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 we put it here because it's normally called a squash and because there isn't any other place for it.

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.

Shoots and tender leaves are also edible and are a common vegetable in 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.

Buy:   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.

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

Cook: 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.

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