Welcome to Meat Free Monday. Today we’re cooking with chayote, a type of squash native to south America. I’ve added some of my favourite spices to lift the chayote and this dish is a perfect lunch or supper dish, I cannot wait to dive in to ours.
Chayote (Sechium edule) is an edible plant belonging to the gourd family Cucurbitaceae, along with melons, cucumbers and squash. Globally it is known by many names including christophene or christophine, cho-cho, Cidra (Antioquia, Caldas, Quindio and Risaralda regions of Colombia), Guatila (Boyacá and Valle del Cauca regions of Colombia), Centinarja (Malta), Sousou or Chou-chou (Mauritian Creole), pimpinela (Madeira), Pipinola (Hawaii), pear squash, vegetable pear, chouchoute, choko, güisquil (Guatemala, El Salvador Pataste (Honduras), Dashkush (Manipuri), and in the Dominican Republic, they call it Tayota. In Louisiana Creole and Cajun cuisine, the fruit, known as mirliton also spelled mirletons or merletons is a popular seasonal dish for the holidays, especially around Thanksgiving.Chayote is originally native to Mexico where it grows rampantly and has little commercial value. The main growing regions elsewhere are Brazil, Costa Rica, Veracruz, and Abkhazia. Costa Rican chayotes are predominantly exported to the European Union, whereas Veracruz mainly exports its chayotes to the United States. The word chayote is a Spanish derivative of the Nahuatl word chayohtli and was one of the many foods introduced to Europe by early explorers, who brought back a wide assortment of botanical samples. The Age of Conquest also spread the plant south from Mexico so successfully, that it became integrated into the cuisine of many other Latin American nations.
Although most people are familiar only with the fruit as being edible, the root, stem, seeds and leaves are all edible too. The tubers of the plant are eaten like potatoes and other root vegetables, while the shoots and leaves are often consumed in salads and stir fries, especially in Asia. Like other members of the gourd family, such as cucumbers, melons, and squash, chayote has a sprawling habit, and it should only be planted if there is plenty of room in the garden. The roots are also highly susceptible to rot, especially in containers, and the plant in general is tricky to grow successfully.
In the most common variety, the fruit is roughly pear-shaped, light green and elongated with deep ridges lengthwise, or coarse wrinkles, ranging from 10 to 20 cm in length. It looks like a green pear, and it has a thin, green skin fused with the green to white flesh, and a single, large, flattened pit. Some varieties have spiny fruits. The flesh has a fairly bland taste, and the texture is described as a cross between a potato and a cucumber. Although generally discarded, the seed has a nutty flavour and can be eaten. The chayote vine can be grown on the ground, but as a climbing plant, it will grow onto anything, and can easily grow to a height of 12 metres when support is provided in Australia and New Zealand, for example, it is easily grown in the yard or garden, set on a chicken wire support or strung against a fence. It has heart-shaped leaves, 10–25 cm wide and tendrils on the stem. The plant bears male flowers in clusters and solitary female flowers.
When cooked, chayote is usually handled like summer squash, it is generally lightly cooked to retain the crisp flavour. The fruit does not need to be peeled to be cooked or fried in slices. Most people regard it as having a very mild flavour. It is commonly served with seasonings (e.g. salt, butter and pepper in Australia) or in a dish with other vegetables and/or flavourings. It can also be boiled, stuffed, mashed, baked, fried, or pickled in escabeche sauce. The tuberous part of the root is starchy and eaten like a yam (it can be fried). Both fruit and seed are rich in amino acids and vitamin C. Fresh green fruit are firm and without brown spots or signs of sprouting, smaller fruits are always more tender. The leaves and fruit have diuretic, cardiovascular and anti-inflammatory properties, and a tea made from the leaves has been used in the treatment of arteriosclerosis and hypertension, and to dissolve kidney stones.
Recipe ( Serves 4)
- A knob of butter/ghee
- A pinch of mustard seeds
- 2 chayotes, chopped into cubes
- A pinch of granulated sugar
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- A small handful of red lentils
- A pinch of red chilli flakes
- An inch of fresh ginger, minced
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- A small glug of ground nut oil
- 1 garlic clove finely sliced
- 1 red chilli, split
- A couple of curry leaves
Heat a large heavy based sauté pan over medium heat, melt butter and add the mustard seeds, once they start popping add the chayotes, sugar, garlic, red chilli flakes,ginger and stir into the mustard seeds and butter. Cook for about 5 minutes before adding the red lentil. Add a splash of water then cook for 15-20 minutes until chayotes and red lentils are tender. Make sure you stir quite frequently to stop sticking; add more water if necessary. Season with salt and black pepper. In another frying pan, heat the oil on a high heat and quickly sauté the garlic and whole chilli for a couple of minutes. Place the chayote in a serving bowl then quickly toss the curry leaves into the oil and pour over the chayote. There will be a lot of sizzling, so don’t panic. It’s worth it. The flavours are amazing, aromatic and well worth the ‘spitting’. Serve with flat breads.