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Chayote

by Jacqueline M. Newman

Vegetables and Vegetarian Foods

Fall Volume: 2014 Issue: 21(3) page(s): 17


This fruit which many consider a vegetable and use as one is really a fruit that has many names and grows on a vine. Some, but not all of its names are christophene, mirliton, vegetable pear, balsam pear, cho-cho, cidra, guatila, pipinaols, labu siam, ishkus, and there are still others. While it does not look like on, it is a member of the Cucurbitaceae family as are its other cucumber relatives. It is usually green on the outside, white within. The taste is bland and it can be eaten raw, boiled, mashed, braised, baked, even stuffed or pickled. Some prefer it sliced, breaded, and fried. This Sechium edule, the larger it grows, the more dilute is its flavor.

Some know it as a diet food and use it in salads, but not the Chinese. They simply stir-fry it as a vegetable, or add it cut up to their long-cooked dishes. They do delight that it holds its shape even when long-cooked. This is a mild tasting perennial that can be an annual if grown in temperate climates, and is often a perennial when grown in hotter ones.

Said to have 25 calories a cup or 80 calories for three and a half ounces, it can be finicky to grow or it can take over your garden, its choice. With no fat and no cholesterol, and high in Vitamin C and folate, it does have a reasonable amount of zinc. Most of its fruits are pear-shaped, some have wrinkles, some are spiny, and many can be a combination thereof.

Removing the seed is what most folk do, and then they stuff it. Before doing so, many boil it until tender. There are those who remove the seed and fill its cavity, many do not bother to do that as the seed is softer than most other seeds.

Chayote is popularly served with lamb or beef, in a curry sauce, or in a spicy one. Actually, it is good no matter how it is prepared and that pleases its consumers. Preparing this vegetable is the spice of many folks lives and they do what ever comes to mind when they do so because it is very versatile.

Some say it is in the gourd family and was domesticated in Mexico or the West Indies. All agree that its big soft seed cooks quickly. While many people do grow this vine or eat its fruit, only some eat its heart-shaped leaves. There are those that do both, and still others who adore its shoots, roots, stems, and seeds as a dish or with other vegetables.

The non-fruit parts of this plant are rarely found for sale in a market and we know not why not. The root is starchy and can be eaten like a yam. The leaves can be used to make tea or simply stir-fried as a leafy-green vegetable. TCM practitioners recommend it and the fruit to dissolve kidney stones, treat hypertension, and reduce high blood pressure.

In Taiwan, chayote is appreciated for its shoots which they call long xu cai. That translates to dragon whisker vegetable. We do not get the connection, do you? Rarely can it be found frozen, but homeowners who grow them tell us they freeze these prolific fruits. The vines, however, are very cold-sensitive and thus do not freeze well; likewise the roots and shoots.

If you want to grow chayote, be aware that after planting it, do not water it because it is very susceptible to rot, however, it does not like to be dry either. And do not fertilize it then because that encourages vine grown, not fruit development. For those that cook it, let me advise if preparing yours in the microwave, use very little water. How little, you ask? Two pounds of fruit needs ten to twelve minutes and only one quarter of a cup of water. One other word of advise, it can take over your garden, so keep it pruned and under control.

We only provide one recipe, mostly because this food as fruit or leaves do work well no matter how cooked, for how long, and with whatever is available. Therefore, feel free to experiment, it really does well all ways and you will be pleased no matter how you deal with it.
Chayote, Tofu, and Red Pepper
Ingredients:
1 Tablespoon lard
6 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced thin
1/2 pound firm tofu, cubed
2 whole chayote, peeled, then diced into half-inch pieces
1 small hot red pepper, seeded and diced finely
4 sliced fresh ginger
salt and pepper to taste
Preparation:
1. Heat wok or fry pan, add the lard, and the garlic and stir-fry for one minute before adding the tofu pieces and fry for one minute, then add the chayote pieces, hot pepper cubes, and the ginger.
2. Stir-fry one minute, then reduce the heat, add the salt and pepper, and stir-fry for five to ten minutes, then serve.

                                                                                                                                                       
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