Sweet Beneath the Thorns: Spiny Chayote

Sweet Beneath the Thorns: Spiny ChayoteSince moving to Mexico three months ago, I’ve seen and tasted some really cool produce you’d never find in the neighborhood supermarkets back home.

Last week, Chef asked if I’d ever seen a chayote with thorns. Chayote is a medium, pear-shaped green squash with a mild flavor and firm texture. But thorns?! I had no idea they even grew that way. The ones I’d seen and cooked with were always smooth.

My first question, of course, was if they tasted any different. Is there some incredibly amazing version of that light green flesh under its spines that makes it worth the fuss? “Well no, not really,” he said.

After making a market run, he came back with one for me to try for myself. It took a bit of skill and a deep breath to get used to handling it. If you can manage to lay it evenly across your palm, it doesn’t poke much. But grip too hard or catch a single thorn at the wrong angle and it’ll show you how sharp it is.

Once it was time to get cooking, I asked my mom to grab it out of the fridge for me. As she opened the door, it came rolling forward from the bottom shelf, so she instinctively went to catch it. Ouch.

“Now that’s a vegetable that does NOT want to be eaten!” she said with a yelp. Nature is ruthless.

I admired it on the cutting board for a good few minutes before deciding how to attack. The ends came off first, and then I was able to sit it flat and carve the rest of the skin off along the sides. It really wasn’t so hard to clean, after all. Just visually intimidating.

I chopped it in cubes and threw it in a pan with diced onions, garlic, poblano chile, salt and butter. Chayote takes a good while to soften, so I covered it and started some pan-charred tomatoes and jalapeños, visions of roasted salsa with ground pumpkin seed dancing in my head.

Squash on the stove, salsa in the making, I was suddenly inspired to try my hand at huaraches (literally “sandals”), thick, oblong masa cakes cooked like tortillas and topped with whatever you fancy.

It took a few tries to get them cooked all the way through and shaped just right, but once I had it down I slathered them with mashed avocado and then added a layer of chorizo and a layer of squash. Chopped lettuce and tomato brought the freshness, and a healthy dollop of salsa topped it all off.

I thought the chayote was a touch sweeter than I’d tasted before, but other than that it tasted nearly identical. It made for a great huarache topping and a little kitchen adventure, though. And I’m always down for an adventure.