February 28, 2024 | Rome, Italy

Unthinking the avocado

By |2018-03-21T20:11:25+01:00October 15th, 2017|"Suzanne's Taste"|
The avocado may remind you of healthy eating, which is when you need to put those thoughts aside.

kay, so here’s what I think you need to be healthy, stay in shape, enjoy life and food and friends without paying one iota of attention to words like carbs, gluten, fattening, oily, heavy, and so on.

First you need an open mind, and I mean really open. Second, you need to give up built-up prejudices about the role food plays in your life. Third, some of the sacrosanct notions about food you’ve developed over the years need to be eliminated. You need to embrace new ones without judgment. In short, you have to swing on a trapeze without a net.

But let me start by teasing you with a few questions.

Are you too aware of what you eat? Is thinking too much taking a lot of fun out of what goes in your mouth?

Let’s say you’re walking through the market at Campo de’ Fiori and you see a nice ripe avocado lurking in the fruit basket. You imagine the avocado with a squeeze of lemon and a little sea salt, as delicious an autumn treat as white truffles.

Then comes the mistake. You ponder the avocado. Soon, it’s transformed into a low calorie meal, or something rich in vitamin A, or the key component in a skin product you swear by.

Suddenly, the lemony luster is gone. The poor avocado falls into the less appetizing category of “food that’s good for me.”

An open mind means thinking less.

Let’s move on to prejudices: Do you accept the myth that bread, pasta, cheese, chocolate are fattening and need to be avoided whenever possible? If you do, it might be time to put that judgment on hold.

For example, I like chocolate truffles. I make them with one bar of bitter chocolate, a few spoons of cream, and some sugar. Oh, and a splash of Cognac or Armagnac. There’s no butter, no sweet liqueur, just three very simple ingredients. Three of my truffles — 20 grams, more than enough to make you happy — contain exactly 100 calories. Compare that to a single, 100-gram commercial truffle and its 500 calories.

Don’t be rigid. Have fun with food. Take chances. Who says you can’t have fun with chocolate?

This brings me to the matter of sacrosanct notions and the third question: Are you tired of preparing the same ingredients in the same way, but afraid to sidestep recipes because you’d be entering uncharted territory? Don’t be. Be true to your newfound open-mindedness and come up with a plan.

Every day, try to sample something you’ve never eaten before. Or take a different approach to habitual dishes, ingredients included. For example, let your pasta with meat sauce become Cuban rice and black beans (same work, different outcome).

Buy a jar of sesame paste and spread that on your morning toast along with a nice tart jam.

If you’re a fish hater, order a nice crispy salted cod appetizer. Maybe you hared fish as a kid. Fine, but try at least to overcome old aversions. It might scare you at first, but the golden crunchy batter on baccalá can hook you once you’ve tasted it.

Do you hate broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and carrots? Okay. But try this. Slice them thin, toss them with your favorite olive oil, and add salt. Then roast them all in a medium oven for 40 minutes. The crispy result is light years from the soggy, boiled vegetables that might have turned you off in the first place.

Eat new things. Or if you don’t eat them, at least taste them. Get rid of fears of what food might or might not do to you.

Food is a delight, to be treated with respect, admiration, and love. If you consider food a new friend you really want to get to know better, it’s likely to treat you the same way.

Never think about the avocado. Eat it instead.

About the Author:

Suzanne Dunaway, a longtime major magazine writer and artist, is the author and illustrator of "Rome, At Home, The Spirit of La Cucina Romana in Your Own Kitchen" (Broadway Books) and "No Need To Knead, Handmade Italian Breads in 90 Minutes" (Hyperion). She taught cooking for 15 years privately and at cooking schools in Los Angeles, and now maintains a personal website and a blog. She divides her time between southern France and Italy.