Other Names: Chocho (Africa, Brazil), christophine (France, Trinidad), custard marrow (Britain), mango squash, mirliton (Haiti, Louisiana), vegetable pear, xuxu (Vietnam).

General Description: Chayote (Sechium edule) is a mild-tasting, pear-shaped, firm-textured, light green vegetable in the Cucurbita family. The chayote, whose name is Aztec, is native to Mesoamerica. It is an unusual member of the gourd family in that it has one large, edible seed. With shallow furrows running its length, its color may be cream to celadon to zucchini-green. Its taste and texture are between cucumber and apple. In the U.S., the most common chayote is light green with relatively smooth skin and weighs about half a pound, although larger, hairy, round, and knobby varieties exist.

Chayote goes by many names and is now cultivated in the subtropics worldwide, but it is especially popular in Latin America and the Caribbean. It is versatile, eaten raw or cooked, and is substituted for apples and pumpkins in pies in Latin America. The young shoots, flowers, seeds, and roots are also eaten.

Season: Chayotes are most abundant from September through May but may be found year-round, especially in Asian, Latin American, and Caribbean markets.

Purchase: Choose firm chayotes. Large chayotes are easy to stuff (a common serving method) but have tough skin; small chayotes have tender, usually edible skin.

Avoid: Do not purchase sticky or discolored chayotes.

Storage: Lightly wrap chayote in a paper towel and refrigerate for up to 3 weeks.

Preparation: If the chayote is relatively smooth, and you will be serving it raw, peel it. When peeling a raw chayote, the liquid that oozes out may irritate your skin. Work under running water or wear gloves. Small chayotes needn’t be peeled.

If you will be baking or steaming the chayote, it does not need to be peeled raw. After cooking, the skin is generally tender enough to eat, but if not, scoop out the tender flesh and discard the skin. A simple method of cooking chayote is to microwave it: Cut the chayote into 1/2- to 1-inch cubes and place in a microwaveable dish. Add 1/4 cup water, cover, and cook on high for 8 to 10 minutes or until tender when pierced.

Serving Suggestions: Stuff chayote with fillings such as mixed seafood, ham with soffrito, pork, ginger, and scallions (or raisins, nuts, and brown sugar) and bake. Remove the outer skin, cut up, and sauté or deep-fry. Cut raw chayote into julienne strips and add to coleslaw-type salads.

Flavor Affinities: Chicken, chiles, cilantro, corn, ham, lime, onions, seafood, sweet peppers, tomatoes.

from Quirk Books: