After I wrote about the Indian twist on guacamole, I thought of other Asian uses for avocado. I’ve seen it used in salads with tofu. There is avocado in California sushi rolls. In the Viet repertoire, we enjoy it most often with condensed milk. I grew up with a slightly unorthodox way of eating avocados that I learned from my dad.
When we first arrived in America, he didn’t have a heart condition and reveled in rich Western foods that were suddenly available to us. We were eating buddies and he taught me to appreciate cognac and fine French butter at a very young age. He also introduced me to avocado with sweetened condensed milk.
Dad would carefully cut an avocado in half, remove the seed (pit) then pour the thickened milk into the well. Then he’d use a teaspoon to scoop up the flesh with some of the milk.
We’d pass the avocado back and forth until all that was left was the skin. It was so good to eat avocado like that, and that’s just not me as a kid reacting either. The sweetened condensed milk amplifies the avocado flavor in a most alluring manner. For years I knew avocado as a sweet treat, not as a savory dip.
I didn’t learn until much later in life that most Vietnamese don’t eat avocado in the way my dad and I did. They stretched out the pleasures of the rich berry (avocado is technically a berry!) via a rich, pale green shake called sinh tố bơ. You may have seen it on the menu at Vietnamese-American delis and cafe — basically wherever you buy banh mi sandwiches or go for pho noodle soup. Some grocery stores have smoothie counters and will fix you an avocado shake. It’s basically made of avocado, sweetened condensed milk, and ice.
In Vietnam, I’ve seen a smoothie vendor that specialized in avocado shakes but in the main, they’re not a super popular fruit there. Avocados are not a huge crop in Vietnam, especially when compared to other fruits that are locally cultivated. From what I recall, the flavor of Viet-grown avocado wasn’t super duper rich. Those factors likely explain its low-key appearance in Vietnam.
Are Vietnamese avocado shakes unusual? Indonesians, who may add coffee or chocolate syrup, know it as es apokat. My good friend James Oseland, author of Cradle of Flavor and currently editor-in-chief of Rodale’s Organic Life magazine, told me that for the best Indonesian rendition, you need Hershey’s chocolate syrup. His technique: Before the shake is poured into a glass, pour the syrup around the wall of the glass so that it drips down. Filipinos prepare avocado shakes and avocado ice cream. Avocado shakes are also popular in Brazil.
No wonder my dad embraced avocados in the States. In the 1970s, there were thin skinned Zutano types that had wonderful grassy flavors. They bruised easily and soon were replaced by the sturdier and richer Hass variety that’s now the go-to avocado in America.
In California, there’s a resurgence of non-Hass avocados so look for them. That said, employ what you have nearby. Hass avocados are what most people know. Its flesh is deliciously fatty and supple. But there are hundreds, if not thousands of avocado cultivars grown all over the world. In California, we get varieties such as Bacon, Fuerte, and Gwen; the avocado commission has a short-but-informative listing of avocado types. No matter how you approach it, an avocado shake is a win-win situation.
For the recipe below, feel free to tweak it by using a little less condensed milk and adding sugar or perhaps, maple syrup. For the one today, I used soymilk instead of cow’s milk and the result was terrific. If the result is too sweet, give it a squeeze of lime. I also added some grated dark chocolate and ate it with a spoon as a light after-dinner sweet, almost like a pudding.
You can enjoy the avocado shake as soon as it’s made but if you let it rest or chill for 10 to 15 minutes, it tastes much better. The buttery, grassy avocado flavor develops. I’ve left it to sit in the fridge for 24 hours and it was okay. At 48 hours, there was discoloration at the top and the flavor dwindled a bit.
Sinh To Bo
Yield: 1 serving
- Half of one medium avocado
- 4 ice cubes, 1/2 cup (120 ml) ice
- 2 generous tablespoons sweetened condensed milk
- About 1/3 cup (90 ml) milk or soy milk
- Pinch of sea salt, optional for a savory hit
- Scoop the avocado flesh into a blender. Add the remaining ingredients. Taste and add additional milk, depending on the avocado type and if a thinner consistency is desired.
- Let sit or chill for 10 to 15 minutes or up to 24 hours before enjoying.
Related post: Avocado and Mint Chutney