My friend Jen was at the supermarket when she saw something she knew I’d love. So she bought it for me. There was just one problem: it’s really hard to handle, because it’s covered in thorns. And they hurt.
It’s called a thorny chayote, and the thorns are no joke. Jen wrapped it in a towel to bring it to my house, and the only I could manage to hold it, even for a little while, was to gingerly cradle it in the palm of my hand, so the weight was evenly distributed. Kinda like the concept behind those fun pin art toys that you always see in science museum gift shops. But as soon as you shift your hand, even a little bit, BAM! You’re gonna get pricked. I pulled quite a few thorns out of my hands, like splinters.
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Thorny chayotes are one variety of the chayote family, which is a member of the same plant family as gourds, squashes, watermelon, and cucumbers. Because of this, chayotes are often called chayote squashes, and, in addition, they’re known by a bunch of different names around the world: merliton, vegetable pear, chokos, pear squash, chocho, christophene, sayote, Japanese pumpkin, pipinola… the list goes on.
Regular chayotes, meaning the ones with smooth, thorn-free skins, are commonly found in Mexican supermarkets – I see them all the time at the stores around me. In fact, all varieties of chayote are indigenous to Mexico and central America, and date back to the Aztec and Mayan cultures.
Breaking down this fella required a lot of focus and thought – especially since I wanted it to be as painless a procedure as possible. I got my biggest knife and first cut it in half. It required a lot of leverage and force, since I couldn’t steady it with my other hand.
Inside I found a small, flat pit that I was able to remove once I cut each half in half. That’s another part of this thing that isn’t edible. Or maybe it is, I’m not really sure.
I cut each quarter into a couple smaller wedges. Then, I trimmed each end of each wedge, and ran my knife between the thorny skin and the flesh. Kinda like how I would a cantaloupe.
That left me, finally, with a piece of chayote that was completely thorn-free! Huzzah!
I did this with the rest of the pieces, and ended up with a pile of edible vegetable. It was a satisfying experience dumping the pile of thorns in the trash!
Now, what would I do with my no-longer-thorny chayote pieces? Since it’s related to other squashes I enjoy, like zucchini, I decided I’d treat it as such, and stir-fry it. So, using a curvy blade I got as a Christmas present, I chopped the big pieces into fun-shaped smaller pieces.
I tried a piece raw, and didn’t really care for it. It was very dense and very bland, like a watery potato. This was definitely something that had to be cooked.
So I threw it in a big skillet, slicked with Pam, along with garlic, onion, mushrooms, and broccoli. I chose those companion veggies because I had them in the house. I let my stove get to work, softening and cooking everything.
I also chopped two chicken breasts into smaller pieces, and stir-fried those, as well, and when they were mostly cooked, I added half a jar of Cherry Republic Cherry BBQ Sauce, which I picked up last summer on Mackinac Island, to flavor the chicken as it finished cooking.
When the chicken was done, I added the vegetables and tossed it all together. When I tasted it, I realized I had a problem. Everything was cooked wonderfully…except the chayote. I threw a lid on my concoction and let it go a few more minutes, and by the time the chayote was tender, everything else was overdone.
Oh well. You live, you learn. It was still pretty tasty.
The chayote was very mild and crisp, with a taste like a cucumber and a texture that was almost watermelon-like, although firmer. I’m glad I used a bold sauce, because the chayote needed it.
Chayote, by the way, is super low in calories. There’s only about 20 calories per 1/2 cup. It’s also a good source of B vitamins, potassium, and fiber.
I’ll wrap this up with a bizarre fun fact: There’s an urban legend in Australia that McDonald’s apple pies are actually made of chayotes, which are called chokos there. This may be because there’s a history of Australian recipes that call for using chokos in place of apple or pears, because chokos are mild, retain their firmness when cooked, and were readily available, especially when apples and pears, which can’t grow in many parts of Australia, were not.
Keep it up, David!