Saturday, 22 March 2014

Unusual Ingredients - Chayote / Mirliton / Choko

Ever seen a strange-looking vegetable for sale, and wondered what it tastes like and what you do with it?

For example, one of these funny-looking fellows?

It's known by many different names, probably chayote if you find one in the UK, chayote squash, mirliton or vegetable pear in the USA, and christophene in France... as well as various other names throughout the world, including cho-cho, choku, labu siam. It's probably a bit of a mystery to a lot of people in the UK, which is the best reason for providing a recipe to use it in!

You can eat them raw or cooked (it's best to avoid eating the skin - although I have seen recipes where it's diced and cooked with the skin on - as it can be quite tough).

You need to either peel it, and then cube, julienne, slice or shred etc. as required for your recipe; or you can halve it, then bake, boil or steam etc. until it's tender and scoop out the flesh. In the middle, there is a flat stone, which is also edible, although it is slightly bitter tasting, especially the outer part of it.

The flesh, when raw, is crisp like an asian pear, with a taste reminiscent of a cross between raw courgette, melon and a hint of pear. It's a pleasant surprise, as they are billed as being 'bland', which I would disagree with (well, unless you think the taste of courgette/melon is bland). I find it quite pleasant, and will definitely be incorporating it raw, perhaps julienned or shredded/grated into salad/coleslaw/garnishes etc.  especially with that hint of melon/fruitiness to the flesh. I think it will go well with seafood and chicken.

When cooked, it imparts a little of its own flavour into the cooking liquor (very delicately), and absorbs the flavours of what it's cooked into. I found that it is excellent for thickening soup - if you take out a ladleful or two, then blitz it and return to the soup (for a chunky soup) it gives it a similar thickness to when you have used a potato to thicken soup. If cut into cubes around 1cm square, it takes about 20 minutes to cook. If you halve them, then boil, it takes about 30-40 minutes for them to become tender.

They are also popular baked and stuffed with a mixture of their own flesh and other ingredients (Louisiana style, with prawns), and would be great in casseroles and stews as well as soups.

You could substitute courgettes (zucchini) for chayote (they would need less cooking time though) in a recipe, whether raw or cooked. Courgettes wouldn't need peeling.

Chayotes are 19 calories per 100g, and you can find more information about them here.

If you'd like a recipe to try one out in, you could have a go at my Spicy Mirliton and Shrimp Soup, a popular Louisiana dish. (Or have a go anyway, and use courgette if you can't get hold of one!)

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