Chayote: The all-purpose MesoAmerican treat

Chayote are peeled easily and the large seed inside comes out easily. Photo: A.M. Costa Rica

The chayote looks like a big, wrinkled green or white pear. But it really is a gourd and a type of squash.

You can eat it creamed, buttered, fried, stuffed, baked, frittered, boiled, mashed and pickled, food experts note. And in Costa Rica it is the all-purpose veggie.

The chayote (Sechium edule) has a long history associated with the pre-Columbian peoples of Central America, and you can’t be here for long without finding one on your plate.

The vegetable can weight up to a pound, and there is a big seed inside that is not eaten. Once the skin and seed are removed, the white flesh remains and is the part that is eaten. The vegetable is so much a part of Costa Rica that to visit or live here without trying it is like never trying gallo pinto or Cerveza Imperial.

Perhaps the best way to eat chayote is chopped up in a mixture of other foods, a picadillo with sausage, chicken, carrots, corn, potatoes, onions and other MesoAmerican staples.

The final dish, eaten with small tortillas, not only is tasty but also colorful. Plus the dish always is a success because proportions of various ingredients are highly variable. Use what you have!

The recipe for picadillos is not exact. Mostly anything goes.

You need:

5-6 chayotes
2-3 carrots
1 full sausage
two ears corn kernels (or small can)
2-3 medium potatoes
2 heads of garlic
5-6 sprigs of basil

Chop up in small pieces the chorizo or sausage and brown in a fry pan along with chopped garlic.

The finished product is a colorful dish. Photo: A.M. Costa Rica

Peel and cut up chayote, carrots and potatoes into small pieces and boil until tender. Drain and set aside.

Do the same with corn: Boil the kernels gently.

Chop up basil, too, and add to the nearly browned sausage.

Put all ingredients into one big pot, put on heat and stir.

Arrange attractively with garnishes of carrots or other handy vegetables. Don’t forget the basil.

Serve with warmed small tortillas or rice a su gusto.

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