You know… “chayote” (sometimes spelled “chayotte”), also known as chouchou, chocko, christophine, mirliton, vegetable pear. You don’t know? Time for today’s lesson, then: Sechium edule, a member of the cucurbitacea family (or if you prefer a cousin of squashes and cucumber), originates from Mexico and Central America and was already cultivated there when the Spaniards arrived. The word chayote comes to us from a Spanish word derived from the word “hitzayotli” in the Nahuatl language where it designates both the plant and the fruit.
The plant is viviparous, as was discussed in the post on starting chayote, meaning you need a fruit to start the plant: the smooth large whitish seed (perfectly edible and considered a delicacy by the chayote connoisseur) must germinate inside the fruit.
Chayote is perennial in its native climate and in the tropical and subtropical areas of the world where it was exported and made itself at home (like here)- which is why you find it on the menus of cuisines as diverse as Vietnamese, Australian, Reunionese, Louisianan, Nigerian etc. In the mid-Atlantic area, it will be killed by a hard frost, although it will stand to a light one: in my garden it is killed by the same type of frost that kills my dahlia tops (another garden denizen that hails from Central America). If a plant were several years old it would have had a chance to form tuber-like roots, and like dahlias, would send new shoots up when more clement weather arrives. In the Northern Piedmont, though – as in the entire mid-Atlantic area – the winters are too harsh and the plant must be considered an annual. Read more
A while ago, I posted a recipe for chayote shoots, this unusual green that’s easy to grow and that is wonderfully silky in stir-fry and braised dishes. It makes good quiches too – a racy alternative to spinach or Swiss chard. You have probably seen the fruit in the exotic section of the supermarket. In the US it’s imported more than likely from Mexico. Green and vaguely pear shaped and sized, it’s in the squash family and looks like this:
There are more types of chayote around, some weight close to 2 pound and some are thorny with a more vigorous taste and a fleshier texture. But the smooth green smallish chayote is all that I have ever seen around here be at the supermarket or in Hispanic markets. You’ll have to travel to see and eat the other kind.
I ahve also never seen the greens for sale here, although they are really good – in many way a lot tastier than the mild (but versatile fruit). While I am trying to get fruit from my vines, I am under no illusion that’s practically a lost cause in the Virginia Northern Piedmont. Practically, mind you, which means I am still trying. It’s however a breeze (at least compared to other veggies) to grow chayote successfully as a leaf (and stem) vegetable. Read more
I know. It’s not in season. But I am dreaming of it, because of a post from Elise on Simply Recipes. Chayote shoot is a taste of my childhood. Around the holidays, don’t we reminisce about good memories?
At some point I’ll post more info on the chayote, of which the young shots & leaves, the fruit and the tubers are edible, and on how to grow it in Virginia. In the US – at least here in Virginia – , I have only seen the fruit for sale. It’s easy to grow, is not bothered by pest – it just take time to get it started. Once it starts growing after the weather warms up, it will swallow a trellis in very little time, providing plenty of shoots for the kitchen: the more you pick, the more it branches, the more shoots there are – and shoots is what I want to talk about today.
While the fruit is very mild, easily absorbing other flavors, the shoots have a more pronounced taste of their own. It’s worth checking ethnic market for them. They might be carried there. Otherwise, come back here and read what I will write about growing your own. By the way, other name under which chayote (botanically Sechium edule) is known are: christophine or, christophene in the French Caribbean, mirliton in Louisiana, chocho in Australia, chouchou on Reunion Island. It originates from Mexico but has spread to many cuisines of the world, especially in Asia.They braise beautifully – or is that stir-fry since they need cook only 20 minutes or so after the initial few minutes in the hot oil – acquiring an unctuousity that’s hard to describe. A quick and tasty way to have them is Chayote Shoots with Ginger Pork.
Disclaimer added 12/13/08: Both photos were taken in the summer. As of December, here in Virginia, my chayote vine is dead, killed by cold. I will plant a new one out come next spring. You could freeze the shoots, once cooked.