Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco - Mexico has given innumerable gifts to the world: flamboyant chiles, the multi-tasking avocado, the brain-stimulant called chocolate, the mood-boosting aroma of vanilla... but none of these food gifts are as humble as the oft-ignored vegetable known as chayote.
Photo by Leslie Seaton
Unlike other cucurbits, it has one single large seed in the center of the fruit. Each fruit has its own unique contours and wrinkles. Some varieties have prickly thorns on the outside of the skin and must be handled carefully with gloves.
The chayote is eaten raw or gently cooked and its mild flavor benefits from potent seasoning. It is a healthy carbohydrate that is a good source of Folate and Vitamin C, amino acids which are the building blocks of protein, and therefore brain chemistry. Traditional medicine in Mexico uses the chayote plant to dissolve kidney stones by drinking a tea of the leaves. Its diuretic properties also are used to reduce hypertension.
Adding foods to a chayote recipe brings out the best potential. Below is one of my favorite ways to cook Chayote. To prepare chayote it is best peeled under cold running water as it has a sticky fluid that can temporally anesthetize the skin. Peel it as you would a cucumber and then slice in half, removing the inner seed and then slice and cut it into 1-inch cubes and set aside in a bowl while you prepare the remainder of the dish.
2 Tbs. Virgin Olive Oil
1 clove garlic
½ white onion
1 small serrano chile
½ cup of raisins
2 chayote, diced into 1-inch cubes
¾ cup of white wine
¼ cup pine nuts or raw green pumpkin seeds
Salt and pepper to taste
Peel the chayote. Remove the seed and chop the vegetable into 1" pieces. Chop the onion into 3/4" pieces.
Heat up the oil on low heat and add the garlic, onion, and half a serrano chili (de-seeded). Let cook for a few minutes and then add the raisins, chayote and white wine. Cover and simmer on a low flame for 15 minutes. The chayote should be firm and crunchy, but tender, when ready. While it is simmering toast the pine nuts (or pumpkin seeds) until golden brown.
For the last few minutes uncover the chayote so the wine cooks down. Add salt and pepper. Place the chayote into a serving bowl and top with the nuts. It makes a great meal in itself, but can be served as a side to a protein dish, or a topper for rice with a side of Oaxaca string cheese.
Hint: How to get chile oil off your skin? Don't wash!
My friend Alicia taught me this old trick to avoid the after-effects of chile oil on your hands that can in turn sting your eyes. After handling the chile do not wash your hands. It will only spread the oil. Instead rub your hands through your hair (if bald, find someone else's hair!) the hair will absorb the oil perfectly. Then you may wash with soap and water.
Leslie Korn has lived and worked in Banderas Bay since 1973 conducting research in Traditional Medicine of Mexico. She is a Harvard Medical School and Harvard School of Public Health-educated clinician in clinical practice in Mental Health Nutrition, Integrative Medicine and the prevention of dementia and cognitive decline. She is the author of 7 books including the latest, 'The Good Mood Kitchen.' To learn more about her work, visit DrLeslieKorn.com. She can be reached at lekorn(at)cwis.org.
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