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Hail to the Hass!

Springtime shades of green aren’t apparent only in sprouting bulbs, leafing trees and shamrocks.

Avocados, grown and harvested in California, start to hit their stride in March and peak throughout spring and early summer.

We tend to think of avocados as a year-round commodity, when the truth is that thick skins make the fruits uncommonly good travelers around the globe. And their submission to cold temperatures allows for stockpiling with considerable success. Avocados can hang on the tree for months before being picked and, fortunately for farmers and retailers, ripen off the tree.

Perhaps mistaking a Chilean avocado for one grown closer to home, we’ve all lamented the telltale signs of poor-quality fruit: stringy, discolored flesh with a slightly musty taste and aroma. Inferior avocados’ innards cling to their pits instead of cleanly separating. Whether these faults lie with cultivation, the rigors of transportation or prolonged storage, it’s clear that there are a few months each year that do not favor avocados.

Happily, the coming months ahead herald avocados, namely Hass, that rival bacon for savor, a welcome addition to lighter meals with a stronger focus on fresh produce. And heart-healthy avocados support more wholesome diets. Plant-based regimens have propelled avocados’ meteoric rise to prominence over the past decade.

American avocado consumption skyrocketed by more than $400 million in 2019 compared with the previous year, according to reports from the Hass Avocado Board. Each American, according to the board’s projections, will consume just over 9 pounds of avocados this year. The superfood comes at a cost to consumers, of course, who are accustomed to paying about $1 for small specimens.

The best safeguard against paying too much for avocados, however, is to purchase them in season, a strategy that also guarantees maximum nutritional value and flavor. Along with monounsaturated fatty acid, avocados’ fiber promotes heart health while discouraging mealtime spikes in blood sugar, aiding people with diabetes or pre-diabetes, in particular. High in potassium, avocados can help to offset many Americans’ high sodium intake. And increased lutein levels from avocados are thought to enhance eyesight, say nutrition sources.

This fruit that plays on the palate more like a vegetable is synonymous, of course, with Latin food and, more recently, the craze for slathering its buttery flesh on toast. But avocado alternatives abound. Try them blended into smoothies, sauces and even as a rich “pudding” devoid of dairy.

Pureeing is the best preparation for imperfect avocados. And because the color of an avocado’s skin can be misleading, texture is the best way to gauge ripeness, achieved on the kitchen counter.

A ready-to-eat avocado should be free from soft spots and just yield to a gentle squeeze. If avocado isn’t on the day’s menu, keep it from turning overripe by refrigerating and using within a week.

The addition of avocado to the season’s deviled eggs infuses the dish with heart-healthy fat while preserving eggs’ richness and savor. And try two of my favorite salads during the transitional season when citrus is still fresh but strawberries are just coming into stores.

Avocado Deviled Eggs

6 hard-boiled eggs, peeled

1 ripe medium avocado

1 tablespoon lime or lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon salt or to taste

2 to 4 tablespoons reduced-fat mayonnaise

1 tablespoon chopped cilantro, plus a few leaves for garnish

1/2 jalapeno chile, stemmed, seeded and minced (optional)

1 tablespoon chopped chives or scallions

Regular or smoked paprika, for garnish

Cut the hard-boiled eggs in half. Remove yolks and place them in a bowl. Place whites on a serving platter.

Cut the avocado in half and remove pit. Scoop out avocado flesh and place in bowl with egg yolks. Roughly mash with a fork. Sprinkle with the lime juice and salt. Stir in enough of the mayonnaise to make a barely smooth consistency. Stir in the chopped cilantro, jalapeno, if desired, and the chives. Taste and adjust seasoning.

Scoop a generous spoonful of avocado mixture into hollow center of each egg white. Top with a small sprig of fresh cilantro or some additional chopped chives.

Makes 12 eggs.

Strawberry-Avocado-Citrus Salad with Raspberry Vinaigrette

1/2 cup raspberry vinegar

1 tablespoon sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper or Tabasco sauce

1/3 cup olive or avocado oil

4 cups mixed greens, washed and dried

1 pint ripe strawberries, hulled and sliced

2 ripe avocados, pitted, peeled and diced

2 (11-ounce) cans mandarin oranges, drained (may substitute fresh mandarins, tangerines or clementines, if available)

1/2 cup chopped pecans, toasted in a dry skillet

To make vinaigrette, combine the vinegar, sugar, salt and spices with 2 tablespoons water in a liquid measuring cup. Whisk in the oil.

Toss some of the vinaigrette with the greens, strawberries, avocados and oranges; divide among 4 plates, topping each with some of the pecans.

Makes 4 servings.

Seared Scallops and Butter Lettuce Salad with Grapefruit Vinaigrette

3/4 pound medium sea scallops

Kosher salt and ground black pepper, as needed

1 cup Wondra or all-purpose flour, for dredging

1/2 cup avocado oil, divided

1/3 cup grapefruit juice

1 small shallot, finely chopped

1 tablespoon unseasoned rice vinegar

1/8 teaspoon sugar

2 small heads butter lettuce, torn into bite-size pieces

1 ripe avocado, peeled, pitted and sliced

1 small pink grapefruit, peeled and sectioned, each section halved.

1 medium scallion, green part only, thinly sliced crosswise

1/4 cup sunflower seeds

Season the scallops to taste with the salt and pepper. Spread the Wondra or flour on a plate and dredge scallops in it, shaking off any excess.

In a large skillet over medium, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil. Add scallops to skillet and saute for 2 to 3 minutes per side or until cooked through. Transfer scallops to a plate and let stand until they are at room temperature.

In a small saucepan, simmer the grapefruit juice until it reduces to 2 tablespoons. Transfer to a small bowl. Add the shallot, vinegar, sugar and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Whisk until sugar and salt have dissolved. Slowly whisk in remaining oil, then whisk in juices that have accumulated on scallop plate until dressing reaches desired consistency.

Toss the lettuce with 1/3 cup dressing. Mound lettuce over 4 plates and divide scallops, the avocado and grapefruit over each salad. Sprinkle each plate with some of the scallions and sunflower seeds and drizzle with remaining dressing.

Makes 4 servings.

Avocado Hummus

3 avocados, pitted and peeled

1 garlic clove, peeled and minced

1/4 cup lemon juice

1/4 cup lime juice

1/4 cup tahini

1/2 teaspoon cumin

Salt, to taste

In a food processor, combine the avocado flesh, garlic, lemon and lime juices, tahini, cumin and 1 teaspoon salt, or to taste. Puree mixture until smooth. Taste and adjust flavoring and seasoning if desired. This makes about 3 cups hummus, which should keep, covered and refrigerated, for up to one day.

Chocolate-Avocado Pudding

2 ripe avocados, pitted and peeled

1/4 cup coconut oil, melted

1/4 cup honey

1/4 cup cocoa powder

Fresh berries, for garnish

In a blender, puree the avocado flesh with the oil until smooth. Add the honey and cocoa powder; blend until smooth.

Chill for at least an hour. Garnish with the fresh berries and serve.

Makes 2 servings.

Reach freelance writer Sarah Lemon at thewholedish@gmail.com.