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When I am in Belize for long periods of time, as I often am, I inevitably crave vegetables. For some reason, however, the typical local produce (carrots, tomatoes, onions and cabbage) just isn’t that interesting to me. And although the larger stores patronized by expats carry a greater variety – including squash, broccoli, cauliflower, lettuce and the like – these imported vegetables are very, very expensive and not all that fresh.
So in the interest of finding a new vegetable to savor, I decided to try Chayote (rhymes with Coyote, the animal) this week after listening to Gaylynn in my yoga class. She had been scuba diving in the Turneffe Islands and the chef there served a wonderful chayote salad. His “recipe” (I use quotes because most chefs don’t exactly hand out rare formulations) was to soak the thinly sliced and peeled vegetable in vinegar for seven hours, then add lots of cilantro and basil, and finally dress it with a balsamic vinegar, coconut oil and mustard emulsion. OK…
I suddenly flashed to the coleslaw salad dressing sitting on my pantry shelf, left over from the slaw we had last weekend. I know this powerful mix is a sweet and tangy vinaigrette. And I decided against balsamic vinegar because it’s not really Belizean and turns the finished salad a brownish color. The coconut oil? My husband doesn’t like the taste of it so I still have it for medicinal and cooking purposes but I don’t use it freely. I wanted to keep this local and simple.
To be candid this was the first time I’ve used raw chayote. In the past I put it in chicken soup where it became more translucent as it cooked and really had no flavor. It’s been served to me in local restaurants steamed with zucchini, onion and carrots and I found it to be pretty nondescript.
Chayote (also callled cho cho) is ubiquitous in Central America and can be found at all the little pop-up tienditas here. It looks very similar to a light yellowish-green pear with smooth skin (there are apparently prickly skinned varieties but I’ve never seen them) and belongs to the same family as melons, cucumber and squash. The texture is exactly like an Asian pear – it feels identical when cutting through the flesh.
The raw chayote tasted moist, crispy and crunchy but bland and flavorless; in fact if I closed my eyes I’d have no idea what I was eating. OK…so I knew it needed kind of an assertive dressing and some color in the salad as well. Not too many ingredients to put chayote in the back seat but enough to bring it to life!
My family was visiting when I tried this salad and they all gave it a big thumbs up. I’m happy to have ventured forth with a totally new creation – especially one that takes advantage of the local produce and is so refreshing for our hot days here in paradise! The chayote in this salad is a little sweet but crisp and satisfying.
- 4 chayotes
- ½ green habanero
- ¼ cup coleslaw salad dressing
- 1 large carrot (diced ⅓ inch)
- ¼ cup cilantro leaves (chopped)
Cut the chayotes in half and peel, then remove the “pits” (like in a pear) with a spoon or knife. Dice into ½ inch. It is imperative to peel the chayote under running water or wear gloves and wipe off the flesh before dicing – there is a slimy substance just under the peel that will coat and dry out your fingers otherwise. Trust me on this! The peel is very thin and easy to remove with a potato peeler.
Slice up the habanero. If you thickly slice it, you’ll see it if it lands in your dish and then you won’t bite down on this hot pepper unless you choose to do so. This amount of habanero isn’t that powerful anyway so add more if you like spicy food.
Let the cubed chayote and sliced habanero (including the seeds) marinate in the dressing, refrigerated, for at least four hours, stirring it every hour or so.
Before serving add the carrots and cilantro. The dressed salad keeps for three days in the refrigerator if you manage to keep from eating a lot of it.