Cooking and eating through a new culture

The Chayote Challenge!

Dude, WTF…

Yes, that was the first thought that went through my mind when Rafa came back from his parent’s house with a bag of chayote. I had visions of his mom buying these and thinking “Lets see what that gringa can do with THIS.” Now, that is not true at all. Rafa’s mom, and entire family, have been incredibly sweet to me despite the fact we can barely communicate. Judging by the looks of the vegetable (yes, it is a vegetable) it was probably a neighbor’s backyard product. It is in the squash family (feel free to Wikipedia it), about the size of a pear, and has an ass like seam on the bottom. In fact, there is one in the picture on the header, just under the S and U. It’s pretty damn common around here so it’s something I need to get a handle on.

I admit, I stared at these for a couple of days unsure how I was about to tackle them. I bounced around the web looking for recipes, but none really grabbed me or they called for ridiculous ingredients. Rafa and I packed about 500 lbs. of books to ship down here. Four of which are cook books: two Julia Child books, The Joy of Cooking, and some hippy dippy one I use for herbs and sauces. For the most part, I like to just “wing it” when it comes to recipes, with the exception of Julia Child which requires a precision and timing that makes me sweat.  You don’t necessarily cook those meals. You engineer them. They’re fabulous, but give me some time before I get my Tico chops ready. Besides, this ain’t no Latino Julie and Julia.

Like any good human born in the 70’s, I looked in the index (you can Wikipedia that too) of the Joy and sure enough, on page 365 Louisana-Style Chayote. Of course, I didn’t follow the full recipe. What I liked about it was that I had a lot of the ingredients and I knew how to ask for the ones I didn’t in Spanish. When Rafa brought these he told me about a Tico dish called picogallo and this recipe sounded a bit like it. The Joy calls for removing the pulp and saving the skins to fill and bake. I really didn’t feel like moving the fridge, so I cooked everything on the stove top.

Rafa devoured it! Between a shovel full he was cramming in, he said it was the best he has ever had. It was good, but chayote just takes on the flavor of what you cook with it. I do have a secret weapon, one not found in Tico town, that adds that little kick…Frank’s Hot Sauce. Oh yeah! Ticos don’t like to self mutilate themselves with ridiculously hot food, so Frank’s is perfect, adding just enough heat and flavor.  The downside was that Rafa bragged to his family about my chayote conquest. A point certainly noticed by his mother, at which I imagined her thinking, “The gloves are OFF gringa!”


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