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Avocado has a sweet side, too, and it’s delicious

By Kristen Hartke

Special to The Washington Post

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.

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, 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.

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 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.

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.

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.

Avocado and Coconut Ice Cream

• 6 servings (makes 1 quart)

• 11/2 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

• 28 to 30 servings

Avocado adds a mild flavor and tenderness to these tea-time-size cookies.

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.

Chocolate-Dipped Avocado 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

• 11/3 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

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