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How I learned to love avocado. Read on for my favorite summer soup in New York.

Growing up in my family, respect could be earned by making straight-As and liking weird food. My parents weren’t strict, as parents in the south go (because they weren’t from the south, probably), but we had to do our homework before watching television, and we had to try a taste of everything we were served. My parents lived in Hawaii early in their marriage, so my mom cooked a lot of Asian cuisine growing up. While I celebrated Shake ‘n Bake, I rejoiced over Thai curry.

I was actually the pickiest eater for most of our childhood years and arguably still am. (Today, it has to do with maximizing the chances that I’ll love my meal when I’m paying a lot for it, or when anyone else is paying a lot for it, and also with being sensitive to food politics.)

Being picky as a kid is to be expected, but as a teen, I was determined to develop a sophisticated palate. I weaned myself onto greens, bell peppers, eggs, grilled cheese sandwiches, tuna and chicken salad, hummus, tea, Mexican food, and finally beer, and now I love them all. Maybe a little too much. I refuse to get my Cholesterol checked on account of what I affectionately refer to as the Incredible Edible.

Avocado didn’t happen until I was 22, and I have gazpacho to thank for that. I can’t remember the first time I ate gazpacho –my mom probably made it, she made everything at some point– but I can tell you the two best gazpachos I’ve ever had.

My first favorite was Whole Foods’ in Austin, Texas, at the flagship store on Lamar. I’ve been to more than 10 Whole Foods locations in at least 6 states, and the flagship is not sharing recipes for gazpacho, or for roasted edamame salad or flatbread, for that matter, which is a shame. The first time I bought gazpacho from that Whole Foods, I thought the light green legume resting against the side of the plastic carton was cucumber. I was wrong. There was cucumber, but not nearly as much of it as there was avocado. Theirs was also filled with corn, red onion, cilantro, and, of course, garlic and really fresh tomato, a bit of canola oil and vinegar, and a lot of salt and pepper.

This was the summer of 2005, and I was soon eating lunch at Whole Foods often enough for cashiers to recognize me, and one even had an unflattering nickname for me. I was immersed in Tex-Mex food, and I seemed to be the only one of my new friends who didn’t touch guacamole when it was ordered — typically as we were sitting down and accepting menus from the host. I was determined to like the fruit, but it was not coming easy. Early on, I would raise each tub of gazpacho over my head in Whole Foods’ soup aisle to try to find the one with the least avocado on the bottom and the most corn. When I sat down to eat it, I would grimace at the fatty texture and grassy flavor of the avocado, and I left most of it behind. It pains me to think of the avocado I wasted right now. Every time I got gazpacho, I would eat another sliver of avocado, until I liked it. And so on. By the summer of 2006, I was lifting gazpacho tubs over my head to look for the one with a whole avocado worth of cubes and slivers, fat be damned.

I’m eating my new favorite right now from Wild Greens on 30th and Park Ave, a $3.50 cup. Their tomato base is thick and not too garlicky, though I can taste the cilantro. It’s the first gazpacho I’ve had that offers carrots and jicama, in addition to tomato and cucumber. Its intensity might vary slightly from day to day, but the flavor is perfectly consistent. For several months I assumed Wild Greens was a franchise, but it’s not–a Google search suggests there are only a handful of eateries by the same name in the US, none related, and definitely only one in New York. (Another is in Charlottesville, Virginia, my home for most of the last 8 years.) I obviously try to get out there and explore new restaurants in New York, but I’m shooting for a clean record in the way of triple-heart-bypasses, and thanks to my earlier efforts, I love raw vegetables. Wild Greens is my salad fix.

People who know Wild Greens and know salads are loyal. Their small is bigger than Guy and Gallard’s large and costs less, and if you ask for dressing on the side, it’s not one of those insulting 1-tablespoon portions in a refrigerator case with the soda cans. You have your choice of romaine, spinach, field greens, mesclun, iceberg, Chinese cabbage, and bok choy. Toppings cover everything you’d expect and then some, like stuffed grape leaves, crispy onions, and tuna three ways. On several occasions, other customers have turned to me and commented, “You can really eat a large? My wife and I are going to share this!” and, “Cilantro is the s*!” and just a simple, “Don’t you just love this place?” Everyone who works there looks pretty happy, too.

A salad without avocado for me is just a pile of vegetables, and Wild Greens gets that. Avocado quarters cost the same as any other standard vegetable/fruit topping, I’ve almost never seen a bruised batch and never one that’s browning, and it’s not even subject to seasonal availability.

Funny, then, that their gazpacho doesn’t have avocado. But I don’t mind. Now I can devote all of my attention to working on liking jicama a little more.

Wild Greens
444 Park Ave South at 30th
wildgreensnyc.com
Yes they cater, with sandwiches and pasta in addition to salads, and get a cookie and ask for a punch card too.

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