Saturday, September 27, 2008

Attack of the Killer Chayote

Killer Chayote Vine

My next door neighbor has a chayote vine and all through the summer I observe it as it slowly creeps over the top of our fence and eventually cascades into a pile of lush foliage below. The vine almost seems intelligent by the way it's tendrils grope around for something to cling to. Any nearby plant is fair game but so is my car antenna, the handle of the bucket I use to wash my car with and the clay roof tiles on top of our garage. Once the tendrils are firmly anchored, tiny little yellow buds begin to pop up along the vine and shortly thereafter, miniature chayote appear.

The chayote grow quickly and around this time of year (early fall) the chayote finally get as big as they're going to get and they need to be harvested and put to good use. Wait too long and their skin gets tough, they develop hard pits and their flesh becomes fibrous. Left on the vine, some of them even begin to sprout leaves out of the bottom end. Chayote season happens to be great if you're a chayote lover or need to feed an army on a budget but the fact that they all mature at the same time means you'll be eating a lot of chayote all at once. At the going rate of a dollar to a dollar fifty a piece, I can't let them all go to waste.

I thumbed through our cookbook collection and searched the web looking for chayote recipes and found that just about every ethnicity has found a way to use this versatile vegetable. From Asia to Africa, the America's and Europe, this plant knows no boundaries. We must eat it before it takes over the planet!!!

With so many options at hand, I decided to make a Mexican style chicken chayote soup referencing a chicken tortilla soup recipe as a starting point. First, I peeled the chayote. The skin was just beginning to get tough and my trusty vegetable peeler wasn't up to the task so I resorted to cutting the skin off with my chef's knife. Right below the skin, the flesh was tender but still firm. If you've ever peeled a chayote before, you know it can be slippery business. I salted my hands while peeling the chayote, which seemed to help with the slime factor, it was then cubed up and thrown in a bowl of water. I browned some onion, added some leftover shredded roast chicken, chopped celery, sliced carrots, corn kernels, diced tomatoes and added enough chicken broth to cover. Next, I rinsed the cubed chayote well and into the pot it went. For seasoning, I used ground cumin, a little garlic powder, chili powder, some cayenne, a pinch of dried oregano, salt and pepper. I brought the pot to a boil then simmered the soup until the chayote was cooked through.

Mexican Style Chayote Chicken Soup

It turned out great. The chayote is mild and allows all the flavors to come through well. Although fresh cilantro isn't something we use a lot of, (T1 is allergic) it would be a nice addition lending a fresh, herby component. Served with hot corn tortillas, this hearty soup makes a filling meal.

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