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English gourd? Oh, chayote!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

I didn't know what it was I looking at. English gourd? What the heck is that?

Turns out the green gourd-like vegetable that I was holding in my palm was a chayote (pronounced CHA-yo-tay). I was familiar with the name as I have seen it mentioned in many Mexican recipes, but I had never seen one until that moment in the supermarket aisle.

Why English gourd? Well, like many names we use for foreign products (and I'm sure this doesn't just happen in Malaysia), it is easy to tag on the name of a country or nationality to the generic name to identify them even if their provenance is elsewhere. Off the top of my head, there's turkey, which is ayam belanda (Dutch chicken) in Malay, and... that's all I can think of now, but I'm sure more will come to me later.

Apparently, the chayote is also known as labu Siam (Siamese gourd – ah, again with the country tag) in Indonesia and Buddha's Fist/Hand among the Chinese. I don't know what the connection is with the spiritual teacher since I think the fist could look like anyone's. But then, Chinese dishes are often given such poetic names so it may be the case with vegetables too.

Chayote is said to be nutritious. However, I can't say much about the taste. It seemed to be a bit bland. Or perhaps, I just didn't buy the right one. The gourd can help bulk up a dish and here I have added it to a sausage stew.

Serves 4

1 chayote (about 250g)
Vegetable oil
1 medium onion
4 sausages, thickly sliced*
1 small jalapeño, coarsely chopped
200g tinned tomatoes, crushed
½ cup water
1 teaspoon stock powder, or to taste
½ cup vegetables (mangetout, frozen corn)
2 tablespoons finely grated cheese
2 tablespoons chopped coriander
  • Cut the chayote in half and remove the seed. Cut into short, 1cm-thick pieces. Heat a little vegetable oil, add the sausage pieces and cook until nicely browned. Remove from pan. Add the onion to the pan and fry until translucent. Add the jalapeño, tomatoes, water and chayote slices and return the sausages to the pan. Stir in stock powder and simmer, covered, until chayote is tender, about 10 minutes.
  • Add vegetables and check seasoning. When vegetables are tender, spoon into bowls and serve garnished with grated cheese and chopped coriander.
* To make this dish vegetarian, replace the sausages with chickpeas or another bean, or use vegetarian sausages.

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