Today, I present another mystery vegetable I found over the weekend, the chayote. I’ve seen it before but never bought one before. It’s typically grown in Costa Rica and is of the same family as cucumbers, melons, and squash. It’s firm-fleshed and about the size of a pear.
The chayote can be prepared in nearly every way imaginable, but I opted to use it in soup. Actually, it somewhat thicker than a soup, not quite a stew …
Raw chayote has the texture of a starchy cucumber, like the cross between a cucumber and potato. The flavor is quite subtle and it’s crisp to the bite. It can even be used raw in salads. I ate a few pieces and found it refreshing and light.
The chayote plant and leaves have been used medicinally to treat arteriosclerosis, hypertension, and even to dissolve kidney stones. As a man who has suffered two rather painful kidney stones so far, I can only assume my body instinctually knew to buy these chayote!
I purchased the chayote at my local Chinese market and it reminded me of bitter melon. Joe’s mom made me a bitter melon soup once, so I decided to try the chayote in a similar preparation.
Chayote and beef soup
1lb. cubed beef
1 can butter beans, drained/rinsed
4-6 small tomatoes
3/4 cup fregola (or other small pasta)
1 small onion, finely chopped
8 cups chicken stock
1 bay leaf
1/4 tsp. garam masala
1/4 tsp. smoked paprika
1/4 tsp. ground ginger
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon flour
1/2 tsp. ground pepper
Heat a large pot over medium heat and add oil. Toss cubed beef with flour and ground black pepper. Place into pot and brown on all sides. While meat is cooking, add bay leaf and the whole tomatoes. I used 6 2″ diameter vine-ripe tomatoes. You don’t need to chop them, they will eventually break apart. If they don’t, just use the back of your spoon to pop them towards the end of cooking.
After meat has browned, add onion. Cook until onions start to become translucent, about 2-3 minutes. Add chicken stock and scrape any stuck bits from the bottom of the pan. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes.
The chayote does not need to be peeled. I sliced it in half lengthwise. Toward the bottom is a soft pit. I used a spoon to scoop it out. I then sliced each half crosswise into 1/4″ slices. Oddly, it looked like a pile of granny smith apples when I finished. I read on wikipedia that in Australia there was a rumor that McDonald’s apple pies were made with chayotes instead of apples. I can see how such a rumor might start :-)
After the soup has cooked for 30 minutes add the butter beans and chayote, along with the paprika, garam masala, and ginger. Return to a simmer, then add the pasta. Cook for 10-15 minutes or until chayote becomes tenders. It will retain a firm, potato-like texture but will begin to become slightly translucent.
The pasta and flour will slightly thicken the broth. I served with a sprinkling of fresh thyme leaves and dash of smoked paprika.
The chayote remained firm in texture, although soft to the bite. It developed a slightly stronger flavor and worked well with the other ingredients.