The Root: From Scarborough to Fresno, a Recipe for Avocado Shake

Avo-licious. Photo by Dominique Zamora.

My earliest memory of the humble avocado goes back to when I was a kid in Scarborough, Toronto; I was maybe 5 or 6 years old and hanging around the block where my cousins lived. My brother Vincent and I would spend summers with my cousins Matthew, Michelle and Marybeth, chasing one another through their house or riding our bikes until it got too hot to pedal any farther.

My friend Rochelle lived across the street with her parents, Tito Ross and Tita Lolit. Often, their garage would be wide open. Sometimes, there would be lolas playing mahjong around a wobbly plastic table, or there’d be a large, fragrant pot of goat stew wafting in the air. If the garage was open and it was summer, then almost always there would be a pile of ice candy, a Filipino trifecta of fruit, condensed milk and sugar that had been blended, then frozen in small plastic bags. We would walk over to Rochelle’s house and poke our heads into the garage, eyeing the mini fridge in the corner, lingering until her mom came outside. Tita Lolit was a saint, and she knew those candies were the highlight of our humid Canadian summers. She would make all our favorite flavors: buko, mais con queso, munggo. But my favorite was the avocado, and I’d scan the colorful stack for a hint of green. The buttery texture of avocado melded with the heavy sweetness of the condensed milk and sugar, and I’d stand in the shade of that garage staring out into the hot afternoon, in complete, utter contentment.

My second-earliest memory of the rough-skinned fruit settles in the kitchen at my dad’s house in Los Angeles. If you walk into the kitchen on any given day, my stepmom will have at least two dishes cooking on the stove, and there’s a 50 percent chance that one of those dishes will be kaldereta or pinakbet. A few times a year, in between checking on the okra and bitter melon, she’ll get the itch to create the best cold drink you have ever tasted. Whether it’s boba or blended spinach smoothies, every inch of the countertop and dining table will be filled with pitchers of her latest mission. And if you walk through the door, you’ll be handed a glass of her latest test subject while she waits for your verdict with folded arms.

During one of these periods, my stepmom was churning out buckets of avocado shake, a Pinoy classic. She chucked cups of ice, sliced avocado, whole milk and sugar into her blender, spinning it all together until it became thick and creamy. Sometimes, she’d add vanilla ice cream and spike it with a bit of lemon juice; other times, she’d switch out the whole milk for condensed milk. One of those times, I drank about a pitcher of avocado shake, happily sitting at the kitchen table while she handed me glasses of a slightly different version each time, moving from stove to blender to me, smiling and laughing.

My third-earliest memory of avocado was in Fresno. We had moved into a new house with my mom and stepdad. My mom was home from the clinic, which was something I looked forward to every day, and was mashing avocados in a bowl. As I craned my neck over her shoulder, she said, “You’ll want to try this, chalilit.” She opened the fridge and pulled out a jug of milk—my stepdad always made sure there were about 3 to 4 gallons of it in the fridge, since my brothers and I went through it like water—mixed the milk with the mashed fruit, sprinkled in white sugar, stirred it a bit more, then handed me the bowl. I looked at it gingerly, unsure about the floating chunks of avocado, then ate a spoonful. Like those ice candies in Scarborough, it was bliss.

After that, I would make my own version whenever we had avocados in the pantry. I ended up really liking those meaty chunks, mashing them in a mug and mixing them with milk—though I would add about three times as much sugar as my mom did.

Below is my take on those sweet memories. It’s updated to be sans dairy and white sugar, but if you feel inclined, feel free to swap those back in. It is a bit of a no-recipe recipe, since I believe the best recipes are made without a measuring cup or tablespoon. It’s instead based on memory and the tangible feeling of raw ingredients in hand.


The Base: Start with one avocado for every five cups of coconut milk and six heaping tablespoons of agave syrup. From there, it’s simply a matter of adding everything to a blender until you get a smooth, sippable consistency. This serves about two to three people.

Tailor It: This shake starts off thinner and milder than most versions, which allows for you to tailor it to your preference. If you want something traditionally icy and thicker, cut down the coconut milk by half and replace one of the cups with ice. For something sweeter, cut down on the milk and add a scoop of coconut-milk ice cream with ice. To contrast the sweetness, squeeze in some fresh lime juice.

Turn It Into Ice Candy: To turn the shake into candy, you’ll need to cut back on the coconut milk and introduce vegan condensed milk for a thicker consistency. (Tip: You can make vegan condensed milk by simmering full-fat coconut milk with coconut sugar.) Blend one cup of coconut milk and half a cup of vegan condensed milk for every avocado. I like to start off with a lot of agave (about one-third of a cup), but you can add more or less according to your taste. Once blended, pour the mixture into plastic casing and tie the end into a knot. This will take about three hours to fully freeze.

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