When my niece Sasha comes over, she heads for the raspberry patch. When her pile is big enough, we make the world's best smoothie.
Can this be true? The world's best smoothie? That's a mighty tall order indeed. I think of the tropical countries I've visited and their myriad blended offerings of fruit with ice, juice, alcohol and milk. How could Sasha and I compete with the smoothie makers of Cartagena, Colombia, and their overwhelming diversity of jungle fruits, all washed and stored separately in a circle of glass jars around the blender? And there is Brazil, where juice means fruit pulp blended with ice before serving, and vitamina means "smoothie with milk." Brazil is also home to the ababatida, an unexpectedly delicious concoction that I will describe soon.
Alas, smoothies are at once so simple and so full of possibilities that there can't really be any such thing as the world's best smoothie. It's the context, as much as the ingredients, that really makes it. And in the context of a hot summer day, the world's best smoothie is the one you are drinking.
The first thing Sasha and I do is crush ice in the blender. We add honey to the ice to help suck the cubes into the whirling blades, and for sweetener. When the honey slush is prepared, we add the raspberries and lime juice and blend that smoothie home. Without the lime, there is no way that this is the world's best smoothie, because with raspberry, as well as with many other fruits, including melon, lime brings out the flavor. That's super-secret smoothie trick No. 1.
Along the same lines, smoothie researchers have discovered many more fruit combinations that are worthy of note, including apple/grape, cranberry/lemon, orange/mango and apple/watercress(!), with many more yet to be discovered. And there are extra-fancy ways of preparing such combinations. For example, now that apricots are falling off the trees, try soaking some ripe ones overnight in orange juice and smoothing them for breakfast.
Then there's trick No. 2, which, in direct contradiction to what Sasha and I do, is to skip the ice altogether and freeze the fruit. Admittedly, this kills the spontaneity of rushing into the kitchen with the still-quivering berries and whizzing it up. But on the other hand, substituting frozen fruit for ice makes a thicker smoothie—if that's what you want. Personally, I like my smoothies thick in the morning and thin during the heat of the day for more thirst-quenching action. One bit of advice: If you freeze bananas, peel them first; frozen bananas don't easily shed their peels.
Other ways to thicken smoothies involve the addition of milk or milk-like products, such as yogurt, soy milk (or rice milk, or almond milk, or oat milk…). And, for a completely decadent experience, use coconut milk. To make it thicker still, you can add peanut butter or tahini for nutty thickness, or wheat germ, whole oats or granola for fiber. Whatever you do, be sure to wash the blender as soon as you are finished. Don't wait around for the remains of your smoothie to weld themselves onto your poor blender.
Speaking of blenders, Oster, Vita-mix and Cuisinart brands all receive high marks from the likes of Consumer Reports and Cook's Illustrated. Then there's my buddy, Exhibit Abe. He monitors the progress of the summer by buying a weekly bag of huckleberries at the Farmer's Market. He blends these with vanilla ice cream in his two-horsepower, gas-guzzling unit called the Tailgator, a modified weed whacker with a blender attachment. (You can find the Tailgator at http://www.totallygross.com.) Exhibit Abe claims he can taste the maturation of the huckleberry crop through his weekly smoothie.
Then there is that favorite of Indian restaurant patrons, the mango lassi. Cut one mango into the blender. Blend in the juice of a whole lime (and some lime zest, if you want to put Martha to shame). Add yogurt and sugar to taste, and one tablespoon of lemon juice. Blend and serve.
Finally, here is your mind-expanding smoothie combination for the week, brought to you from the Ver-o-Peso market in Belem, Brazil: the afore-promised ababatida. Like the mango lassi, it will never be in season in our lattitudes. But thanks to global trade, we can all give the ababatida a whirl. It's a simple smoothie of avocado, milk and sugar. And like all smoothies, the parameters of the ababatida are loose. Soy milk or yogurt can work in place of milk. Honey works instead of sugar, etc.
If you've never tried this, shut up—because it really works. Those three simple ingredients, in the presence of a blender, add up to a smoothie that is nothing short of divine.
Chef Boy Ari lives in Missoula, Mont., and writes for our sister alt The Missoula Independent.