Chayote | PHOTO COURTESY DAVID HAMMOND
We were sitting at Casa Hernan (411 E. Cevallos) in San Antonio, Texas, eating a Mexican meal of barbacoa (pit-roasted cow head), tortillas and vegetables, prepared by Chef Johnny Hernandez.
“What’s that?” asked a tablemate, poking her fork into what looked like a slice of bright green pear.
“It’s chayote,” I said, receiving a strange look in response. “Here, try some.”
“Mmmm,” she said. “It tastes like potato.”
Indeed chayote does have a potato-like texture, but chayote is unrelated to the spud.
Like avocado and cocoa, the word “chayote” comes from Nahuatl, the language of the Aztec. Native to Mexico, Chayote now grows all over the world, specifically in warmer climates like those of India, Indonesia and Hawaii.
Although you can eat chayote seeds and leaves, most people just eat the bulbous, pear-like fruit. You can find chayote in little bodegas or larger grocery stores like Pete’s Fresh Market, where they’re three for a dollar, or Whole Foods, where they’re a buck each.
When you’re buying chayote, you should look for ones that have smooth, bright skin, without obvious bruises. Makes sense, right?
You can eat chayote raw, sliced into salads or used as part of a vegetable dip presentation, though usually it’s cooked. When cooking, you treat it pretty much as you would a summer squash. Here’s a modified recipe from Hernandez for chayote-beet salad:
1. Mix in a bowl 2 chayote, 2 Bartlett pears, and 2 cooked beets, all skinned and sliced thin, with ½ cup washed blueberries and 1 cup quartered strawberries
2. Toss with 2 oz. olive oil
3. Top with ¾ cups of crumbled queso fresco and chopped peanuts