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When It Rained Avocados

There was no escape from the green bombs.

September 13, 2000|HESEON PARK | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Avocados. When I was 7, my family moved to Southern California and took a house where avocados would chase us out of our own backyard.

I dreamed about avocados for years; the sound of the hard, green fruit knocked from its branches and hitting the ground would stir me from sleep. Through the windows, I could watch avocados falling like rain. From late summer until early spring, we had a windfall of green gold at our yellow house in Whittier.

Coming home in the afternoons, I would find my grandmother and grandfather 20 feet up the tree, with a ladder, boxes and a rake they had fashioned into a fruit-picking tool. My father would haul the boxes to our store, where I would see customers bringing them to the counter. I would help ring them up, and I'd stare at that shiny dark-green, nubby-skinned fruit that went either ker-plunk or squish on the ground, depending on the lateness of the season.

One year, the bounty of fruit attracted avocado thieves. We arrived home from church one Sunday to see that our sprawling avocado tree had been picked clean.

We immediately suspected the family of gardeners who trimmed our grass-skirted palm trees out front. They had picked some fruit to take home, and we had seen them watching in amazement as my 75-year-old grandmother harvested away, the white scarf around her head flapping in the wind.

We stared in horror at our tree: stripped bare, nothing on the branches but wispy leaves. They had even taken the small fruit that hadn't matured yet. After that, I imagined whole families of avocado bandits driving around searching for trees laden with a backyard cash crop.

When avocados reached a ripe, luscious green-black color, my grandmother would slice them for our usual evening meal of rice, vegetables and soup. She would salt and pepper the fresh avocado chunks, and the salt would slowly melt into the yellow flesh like dew. We'd wrap toasted seaweed around the avocado and rice for avocado sushi.

At my friends' houses, there'd be bowls full of ripe avocados, ready to be mashed into guacamole with salt, onion, cilantro and tomatoes and eaten like a meal with bags of tortilla chips. My mother and I would make taquitos to dunk into the clover-green mash.

But the oddest and most exotic way I've seen someone eat an avocado was my girlfriend Holly's method. I spent weekends with her Vietnamese family when I was in high school, and they ate all manner of strange tropical fruits, like lychees, jackfruit, papaya, finger bananas and those weird, smelly durians. Avocados, she showed me, were to be eaten as a dessert, with the body cut in half and sweetened condensed milk poured into the cavity.

That was too foreign for me to try. Maybe it was an acquired taste, I thought, like the love of fermented Korean pickles I learned when I was growing up.

I still like eating avocados with a little salt. Knife in hand, I slit the black pebbly leather skin, then the fresh, slimy green flesh into the hard seed. It reminds me of the house where I grew up, where avocados ran loose, spilled onto the ground and covered the path out to the garden.

Hollywood Bowl Shrimp and Avocado Quesadillas

Active Work and Total Preparation Time: 40 minutes

Friends raved about these quesadillas I prepared for a Bowl jazz fest picnic. The secret to these appetizers lies in toasting the tortillas first in garlic and butter. They went great with bottles of a hard lemon beverage like "Doc" Otis'.

3 tablespoons butter

2 cloves garlic, finely minced

8 burrito-size flour tortillas

1 pound shredded Jack and Cheddar cheese

1 large, ripe yet firm avocado, halved and sliced

1 pound peeled, medium cooked shrimp

2 ripe tomatoes, chopped

1/2 bunch green onions, minced

Seasoned salt

Fresh tomato salsa, for serving

* Melt about 1 teaspoon butter in large skillet with some garlic over medium heat; add 1 tortilla and lightly brown bottom, 1 minute.

* Flip tortilla, then scatter 1/4 cup cheese over half of tortilla; then place 2 slices avocado, 4 or 5 shrimp, some chopped tomato and green onions in single layer on top of cheese. Sprinkle with seasoned salt.

* Spread 1/4 cup more cheese on top of mixture, then fold tortilla over. Toast both sides until cheese is melted and quesadilla becomes golden brown, 1 minute.

* Remove from skillet, cut into triangles or quarters. Repeat with remaining tortillas until all quesadillas are made. Serve with salsa.

8 servings. Each serving: 423 calories; 676 mg sodium; 173 mg cholesterol; 28 grams fat; 15 grams carbohydrates; 28 grams protein; 0.56 gram fiber.

Salmon Hand Rolls With Avocado

Active Work and Total Preparation Time: 40 minutes

A friend who took a sushi-making class showed me how to make hand rolls. Substitute smoked salmon for the cooked salmon if you prefer. Sheets of nori, Japanese seaweed, can be found in the Asian aisle of many supermarkets.

4 nori sheets

1 cup hot cooked rice

Wasabi

1 cucumber, peeled, seeded, cut into matchsticks

1 avocado, halved and sliced

6 ounces salmon filet, cooked and flaked

1 (22-ounce) package radish sprouts, rinsed, root ends cut off

Toasted sesame seeds

Soy sauce, wasabi and pickled ginger, for serving

* Cut nori sheets in half. Have bowl of water ready to wet hands. Place 1 nori sheet in left hand. Wet the other hand and spread 1 tablespoon rice on middle of sheet.

* Dab a small amount of wasabi, about 1/4 teaspoon, from tube onto rice.

* Add few slices cucumber, avocado, some salmon and sprouts and sprinkle with sesame seeds.

* Fold nori over rice, left to right, into a cone shape with one end sealed. Continue making rolls with remaining ingredients.

* Serve with soy sauce, wasabi and pickled ginger.

8 servings. Each serving: 134 calories; 18 mg sodium; 8 mg cholesterol; 7 grams fat; 13 grams carbohydrates; 8 grams protein; 2.12 grams fiber.

*

On the cover plate from Sur La Table stores.

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