day that I buy, one for tomorrow and one a little harder for a couple of days. If you don’t eat the whole thing, a way to keep for example a half is to keep the pit in, for starters and smear a little olive oil on the flesh exposed. You can use lime too, but I think it affects the flavor.  Another tip I have heard of is to keep it in an airtight container along with a quarter or a half of an onion you have left, this tip I haven’t tried but it might work!

This issue’s recipe is perfect for a hot day, and a great new dish that is a little away from what you may think is typical food, but I assure you it is. It’s a cold avocado soup that is a summer favorite in Uruapan, a town in Michoacán.

Ingredients:

1 big avocado, mature.

1 cup of sour cream.

1 cup of chicken stock.

2 serrano peppers (can be left out if you don’t care much for spice)

A couple of sprigs of cilantro

1 cup of ice

Salt to taste

For decoration:

Bite size pieces of avocado

Fried tortilla strips

Preparation:

Peel and pit the avocado carefully, and place in a blender with the cold chicken stock, ice, sour cream, cilantro, chiles, and salt. I recommend making this soup just a minute before serving, to avoid it turning black. Serve in a bowl with some avocado chunks and fried tortilla strips on top!