Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Ode to the Lowly, Lovely Chayote Squash

Meet my friend Chayote, my new favourite vegetable.
I love hanging out with him. He's a cool and crispy guy. Fits into any crowd.
He's a member of the squash family, unassuming but surprisingly versatile.

I don't know where he's been all my life.

I've seen bins of Chayotes at the grocery store, over by the bitter melons and lemongrass and wrinkly, nobbly vegetables of unknown origin. I never knew what they were or how to use them.

Or how gosh dang delicious they were.

Chayote squashes look like green pears with funny, flattened wrinkly ends. Their skin is smooth and they have a soft pit in the middle that is edible, though you can cut it out for a more uniform look. When I did a little reading about them, I discovered they are a good source of amino acids and vitamin C. Wow. They can be eaten raw or cooked. Their taste is very delicate - a cross between a cucumber and a zucchini, but it is their texture that makes them so special - crisp and juicy. And amazingly, they retain that crispness when lightly cooked.

I discovered them last year, and am very glad I did.

I usually just saute them lightly in butter with a little salt and pepper. They are a great accompaniment to any meal. Chayotes originated in Mexico, but have been introduced and adapted to many parts of the world. My friend, who has moved to Canada from Mexico, has given me ideas for all sorts of other ways to eat this lovely vegetable, so as soon as I have tried them out I will pass them on to you.

When you find some smooth, firm, fresh-looking ones, buy a few extra - because they keep, loosely wrapped in a plastic bag, in the refrigerator for a month.

Sauteed Chayote Squash

2 medium chayotes
2 tsp (20ml) butter or oil
salt and pepper to taste

Cut the chayotes in quarters lengthwise. (If they are older or a bit tough, you can peel them with a vegetable peeler first, but I have never needed to do this). Cut out the soft core with a paring knife - kind of like coring apple wedges. Then slice the quarters crosswise into 1/4inch (1/2cm) slices.

Heat butter or oil in a heavy skillet over medium heat. Add chayote slices and saute, stirring occasionally, until tender but still crisp. This only takes about 5 minutes. Try to avoid browning the chayote.

Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste and serve.

* You can also saute a little chopped onion with the chayote, or add a little chopped parsley a minute or so before they are done.

Serves 4
(To adjust quantities, allow about 1 chayote for every two people)

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