Friday, July 23, 2010

Home Grown Greens/Veggies: Chayote Squash (Sechium edule)

Chayote squash is a wonderfully versatile vegetable delicious in salads, curries, kootu, soups, or casseroles. Pronounced "chay-yo-tay", it is also called Bangalore/Seeme kathirikai, chow-chow, etc in India and vegetable pear, Buddha's Hand squash, christophene, choko, mirliton, etc in other countries. Natives of Central America, chayotes belong to the cucurbit family which includes cucumbers, melons, and squashes.

Although the chayotes themselves are available pretty much year-round, the leaves are not available for purchase. So in my quest for edible leaves (don't mind a few fruits too :}), I have been trying to grow it for years but alas have not succeeded yet in establishing it outside. Every time I have planted it outside, the whole thing is gone overnight without a trace in a disappearing act. I am determined to find a way to get past the chayote thief, oh yes.

The best time to start growing chayote is probably just before spring so that as soon as the weather warms up it can be planted outside. When purchasing the veggies for growing, look for mature ones with the beginnings of growth in the wider blossom end - you will see the seed sticking out a bit like the tongue of a child completely absorbed in what s/he is doing - as this will speed up the process. The seed cannot be cut out for growing from the rest of the veggie - it will decompose; it will work only if it is kept whole. Set them up like in the picture in a jar of water or over soil in a pot where the blossom end is just touching the water/soil. The soil should be barely moist and not at all wet. Soon you will see roots/vine starting to grow. Chayotes can also be kept in a cool dark cupboard (without placing them in water or soil) until they start sprouting. Once the vine is a few inches long, it can be planted in the ground or in a large pot. Hopefully you will not encounter a chayote thief :D in your garden. Eventually the vegetable itself will shrivel up and fall off after giving its energy to the new plant. Keep the plant in a sunny spot and give it a trellis to climb. The plant should start flowering and fruiting once the plant is growing vigorously.

Once established it could take over the garden (so I have heard). I have seen it growing vigorously in other gardens. Pick the fruits while still young for best flavor. The leaves, young tips, and tendrils are used in soups and stir-fries; apparently even the tubers can be harvested after the plant has established itself and matured. Usually the vines die off in the winter but grow back when the weather warms up in the spring; keep the roots well mulched to protect them from freezing.

Chayotes can be used to make Aviyal, Molakootal, Olan, Upperi, Mor Kootu, Also check out TouffeeOlan, and Chayote, Mango & Apple Salad With Spicy Lime Dressing. They have a wonderful texture and hold their own without getting mushy like the summer squashes when cooked in water. Their seeds are edible as well - just chop it right along with the rest of the squash and cook. The young fruits can be eaten raw in salads such as Carpaccio.


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