I thought it deserved a post of its own, since it is another gift from Mexico (and Guatemala) to the world , and I also realized that it is available and popular in many countries , known by many different names: chayote, pear squash, sayote, mirliton, sou-sou, labu siam, christophene, maerakkai, chow-chow, gurkha fruit, choko, Budha’s hand melon, ishkus … Did I miss any? This green and strange looking veggie has been popping up in the produce section at stores in my area for a while now; even Wal-Mart has been offering them on a regular basis. In North America it is known as chayote, or pear squash; the first name is Spanish, and comes from its Nahuatl name, chayohtli; the second name is from its plant genealogy, the squash family, and its pear-shaped appearance (no relation to actual pears.) There is a variety with a prickly skin, but the most popular is the smooth one.
I bought a couple of chayotes (98 cents each) and looked for traditional Mexican recipes; they all began with the direction of boiling the chayotes whole, for 40 to 45 minutes! I just did not have the time, patience, or heart to do that to the poor chayotes; now I am thinking that perhaps it is one of those mistreated vegetables that get overcooked for no reason, until any flavour or texture they could have is eliminated (zucchini, Brussels sprouts, to name a couple.) I decided to follow the example of some Chinese and Australian recipes, in which the chayotes are sliced and stir fried instead. I cut the chayotes lengthwise into quarters, removed the tough wrinkly tops and bottoms with a paring knife, and peeled them with a vegetable peeler. Finally, I sliced each quarter into thin pieces:
Some people leave the skin on, which is probably very nutritious, but I do not care for it, and again, some people remove the seed (beige oval in the middle), but I have to say that growing up, the seed was my favourite part, and I would always ask the rest of the family to donate theirs to my plate. So for me, skin is off, seed stays in, but it is optional to do the opposite, or any combination. The sliced chayotes were sautéed with just a hint of olive oil over medium heat for about 5 minutes, then covered and simmered for another 10 minutes at low heat:
At this point I had a lot of choices for ways to season my chayotes; the two most popular in Mexico are either in a warm salad with an olive oil and oregano dressing, or as a side dish, served with a dollop of thick cream on top. I always preferred the latter, so I finished cooking the chayotes with a small piece of butter, and a sprinkle of salt:
I placed them at the table in a bowl, with a separate bowl of cream on the side (sour cream works great), so each person could scoop some chayotes on a plate, and add cream to taste (e.g., lots for me):
My husband does not like sour cream, so he sprinkled freshly squeezed lime juice and coarse Himalayan salt on his portion, and I have to say that it was a great idea. This dish also goes well with flavourful meat dishes, such as Fish Filets in Garlic Sauce or my Puebla Inspired Stuffed Pork Roast; it could become a vegetarian main course, by melting cheese on top before removing from the pan, and serving with salsa and corn tortillas, in addition to the thick cream. I will offer more options in my posts next week.