Chayote
Three Chayote [Vegetable Pear, Mango squash (English); Christophene, Cho-cho, Tayota (Caribbean); Mirliton, Merliton (Cajun, Creole); Choko (Australia); Chouchou (Africa); Sayota (Philippine), Gayota (Latin America); #4761, Sechium edule]

Pronounced chy-O-tay, this vegetable is technically not a squash because it belongs to genus C. Sechium not C. Cucurbita but it's normally called a squash. An odd squash it is - it looks like a giant seed. Each "squash" consists of a very large embryo within a smooth but very thin seed coat and a thick layer of flesh over that. A notch is left at one end through which the seed sprouts. Native to Central America, chayotes are now grown worldwide. It is quite popular in India and Southeast Asia but the two biggest exporters are Costa Rica (worldwide) and Veracruz Mexico (to the U.S.).

The photo shows two regular Chayotes, which average about 3 inches across, 4-3/4 inches long and weight about 9 ounces. There is also a smaller rounder variety with a dark green skin that has better flavor but is very rarely seen here, and a yellow variety I've never seen. The big 2 pound spiky chayote in the back has excellent flavor too, but you won't see them in most regions. Grocery people hate them because they'll stab you right through bags and lightweight gloves. Food writers have been endlessly puzzled by early reports that the chayote was "like a porcupine" because they were unaware of this variety.

Shoots & Leaves   are also edible and are a common vegetable in the Philippines and Taiwan. The elongated root tubers are starchy and also edible.



The flavor of this fruit is often described as a blend of zucchini, green bean and cucumber. The flesh is starchy and stays reasonably firm when cooked. Chayote is a good source of vitamins C and B6, folate, potassium, magnesium and fiber.

Buying:   Available in all markets serving Latin American communities and often in markets serving Southeast Asian or Indian communities. Look for smooth fresh appearance and no bruises, soft spots or discoloration. If you can find a variety with dark green skin it will probably be more flavorful but the light green variety dominates the markets. Young ones with thin skin don't have to be peeled.

Storing:   They'll keep a few days at room temperature or about a week refrigerated. They need fairly high humidity so they won't shrivel.

Cooking: If your chayotes are mature with thick skins you need to peel them, The toughest skins are easy to remove after cooking and young chayotes with tender skins can be eaten skin-on. In the middle are the ones with skins too tough to eat but too tender to pull off easily.

I've read that if you peel them raw they exude a sticky substance that's difficult to wash off your hands. I've peeled plenty with a vegetable peeler but have failed to experience this substance.

Inside are two large embryonic leaves (cotyledon). These are a tasty morsel generally eaten by the cook as soon as the chayotes are done and seldom get to the table. The seed coat that surrounds the embryo is soft so needs not be removed.

Chayote chunks can be put into soups raw if the soup will have a reasonably long cooking time, otherwise steam or simmer until done, about 20 to 25 minutes.

Fronds of Greens Chayote Greens   -   [pucuk labu (Malay); Dragon Whiskers Vegetable (translated from Chinese)]

These are rather pleasant greens, though a touch coarse, with a basic flavor similar to the Chayote squash, but, well, greener. They are suitable for soups and stews as they don't turn to mush within a reasonable cooking time. I definitely prefer these to Long Bean or Squash leaves, also found in the Philippine markets.

In Southeast Asia these may be stir fried with garlic, but more commonly with garlic and dried anchovies or dried shrimp. They are also prepared with shiitake mushromms in Vietnam.

Buying:   These are easiest to find in a large Philippine market, of which we have plenty here in Southern California - because our entire health care system runs on Philippine immigrants. My local market puts out bundles of greens on Friday or Saturday morning for sale over the weekend.

Do not depend on the sign. Various greens tend to get jumbled in the markets, and they presume their customers know what they're buying. Note the many straight and curled tendrils. The leaves are medium size, fairly thin, devoid of fuzz, and have a sandpaper feel on the dark side.

Storing:   Loosely wrapped, these greens will last several days in the fridge, if they were in good shape to start with.

Prep:   Strip the leaves and tender tips from the tough stems, discarding the stems. You can use stems at the tip to the point where they will snap off cleanly. The tendrils can be used, though they will make your dish a bit coarser, but not the stems they originate from. Unlike many greens, the leaf stems are not as tough as the main stems, and those of smaller leaves can be used, again, to the point where they snap off cleanly.

Cooking:   Simmering time should be about 10 minutes, though the leaves will still hold together well and are not mushy at 20 minutes. Steaming should be a little longer.

Yield:   A 1 pound 10 ounce bunch yielded 14 ounces edible (54%), but your bunches may vary. One recipe called for "2 bunches, about 300 grams". Here in Los Angeles, a single bunch can run 800 grams, so I have no idea what the yield from her bunches would be.

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