Chayote, apple-green and sensuously furrowed, comes to grocery counters trailing romance and history. It goes by many names: "chayotl" to the Aztecs, who probably were the first to grow it; "mirliton" in Louisiana, where it may be baked stuffed with shrimp or bread crumbs and cheese; "Buddha's hand gourd" to the Chinese -- "as if," write Jane Grigson and Charlotte Knox in "Cooking with Exotic Fruits & Vegetables," "between moments of meditation in a summer bower, he reached up an elegant, formal hand to pick some for a frugal meal."
Whatever it is called, it is usually accompanied by elegant ingredients whose flavors it absorbs and mingles. It can be used like other summer squashes, though it is always cooked (20-25 minutes, in general, says Elizabeth Schneider in "Uncommon Fruits & Vegetables"). Unless it is being stuffed, and the peel won't be eaten, it should be removed -- a task that is easier once it is cooked. Mature chayotes contain a flat seed that has a crisp, nutlike flavor when cooked.
A medium chayote, about 7.2 ounces worth, has 49 calories, 1.8 grams of protein, 11 grams of carbohydrate, 0.6 grams of fat, no cholesterol, 8 milligrams of sodium and 1.4 grams of fiber. Chayote has some vitamin C and is a good source of potassium.
This recipe, for a beautiful spring or summer salad, is from "Uncommon Fruits & Vegetables."
Salad of chayotes, snap peas and radicchio
2 small chayotes, about 1/2 pound each
3/4 pound sugar-snap peas
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste
About 1/8 teaspoon white pepper
1/3 cup light olive oil
3 tablespoons minced fresh basil
1 tablespoon finely minced green scallion
1/2 pound radicchio rosso (or variegated variety), rinsed and dried
Quarter chayotes and set on a steamer rack over boiling water. Cover and cook until barely tender -- from 15 to 25 minutes. Meanwhile, zip strings from both sides of each sugar snap pea pod with help of a paring knife. Add peas to chayotes during last 5 minutes of cooking.
Drop vegetables in ice water. Drain at once, then dry thoroughly. Peel chayotes carefully; cut into 1/4 - to 1/2 -inch dice. Refrigerate peas.
Blend together lemon juice, vinegar, salt and pepper; beat in oil. Reserve one-quarter of mixture; toss remainder with chayotes, basil and scallion. Cool, then refrigerate.
To serve, arrange a few radicchio leaves, cup-like, on each serving plate. Toss chayotes again, season with salt, pepper and vinegar. Heap into leaves, scatter peas over all, then drizzle over reserved dressing.