Sunday, June 12, 2011

Chayote Squash - What Is It and What Will I Cook With It?

A month or so ago, I could have sworn I saw an article in Clean Eating or Vegetarian Times that made burritos with chayote squash.  I was determined to try it, but the chayote was elusive.  The local market?  Negatory - they don't go more exotic than a yellow bell pepper.  The Giant near our apartment?  Nada.  The Safeway by my yoga studio where I'd sworn I'd seen them dozens of times?  Not a single chayote in sight.  Ditto for two Whole Foods Markets and a Balduccis.  Just when I thought there was some sort of mysterious chayote shortage, some finally popped up at the local Giant and I snagged them right away.

Today, when I went to make said burrito dish, I realized I either hallucinated the recipe or misplaced the magazine.  So, I decided I'd work the chayote into a concoction.

Mind you, I had no idea how the chayote should be prepared or what it should taste like, so I turned to the trusty internet.  Per Wikipedia:

The Chayote in all it's glory.
The chayote (Sechium edule) . . . is an edible plant that belongs to the gourd family Cucurbitaceae along with melons, cucumbers and squash.  Chayote is native to Mesoamerica where it is a very important ingredient to the diet. Other warm regions around the globe have been successful in cultivating it as well. The main growing regions are Costa Rica and Veracruz, Mexico. Costa Rican chayotes are predominantly exported to the European Union whereas Veracruz is the main exporter of chayotes to the United States.

Interestingly enough, the chayotes I bought were from Costa Rica, so maybe there is something to this shortage thing . . . but I digress.

The chayote fruit is used in both raw and cooked forms. When cooked, chayote is usually handled like summer squash, it is generally lightly cooked to retain the crisp flavor. Raw chayote may be added to salads or salsas, and it is often marinated with lemon or lime juice. It can also be eaten straight, although the bland flavour makes this a dubious endeavor. Whether raw or cooked, chayote is a good source of amino acids and vitamin C.

I did taste a bite of the raw chayote and it was fairly bland, like a watered down apple.   So, I decided to put it in a cooked dish.

 We had half a red onion in the fridge, so I minced that up.  I diced one of the unpeeled chayotes (you get more out of one than you'd realize - there's no seeds or pit to scoop out) and stripped an ear of fresh corn.  At the same time, I also started up a pot of quinoa. 

In my big saute pan, I heated up some olive oil and sauteed the onions and corn, and then added the chayote and seasoned the mix with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper.   I bashed up four or so cloves of garlic and threw that in, along with about a teaspoon of cumin and juice from half a lemon.  I then took the whole thing off the heat and stirred in some fresh cilantro leaves.

To serve, I grabbed some mixed lettuce, and tossed 1/4 of the quinoa with about a cup of the bean and chayote mixture to put on top of it.  I reached for my faux cheese initially, but I decided it would be better without it.

The cooked chayote had a nice crunchy texture, and it picked up the flavors from the seasonings and the rest of the dish.  I anticipate eating the leftovers cold on a salad, or as a burrito filling, or even in an omelet.  I may also add some avocado to it once the two on my counter are at peak ripeness.

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