Avocados are one of my favorite fruits, although they’re a fruit that I don’t use in my dessert recipes quite as often as fruits like berries, peaches and apples. Rich, creamy and full of good fats and nutrients, I use them as an ingredient in all kinds of salads, as a side for savory dishes (both breakfast and dinner!) and as a garnish for anything I can justify putting them on. Living in Los Angeles, I sometimes take them for granted because avocados grow here all year round and are so popular. So, when I was invited to attend a lunch sponsored by the California Avocado Commission at Border Grill here in Los Angeles to celebrate the avocado, I couldn’t say no.
Border Grill is an upscale, modern Mexican restaurant owned by Chefs Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken, also known as Two Hot Tamales on their classic Food Network show and competitors on Top Chef Masters. There are a few Border Grills and we were at their Downtown LA location. Mary Sue and Susan hosted the lunch at their restaurant, welcoming us with a big glass of white sangria – made with lots of fruit, cava and triple sec – and some avocado-topped bruschetta made with farmers’ market-fresh tomatoes.
We kicked off the lunch with a little cooking contest, since Mary Sue and Susan both can be quite competitive (as seen on TV), though they work fantastically well together. We were challenged to break into small groups and given 15 minutes to come up with an amazing pasta salad that featured avocados. The trick here was to bring in the right amount of acid and texture to balance out the ultra-creamy fruit with the pasta. Our team ended up putting together a salad that featured the avocado alongside fresh summer nectarines, grilled corn and roasted peppers, with a little bit of vinegar and citrus added to punch those flavors up.
Mary Sue and Susan judged all six entries after time was called, carefully tasting each dish. It must have been tough, since they all looked and sounded delicious. In the end, our Summer Solstice Pasta Salad (recipe coming soon!) was awarded second place for capturing some of everyone’s favorite summer flavors. We celebrated with more sangria and started in on lunch
The lunch menu used avocado in a variety of ways. In the salad course, it was a main component in a salad that paired it with purple potatoes, cucumber, tomato and feta. It brought some creaminess and body to the rest of the ingredients. In the main dish, it was grilled and mixed with grilled pineapple in a salsa that was served over honey glazed baby back ribs. Mexican grilled street corn was served on the side.
The ribs were so tender that the meat just about fell off the bone and the glaze had just the right mixture of sweet and spice to make it irresistible. It was a good thing that as we ate, Susan and Mary Sue demonstrated all of their recipes on the grill right in front of us so that we could replicate them at home. Their cooking demonstration also included plenty of tips on how to work with avocados, which are one of their favorite ingredients (The Border Grill truck even makes a taco featuring deep fried avocado!).
After the ribs, the Tamales showed us how to make a simple granita using fresh grapefruit juice and tequila, which not only adds flavor but keeps the granita from getting too hard in the freezer. It is also good on its own, as Mary Sue (to much applause) demonstrated.
The granita was served with a pineapple mango compote and tajin-spiced meringues. Tajin is a Mexican “fruit spice” that is made with chile peppers, salt and dehydrated lime juice. It can be served on all kinds of fruit and provides a great contrast to anything sweet in a dessert.
It was amazing to meet two such accomplished chefs (who are even nicer in person than they appear on TV) and the excuse of being able to eat lots of delicious avocado dishes was an added bonus. I left with some great memories, great photos and a few new recipes that showcase California avocados.