Thursday, January 5, 2012

Chayote Saute

You may remember that our family food revolution was designed, in part, to encourage more adventurous eating.  Like a lot of people, I tend to buy the same things each week, even if I’m planning to put them together in different ways–but I’m always delighted when I find something new to like in the produce section.  So today I took a careful stroll through its aisles when I went to the grocery store, in search of a new discovery.  What caught my eye was the guy at left: lumpy, pear-shaped (but much larger than a regular pear), the color of a Granny Smith apple, nestled between the butternut and zucchini.  I was intrigued, and the the price was right, so I purchased my first chayote (chai-oh-tee) squash.

When I came home and started doing some research, I felt a little silly.  Though it looked and sounded pretty exotic to me, the chayote is a fairly common type of squash used in Mexico, the Caribbean, and throughout the south.  I found dozens of recipes for chayote soup, chayote rellenos, stuffed chayote,  baked chayote, chayote chili . . . the list went on and on.  Chayote was still new to us, though, and that was the point. Ultimately, I settled on a very simple preparation: sliced chayote sauteed with a little bit of thinly sliced onion.  I wanted the flavor of our new discovery to be the centerpiece of whatever we were eating.

I did, however, take the liberty of slicing up the chayote before the Foodie children came home from school.  Given that it’s a member of the squash family (which the younger Foodies have decided they don’t enjoy, barring the occasional piece of chocolate zucchini cake), and given that it’s rather, well, odd looking, I decided it might be best for all involved if chayote made its first appearance in their lives on their dinner plates.  I worried that the skin would be hard to slice through, as it is with butternut and spaghetti squash, but the chayote’s skin is actually fairly thin and easy to cut.  My largest knife took care of the job with minimal elbow grease.  Rather than seeds and strings at the chayote’s center, there’s something more like a soft avocado pit.   Once I’d removed the pit, I simply sliced the chayote into half-inch thick pieces, then cut half a yellow onion into thin slices as well.

Some of the recipes I looked at suggested adding vinegar and sugar to the chayote while it sautes; others suggested lime juice.  I went with the latter (about a tablespoon), plus sea salt, a little bit of sugar (very little–maybe half a teaspoon), and a sprinkle of black pepper.  I put the onions in the pan first, with a little olive oil; after two or three minutes, I added the chayote, lime juice, and seasonings, then mixed everybody together and let the mixture saute for about five minutes.  Since this is a common side dish in Mexico, I served it up alongside chicken enchiladas for dinner.

The verdict?  Sadly, the Foodie children were not impressed.  “It’s not the worst thing you’ve made me eat,” The Boy said, “but I don’t really like the flavor.”  The combination of salt and lime juice was new to both kids, and because the flavor of chayote itself is very mild, lime was mostly all they could taste.  The Hubs and I found the texture appealing, somewhere between raw zucchini and raw potato–crisp, even though the chayote had been cooked through until it was hot.  The flavor, though, was rather bland.  I tasted the onions, salt, and lime juice more than anything specific in the chayote.

I have the feeling the chayote is meant to be more of a texture than a primary flavor, so if I try it again I think it will be in a soup or stew–in any case, some dish that makes use of multiple flavors.   Still, for less than two dollars I was able to demonstrate to the Foodie children that trying new things won’t kill you.  Here’s hoping we’ll have better luck with next week’s discovery!


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