Firm enough to be sliced or diced yet soft enough to be mashed or puréed, the avocado lends depth and creaminess to all sorts of dishes. Technically a berry, avocados vary widely in size, color, and flavor; they can be grassy, sweet, meaty, nutty, milky, or buttery, depending on ripeness, origin, and oil content. Long a staple of Latin American and Caribbean cuisine, avocados are a natural partner for fish, lend a silky texture to salsas, and can be used as the creamy base of sweet mousses and dessert shakes. But perhaps our favorite way to eat the fruit is with minimal embellishment: a squeeze of lime juice, a sprinkle of salt and chile, and a drizzle of olive oil. Anise-scented avocado leaves, which are also edible, can be used to perfume moles and stews in a manner similar to bay leaves; purchase them dried at specialty stores or online.
HOW TO BUY
Avocados are harvested unripened and ripen best off the tree. If you plan to eat them right away, choose avocados that yield to gentle pressure. If you plan to keep them for a few days, buy firm avocados and allow them to ripen at room temperature.
HOW TO STORE
Store them at room temperature; to speed up ripening, place hard avocados in a paper bag with an apple, banana, or other fruit that releases ethylene gas. Early season avocados will take a while to ripen, while those picked later in the season will ripen more quickly.
HOW TO PREPARE
Avocados are best eaten raw; cooking can turn them bitter. Cut avocados oxidize quickly once exposed to air; cover any exposed sides tightly with plastic. Adding lemon or lime juice will help slow oxidation.