I have met very few Americans who have ever heard of, much less eaten, this wonderful member of the squash family. In Brazil, we call it xuxu. Curiously, my friend Kim tells me that is what they call it in Vietnam as well. They are easy to find in Texas and Arizona. Not so sure about the rest of the country.
It is called chayote (chi-OH-tay) squash and it is the love child of a potato and an apple of cucumber descent. Now you know exactly what the taste and texture are, right? Actually, my family loves them because they are mild, but very juicy. And they take on the flavor of what you make with them, much like potatoes. Plus, they are rich in amino acids and vitamin C. So they are very good and very good for you! Serve them as a side with your favorite protein and you have an easy, quick, and tasty meal.
These are beautiful and very versatile little squashes. They can be eaten raw or cooked, savory or sweet. In Brazil, it is usually prepared as savory, either sautéed like in this recipe and served as a vegetable side, or cubed and added to soups or stews. When picking them at the store go for small to medium in size, with no blemishes, and as smooth-skinned as you can find. These are usually the younger, fresher ones with more tender meat.
It doesn’t get much simpler than this!
The skin is edible, but if they are not very young and tender, they can be tough. I have always peeled mine. When you peel these little guys, they will secrete a sticky, juicy substance. Some say that it might irritate the skin and some chayote experts recommend using gloves, coating your hands with oil, or peeling under running water. I have never had a problem with them, although sometimes my palm gets slightly dry after peeling. The sticky juice seems to be more about the skin. The meat is usually dry and firm.
The pit is also apparently edible and supposedly has a nutty flavor, but I have never eaten it. Once peeled, I cut in half lengthwise and take out the pit and trim off the remaining skin caught in the folds of the head, as seen above. Then I cube them into bite-sized pieces.
Three squashes of small to medium size will yield about 4 cups cubed. I also dice about a tablespoon of fresh garlic. Trust me, it is not too much. And if you add the garlic to the sauté pan for about a minute before the squash, they will roast a little more and develop that yummy nutty flavor of roasted garlic that makes my toes curl in my shoes.
Cooking time will vary depending on the tenderness of the squash. I like to start with a medium to medium-high flame to lightly roast and caramelize both the garlic and the chayote. Cook, stirring frequently for about 10 -15 minutes. Salt to taste. I usually add a couple of pinches of sea salt while cooking. The squash should be fork tender but not mushy. If still too firm, cover and reduce the flame for about five minutes so they can soften in their own steam. Once at desired tenderness, remove from heat and serve.
Go on, be adventurous! The produce department is full of new friends you can make. This one comes highly recommended, and not just by me. Not only is it delicious and healthy, but it will take your meal up another notch or two when you substitute it for your old stand by veggies. Enjoy!
Make a New Friend - Chayote
- 3 small to medium chayote squash
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon diced fresh garlic
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Peel the squash, cut in half lengthwise, remove the pit and trim off the the remaining skin in the crevices.
- Cube into bite-sized pieces.
- Add 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil to a sauté pan on medium to medium high heat.
- Add garlic and sauté for about a minute before adding the cubed squash.
- Cook, stirring frequently until the squash is fork tender but not mushy (about 10 to 15 minutes). If caramelized but not yet tender, reduce the heat to simmer and cover with lid to finish cooking in it's own steam for about 5 more minutes.
- Remove from heat and serve.
Karen Nichols-Rexwall says
Aw too bad that I can’t get it here, I miss my Xuxu! I used to love making shrimp stew with it instead of potatoes. It really absorbs the shrimp flavor! If there were any leftovers, I would re-purpose the stew as filling for a shrimp pie. Yummy!