“Chayote (Sechium edule), also known as: custard marrow, christophene (France, Caribbean), chouchoute (Madagascar, Polynesia), brione (France, West Indies), vegetable pear, cho-cho, soussous, chuchu, choko, pipinella, xuxu, mirliton (southern U.S.), mango squash, and huisquil.
For all these exotic names, this is simply a subtropical member of the squash family, eaten as a vegetable. It is a pear shaped fruit, has a single seed and a taste similar to zucchini. The young root tubers are also eaten.”
– Food Facts & Trivia
Roughly once a year I see papas del aire, as they’re called here, around town – generally in fall or early winter. They’re not a particularly common nor popular vegetable here. In fact, I found an Argentine website devoted to them with around a dozen recipes – but all of them were things like milanesas or croquettes or cooked down into a dulce, or a puree… nothing that sounded all that interesting. So, when i picked up a few in the market yesterday I ventured further afield in the Lat-Am canon to see what I might find that sounded like fun to make. I also didn’t feel like heading back out to the store, so it had to be made with things I already had here at home. I landed in Costa Rica, with a Picadillo de Chayote y Maíz – pretty much the sort of thing my mom might have made as a one-pot dinner casserole back in the ’60s, had there been chayotes mucking about in the Ann Arbor farmers’ market.
Let’s go in for the step-by-step:
As usual, we lay out our mise-en-place – the chayotes, some canned corn (frozen or fresh are of course fine, one of my suppliers had given me a can of a new line of corn they were pushing, an opportunity to try it out), ground beef (lurking in the back of the freezer), onion, rocoto chili (the original recipe calls for a mild pepper like an Italian frying pepper, but you know we like our spice), celery, cilantro, oregano, salt, pepper, cumin and achiote (annatto) seeds.
Peel the chayote and slice them in half. Remove the seed and surrounding white membrane – it’s all actually edible, even the peel and seed, but with bigger chayotes I often will take this step.
Finely chop the onion, the rocoto and the celery. Cube the chayote.
Chayotes have a very slightly sticky sap which is a pain to wash off – even after twice under hot water with soap, I still end up with a film covering my hand that takes a few more washings to remove. Some people do get a mild contact allergic reaction to the sap, though it’s not common.
In a little bit of olive oil, saute the ground beef with the salt, pepper, cumin and oregano, until well browned.
In fresh oil, cook the achiote seeds until they’re sizzling away and have flavored and colored the oil a sort of yellowish red. Remove the seeds. You can also use ground achiote if you have it available.
In the oil, saute the chayote with the chopped aromatic vegetables until the chayote is “al dente”.
Add the ground beef mixture and the corn to the pot and cook until the chayote are soft and the flavors are well blended. Add in the chopped cilantro and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper.
Serve it up!