Delicate and velvety, the avocado needs little coaxing to shine in these recipes.
Credit: Photo: Cultura RM Exclusive / Danielle Wood / Getty

It's hard to think of the avocado as a fruit―a berry, in fact, marked by a single large seed―partly because it's so often used in salads, sandwiches, and other savory dishes. Yet between its nutty, subtle taste and buttery, sensuous texture, the avocado distinguishes itself as one of nature's most sublime fruits.

California avocados, such as Hass, hit peak flavor in the spring and summer. More Americans buy avocados for their Cinco de Mayo dishes than any other time of the year except Super Bowl Sunday, according to the California Avocado Commission. Still, because of staggered growing schedules and varying orchard elevations, the fruit is available year-round. Mexican-grown Hass boast an oil content of as much as 30 percent, which makes them particularly creamy and flavorful.

The decadent richness of avocados belies their healthful qualities. They're a good source of dietary fiber, potassium, folate, and vitamins B6 and C. While avocados do have a high fat content, it comes largely in the form of monounsaturated fat―specifically, oleic acid―which may help lower cholesterol. They're a functional food, to be sure. Yet with avocados, form and flavor tend to precede function.

With a food so naturally tasty, the simplest, most unadorned applications are often the best. We offer recipes―such as Avocado Salad with Honey-Lime Vinaigrette and All the Green Things Salad―that let it's subtle flavor and luscious texture shine through. Our Shrimp and Black Bean Tacos or Mango Guacamole will serve you well for a Cinco de Mayo celebration. Let it's diced, creamy pieces melt in our Double Barley Posole. Start the morning off right with it in our Farro Breakfast BowlAnd despite concern of ruining the flavor, you can cook avocados, as we do in the Skillet Chicken with Seared Avocados. The trick is to cook them quickly, since prolonged heat exposure draws out their tannins and makes them bitter.

Try working avocado into dishes of your own. Use ripe, mashed avocado as a sandwich spread instead of mayonnaise, or diced avocado as a soup garnish. Incorporate it into salad dressing, bread, or cake batter. Of course, you can simply relish an avocado on its own with little more than a squeeze of lime and a sprinkle of salt and freshly ground pepper. However you enjoy it, let the simple beauty of this fruit speak for itself.

Assorted Avocados
The hundreds of avocado varieties break down into three distinct species: Mexican (smallest, highest oil content), Guatemalan (medium), and West Indian (largest, leanest). Here's a look at seven you're likely to find in the grocery store.

Hass avocados are by far the country's most popular variety, favored for their distinctive richness. A hybrid of Mexican and Guatemalan species, Hass avocados typically weigh between four and eight ounces, and have pebbly skin that turns from dark green to nearly black as they ripen. Your supermarket likely carries Hass avocados from California and―in growing numbers―from Mexico.

Fuerte avocados, also a Mexican-Guatemalan hybrid, feature a more classic pear shape than Hass fruits and smooth, shiny skins that grow dull and spotted as they ripen. Reed avocados are larger and rounder than other California avocados. Reeds maintain their firmness even when they're ripe, so they're better suited for slicing and grilling than for mashing or pureeing.

Florida avocados are mostly West Indian in origin. These varieties have smooth skin and grow to be much larger―two pounds or more―than their California counterparts. Booth, Lula, Simmonds, and Taylor are among the more popular Florida varieties. As a rule, Florida avocados contain more water and less oil than California or Mexico avocados, making them taste less rich.