Chayote (or mirliton) is one of those vegetables that doesn’t crop up too often in the UK. Strange that. It favours an almost tropical climate (don’t we all?) and shows up a lot more in Southern Europe as well as the Caribbean, southern American states and, of course, Mexico. But this week, I was lucky enough to be presented with a couple and therefore given a good enough reason to spend a day in my kitchen messing around with them.
If you, like me, are still looking out of your window to a never ending winter, the chances are you’ll not have had the opportunity to taste chayote. Part of the squash family, it is often said to have a flavour that is a cross between an apple and a cucumber and most people will recognise it as a pretty good substitute for yellow courgette/ zucchini. Although you might not guess it from its mild taste, nutritionally speaking, it’s a great addition to anyone’s dinner. It is (of course) high in fibre and very low in calories. Not only that, it’s a source of vitamin C and a good source of B vitamins and will help keep your manganese, zinc, phosphorus, iron and potassium levels topped off.
When it comes to preparing your chayotes you have a couple of options. Firstly, you could treat them like any other squash and cook them in a stew, soup or casserole or you could take the second option, (and limit the amount of work you have to do) using them raw in a salad. If they are quite young with tender skin you can eat the skin, but if they are older it may well be tougher and benefit from a peeling. If that is the case, then either peel them under running cold water or wear protective gloves as they can secrete a substance that, whilst not harmful, can cause a numbness and tingling in the areas you have exposed to it. Having said that, mine were just fine with the skin still on. Remove the pip from the centre and you’re away. Today I chose to pair mine with that other aztec staple; quinoa and with whatever other salad veggies and herbs I had on hand. Believe me, it was not a labour intensive lunch but was delicious and full of lovely, zingy fresh flavours and would be a perfect make ahead lunch box filler, should you be that organised. The veg will only benefit from sitting in the dressing longer, and those flavours will come together perfectly. On a final note; please don’t worry if you can’t get chayote, either use the traditional yellow courgette substitute, or think about using a mix of that and kohlrabi, well peeled and thinly sliced.
Aztec Chayote and Quinoa Salad Recipe
Serves 3- 4:
100g quinoa, thoroughly washed in a fine meshed sieve
1 chayote (about 400g)
1 red pepper
100g cherry tomatoes
1 green chilli
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp sugar
2 tbsps fresh lemon juice
3 tbsps rape seed oil
Large bunch of coriander and flat leaved parsley (so you have around 3-4 tbsps when chopped)
Firstly cook your quinoa. I’m not sure which method you prefer, but this one is definitely the best. Give it a go, you won’t look back. Put the quinoa in a pan and cover with lightly salted boiling water. Cover, then simmer for just under 10 minutes. Drain it in your sieve, then put a couple of cms of water back in the empty pan and bring to the boil with the quinoa filled sieve over it, covered with a clean tea towel. Turn the heat down and leave it like this for around 15 minutes, when the quinoa will be lovely and dry and not at all gloppy.
Next chop your veggies and put them in a large bowl along with the finely diced green chilli. Sprinkle over the salt and the sugar, then the herbs, lemon juice and oil. Stir well to combine before adding the still warm quinoa.
Leave to cool if you can before you tuck in. Serve as it is, or with some goat’s cheese or feta lightly crumbled over the top.