Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Adventures in Chayote

It was veggie week at work, and it was also the first week of meals since I started my job back in September that we didn't pre-plan the meals. Our only shopping tactic was to grab what looked good and made us want to eat it. In the end, this tactic led us to take home most of the produce department, including one of these little guys.


I'd seen them around the super market, chilling out next to the eggplant, but I had no idea what they were. Squash? Melon? Alien baby pods?
Looking at its mysterious form did not make me want to eat it, but it made my boss curious, so into our cart we chucked it, gleefully looking forward to cutting it up at home.
Well, she was gleeful. I was apprehensive.

When we got back to the house, I searched the internet for information about our green little friend. The ever-wise Web told me Chayote tended to be slimy and tasteless, while simultaneously telling me it was a delicious staple of certain ethnic cuisine. Conflicting information meant I was now devoted to finding the truth out for myself.
The simplest mode of attack was deemed best; an easy saute in oil and spices as inspired by Navy S. at Allrecipes. My method and measurements were a bit different from Navy's, but I think either way will give you a yummy snack or side dish.

Here's what I did.
Gather ingredients.
Olive oil.
Red pepper flakes
One fat garlic clove
Balsamic vinegar.
And, of course, one chayote.

Cut the chayote in half length-ways, and then cut the halves into 1/4 inch thick slices. Don't peel, but remove the seed.
Smash your garlic, then peel and mince it.
Get the oil hot in a pan, sprinkling the oil with 1/2 tsp each of salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes with 1/3 to 1/2 of the garlic. Use more spices if you're working with a large pan or if you really want some heat.
When the oil's hot, lay down 1/3 to 1/2 of the chayote slices in the pan. Scooching them close together is fine. Now, sprinkle the tops with sugar so that they are lightly coated, about a 1/4 tsp per slice.
Let it cook. Seriously, this will take a few minutes. Let them get bubbly and golden on the bottom before flipping. The sugar will melt and the pale green flesh of the chayote will turn slightly translucent as it soaks up the heat and oil. Do not flip a single slice until its entire surface has changed color. The chayote is a tough little squash, and you'll want to give it this time to tenderize.
OK. Now flip. The sugar coated sides are now caramelizing in the spiced oil. Give it another 4 or so minutes, staying close to see that nothing burns and so you can enjoy the mild, spicy-sweet smells streaming up from the pan.
Once that side is done, transfer from pan to plate and drizzle with a thin stream of balsamic vinegar.
Add some fresh oil and spices to the pan, and repeat with the rest of the chayote slices.
Gobble it up, dragging the bites along your plate to soak up extra vinegar and any sugary spices that may have fallen.

One chayote produced a surprising amount of food, and it wasn't slimy. I ate half with a salad for lunch and was happily stuffed. The taste is pleasant, but nondescript. Still, the plain-Jane chayote deserves a chance. And, while I wouldn't nominate it as the next big super-food fad, it does have good heath benefits with 17% of your daily value of vitamin C and 31% of folate.

The verdict: Yum.

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