The food revolution started in the early 80’s. Many unknown vegetables suddenly started to appear in the upscale market. These vegetables are not new and not native to the United States. Modern technology in agriculture and transportation made it possible for these exotics to reach our table. Not that our vegetables are boring but the need for variety lends excitement to our cuisine.
Chayote originated in South American and became widespread in tropical and subtropical countries including some parts of the United States where the weather is subtropical ,like Florida . It is not known how chayote reached Louisiana, where they call it Mirliton, but there cook books list this vegetables in a variety of dishes. Emerill, a native of Louisiana and one of the top chef’s in TV had demonstrated how to cook mirliton in many occasions. Louisiana is one of the US state that is passionate about food.
Chayote is known by many names. The Society Islands refers to chayote as “christophene.” The Jamaicans calls it “Chocho”. The Australian calls it “Ceschoka”. The Chinese calls it “buddhas hand” and the Floridan’s calls it “alligator pear”. Chayote is the Mexican term for the vegetable. The Mexican as well as the Pilipinos believe that consumption of chayote will help reduce blood pressure.The Southeast Asians and Pacific Islanders eat the fruit, tops and flowers. They add the tops to meat stews and stuffs the flower with meats concoctions, then deep fry the stuffed flowers like beignet.
I have only known the chayote with a smooth skin, but when I went to Mexico City I have seen very large chayotes with hairy spikes. I have also encountered the smallest variety of chayote called perilita (named after chestnuts) . In South America, the tuber or root of the mature chayote vine is relished. I once grew this rambling vine in the hillside of Pasadena and had experienced eating the tuber. The taste of the cooked tuber is like artichoke bottom.
The chayote that we are going to discuss is the common chayote found in major, upscale supermarkets, ethnic supermarkets and farmers market . This chayote is light green in color and is shaped like a pear. A fruit can weigh about 1/2-2 pounds. I live in Los Angeles and this vegetable fruit is available year round. During the winter months,chayote is pricey . The fruit is however inexpensive during the summer months. Its not exaggerating when I say that when I planted chayote, I can harvest as much as a hundred or more fruit from a vine given the right soil and ample water. I begged to have people accept them, including writing recipes that will make them come back for more. The vegetables can be diced or sliced ,cubed or boiled and stuffed with meats and cheeses. The fruit by itself is bland but has a refreshing taste to it.
Chayote can be eaten raw as crudite. The seeds of the immature chayote can be eaten, however the mature seed which is found in the middle of the vegetable has to be removed and discarded. The young chayote can be consumed in its entirety. I love to stir fry this vegetables with shrimps as the chayote and shrimp marries well. In Cajun cuisine, the chayote is usually halved then boiled. The pulp scooped, then diced and mixed with meat and sauce, then stuffed back and baked to make a yummy dish.
If you want to grow this fruit, 1st make sure you have plenty of space and plant it in an area where it can get at least 6 hours of sun. If you live in an area where gophers are active, protect your plant with chicken wire. To start the plant, you need to buy a mature fruit and let it stand in your kitchen counter until you see a shoot coming from the bottom of the fruit,then 1 or 2 leaves will emerge. This is the time to plant. If you have gophers, make a wire basket. Put your plant inside the wire basket and plant the whole thing in the ground with the shoot sticking up. Water well.You can grow this vegetable in your pergola or provide a trellis. The leaves are large and the flowers look like squash flower but smaller.