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Seasonal Pantry: What makes Hass the must-have avocado

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The avocados we see in almost every market in the United States, except for Hawaii, are a variety known as Hass, named for Rudolph Hass, a postal worker who set out to establish a 21-acre orchard of avocados in Southern California.

At the time, the mid-1920s, California was shipping 19 varieties of avocado around the world. Hass planted his trees, they grew, years passed and, at some point, Hass’s children noticed one of the trees was producing fruit unlike any of the other trees. The skin was dark green and nubbly and the flavor and texture were better than the others.

Eventually, Hass took his children’s pleas seriously and patented the tree in 1935, when he also entered an agreement with a nurseryman to share income from the sale of the tree’s offspring.

This tree, known as the Mother Tree, produced for decades, even as the area was developed with houses. Eventually, it stood in front of a modest house on West Road in La Habra Heights, where it was marked by a small bronze plaque.

Today, only the plaque remains. The beautiful Mother Tree died in 2003, but her millions of offspring thrive. California avocado season typically begins in late winter, hits its stride by April and continues through summer and early fall.

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This all-purpose sauce is outstanding on seafood tacos, made of shrimp, bay scallops or fin fish. It’s also excellent with chips and a cold Mexican beer, such as Bohemia. Or enjoy it drizzled over such soups as black bean, potato, poblano or tomato-cilantro.

Avocado Sauce

Makes about 1 cup

1 large ripe Hass avocado, peeled, pitted and chopped

1-2 serranos, stemmed and chopped

3 tablespoons fresh lime juice, from 2 to 3 limes

1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste

Put the avocado into a blender or food processor. Add the serranos, lime juice, teaspoon of salt and ¼ cup water and pulse until smooth. If the mixed seems too thick, thin with a bit more water. Taste and correct for salt.

Transfer to a small bowl or glass jar and refrigerate until ready to use. The sauce will keep, refrigerated, for 1 to 2 days.

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This version of what may be the most popular way to enjoy avocados is close to traditional Mexican versions. It’s all about the taste and texture of the avocado, so don’t crush or mash them too smoothly.

When local tomatoes are in season, I’ll sometimes cut a small one into small dice and scatter it on top with the onion and cilantro.

Guacamole

Makes 2 to 4 servings

1 small white onion, peeled and minced

2 fresh garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

2 serranos, minced

1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste

¼ cup fresh cilantro leaves, chopped

3 large Hass avocados

Put about 2 tablespoons of the onion into a small bowl, set it aside and put the remainder of the onion and the garlic into a suribachi or molcajete.

Add the serranos and teaspoon of salt and pound the mixture into a paste.

Add half the cilantro and grind it into the paste.

Add the remaining cilantro to the reserved onions.

Cut the avocados in half, remove the pits, scoop out the flesh and place it in a medium bowl. Use a fork to crush the avocado, leaving it somewhat coarse.

Add the crushed avocado to the suribachi or molcajete, using the fork to fold the onion paste into the avocado.

Scatter the onions and cilantro on top, add a light sprinkling of salt and enjoy right away.

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Enjoy this salsa with tortilla chips, such as those made by La Casa Foods of Sonoma. They are pricier than others but so delicious that once you’ve had them, you may not enjoy any others.

You can use this wherever you might use any salsa — over rice, beans, tacos, tortas, burritos, grilled fish and braised meats.

Avocado Salsa

Makes about 1 ¼ cups

1 bunch (8 to 10) radishes, trimmed and cut into very small dice

1 small red onion, cut into very small dice

1 small serrano, seeded and minced

3 ripe avocados, pitted and cut into chunks

— Juice of 2 limes, plus more to taste

— Kosher salt

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

— Black pepper in a mill

¼ cup fresh cilantro leaves, lightly packed, chopped

Combine the radishes, onions and serranos in a medium mixing bowl, toss well and set aside.

Put the avocado into a food processor, add the lime juice and several generous pinches of salt and pulse until the avocados form a smooth purée. Scrape into the bowl with the radishes and add the olive oil.

Fold the mixture together but do not over mix. Taste and correct for salt and acid. If it seems a bit flat, add more salt; if it’s a bit bland, add a little more lime juice. Season with several generous turns of black pepper and fold in the cilantro.

Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

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These simple tacos are among my favorite midday dishes. If you don’t eat cheese, instead of using a faux cheese, replace it with cooked brown rice, preferably short grain, that you’ve seasoned with salt, pepper and lemon or lime juice. Each bite is like a time machine to 1970, when macrobiotic diets were very popular.

Avocado Tacos

Serves 1, easily doubled

1 avocado, cut in half lengthwise, pit removed

1 lemon or lime

4 small (“street taco”-size) white corn tortillas

½ cup grated or shredded cheese of choice (see Note below)

— Kosher salt

— Green hot sauce, such as Cholula, Tabasco or El Yuca Verde Habanero Sauce

1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro

Hold one half of the avocado in your nondominant hand and use a sharp paring knife to score it, making cuts to but not through the skin about ½ inch apart. Score it similarly in the other direction to create cubes. Cut the second half similarly and squeeze a bit of citrus juice over the exposed flesh.

Set a heavy skillet over high heat and, when it is hot, set the tortillas in the skillet. Heat for a few seconds. When they begin to soften, turn them. Continue heating and turning until they are very soft and very hot but not crisp.

Set 1 tortilla on top of another and spread half the cheese over it. Repeat with the other two tortillas. When the cheese begins to melt, transfer both to a plate.

Using a soup spoon, scoop out the flesh of one of the avocado halves and put it on top of the cheese; repeat with the second tortilla. Squeeze citrus juice over the avocado, season with salt and add a few shakes of hot sauce, as much or as little as you like.

Add the cilantro and enjoy right away.

Note: Use a cheese with good melting qualities. Queso Oaxaca, available in Latin markets, works well. Monterey jack, mild cheddar and mozzarella fresca also work well.

Michele Anna Jordan is the author of 24 books to date, including “California Home Cooking.” Email her at michele@micheleannajordan.com.

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