Well, as you have probably by now gathered, I'm back from my glorious three weeks under the African sun, tanned, happy and a bit chubbier than when I left!! ;-) I had such a glorious time – saw tons of people, relaxed by the sea rather a lot, ate some wonderful meals, spent time with my family… So in other words, I have a lot of catching up to do!
I do, however, want to get my posts about our trip to France up before I do the South African trip – they are mostly written but need editing – and I still have a few posts from the vaults that need to be put up, of which this is one. Oh, and for those of you who are interested, I have put up my Oktoberfest photo album – check it out in the sidebar.
Since Anthony over at Spiceblog has started an avocado theme I thought this might be an appropriate time for the following recipe. As I mentioned in a previous post, I recently made a South African lunch menu for friends and the starter consisted of avocado and biltong soup. Having grown up in South Africa, I have never regarded the avocado pear as a great delicacy – I mean, in season you can buy bags containing ten (admittedly not enormous) avocados by the roadside for R10 (less than £!!). I remember my father scooping the flesh loose from the skin and then mashing the flesh together with salt and pepper to spread on his toast – what a treat that was, but not exactly gourmet fare. However, since landing here in London, I have become accustomed to the silly prices charged for avocados here and as a result we eat them only as a treat. The same goes for biltong – in South Africa it is cheap and plentiful, but here it is a delicacy available only from speciality shops. So avocado and biltong seemed a suitably exotic dish to make for our guests.
The avocado gets its name from the Latin American Nahuatl ahuacatl meaning "testicle," referring to its shape. (This suggestive shape is possibly also the reason why the Aztecs used avocados as a sexual stimulant…) It was discovered in Mexico in approximately 291 B.C. from where the Spanish brought it to Europe. The more easily-pronouced "avocado" is attributed to Sir Henry Sloane in 1669 – the word itself first appeared in print in the 17th century. Avocados did not become a commercial crop until the early 1900s and today they are grown in many tropical regions, the largest producers being Mexico, USA, Dominican Republic, Brazil, Indonesia, Israel, South Africa (!) and Spain. A single mature avocado tree can produce more than 400 pieces of fruit in a year!
I have often seen recipes for chilled avocado soup, but I must admit that the idea of chilled soup has never appealed to me. I mean, soup is associated (in my mind, anyway) with chilly winter evenings and I don't imagine chilled soup will bring you much pleasure there! (I suspect that the idea behind chilled avocado soup is the fact that avocado becomes bitter if you boil it, so by serving it chilled you avoid this problem.) Anyway, as a result of my dislike for cold soups I never really bothered with avocado soup until my good friend Peter made me dinner one night and served up a warm avocado soup – I was instantly hooked. It fulfilled all my criteria for a great recipe:
1. It's easy.
2. It features a raw ingredient I really, really like.
3. It's easy.
4. It's something a bit out of the ordinary.
5. It's easy.
I admit that Peter's original recipe does not include the biltong, but biltong and avocado have a long tradition of being served together in South African cuisine (biltong and avo salad; steak with biltong and avo topping etc etc). And besides, having had a soup amuse bouche topped with little lardons while in France, I thought it would certainly add a dash of the exotic for the benefit of our friends… The soup turned out to be absolutely delicious – even better than I remember. It was creamy to the point where I was tempted to describe it as an "avocado veloute", but then I took a step back from the abyss of pretentiousness and stuck with plain old soup
PETER'S WARM AVOCADO SOUP WITH BILTONG (serves 4-6)
2 large, ripe avocado pears, mashed
1T butter or margerine
2 cups chicken stock
2 cups milk
A dash of Tabasco sauce (optional)
Diced biltong and chopped parsley to serve
Peel, stone and mash the avocados, adding a little lemon juice to stop them from going brown.
Melt the butter in a large saucepan and when it is melted, stir in the flour to make a paste. Add the chicken stock bit by bit, stirring to prevent the paste from forming lumps. After the chicken stock, add the milk and stir. When the milk has been heated a bit, add the mashed avocado and stir well. Season to taste with salt, pepper and Tabasco. Do not let the avocado boil as this will make it taste bitter! At this stage, I also give the soup a quick whirl with my beloved Braun hand mixer to get it really smooth and creamy.
Dice some biltong (about a tablespoon per serving of soup) into small blocks, chop some fresh parsley and sprinkle on each bowl of soup before serving.
If you add lemon juice to the avocado, go easy on it – you don't want its taste to interfere with the soup. You can substitute vegetable stock for chicken stock if you are cooking for vegetarians. The Tabasco can also be replaced with a couple of chilli flakes, but both are entirely optional. If you can't find biltong, you could also use crispy bacon bits for a similar effect. The most crucial thing is NOT to let the avocado boil!