Chayote – the old butt fruit

Still one of my favourite things to do is browsing the fruit and vegetable department at the supermarket. Unfortunately, Playa has no farmers’ market where I could ask the vendors to explain their produce, so what I do is I just buy a couple of to me unknown products, try (!) to memorize their names and look them up online.

So far, I had been ignoring a fruit that looks more or less like a pear. It is called chayote, and apparently, you can also buy it in Europe and the States although I have never seen it so far – or have never paid attention.

The chayote belongs to the squash family and can be handled just like summer squash. It doesn’t have to be peeled and can be eaten raw or cooked. Raw it has a very mild, rather neutral flavour, so it should be seasoned well. The texture is similar to turnips. When you cook it, you can basically prepare the same dishes that you would with summer squash. So today, I made a hearty soup with chili, ginger, lime juice and cilantro – phew, not ideal for this hot weather, I admit, but Walmart had those beautiful, impeccable chayotes that I simply couldn’t resist. So I will freeze the soup and save it for a rainy day… And those are supposed to come!

I also found a recipe for a chayote buckwheat salad on allrecipes.com. I will try that next time – when I am able to resist the urge to buy a quantity large enough to feed a small army…

Chayotes contain a lot of vitamin C and if used in a soup, they develop a wonderful creamy texture – almost like potatoes without the gluey starchy feel.

Now – does that remind you of something?

Call me crazy, but I always have a lot of fun working with chayotes. When you look at them from underneath, they seem to be smiling – a shaky, toothless smile. And if you turn them so that the crack is vertical, well… I always hope that my butt will never look like that, not in 100 years!

Chico Zapote – The Hiccup Fruit

Lately, our dog Mrs P. could be seen running about with her nose on the ground, sniffing like a mad dog and munching away on a strange looking fruit. She got so addicted to it, that it became difficult to get her inside – which got me very suspicious of this very ugly fruit. They look like sort of an ugly fig with a brown papery skin and their seeds appear like red beans, while their flesh seemed very mushy to me.

Moreover, having grown up with all the tales of Emil of Loenneberga, I got scared that while at the moment, Mrs P. might still resemble a truffle pig, she might soon turn into Emil’s clever pig and get drunk on fermented fruits in her stomach…

Luckily, nothing happened, but I finally wanted to know what they were. Whom else to ask than our housekeeper Auri? Auri looked at me with big eyes and said, why those are most delicious chico zapotes! Of course, how stupid of me!

Since the fruits hung rather high in the tree and I wasn’t too keen on climbing up on an old rusty ladder, I instead bought some chico zapotes at the supermarket. But when I tried them, I was up for a bad surprise: They tasted like pears, but not like pears and they had a strange dryness to them that caused me long-lasting hiccups. It appeared to me, they might not be ripe yet, but how was I to know? Between those hiccups I tried to convince Mrs P. to eat the fruits, but apparently, the appeal lies in finding them on the ground or in the earthy flavour that comes with it.

So no more chico zapotes for me, and even Mrs P. seems to have grown a little tired of those ugly little fruits…

Don’t call me Tomato!

Tomatillos are often mistaken for regular, not yet ripe tomatoes. So did I. And it doesn’t help, that they are just called tomates verdes here. So in my mind, I already travelled to the Whistle Stop Cafe to hang out with the girls from “Fried Green Tomatoes”. But I soon learnt that tomatillos are related to the cape gooseberry – hence, the slightly sticky feeling and the paper-like husk.

In the Mexican cuisine, they are used for all sorts of salsas (e.g. salsa verde) and chilis. Most people cook or fry them, but I do like to eat them uncooked. Raw, they have a crisp, slightly sour taste, almost like a very fresh apple, and I like to add them to salads. However, I even used them for stir fry vegetables and it added a pleasantly tangy note to it. I also put some tomatillos in a classic ratatouille and although every Frenchman would probably kill me for saying this, I actually liked the exotic touch. That’s my share of crossover cuisine, I guess!

Nopales – Today we will eat a cactus!

Living in foreign countries sure broadens your horizon. For me, being a passionate cook, one of the most interesting adventures in the beginning is a trip to the supermarket (or better: farmers’ market, but there is none in Playa del Carmen).

One of my favourite vegetables are nopales, segments of the prickly pear. They have the form of bunny ears and are roughly the size of a man’s hand. You can buy them at the supermarkets where they are already peeled, their spines removed. When you cut them into pieces, they release a clear slime – similar to okras. If you don’t like that, the best thing is to throw them into boiling water and strain them. If you, like me, somehow do like the slime, then you can just cook them in a pan with a little oil and salt.

Nopales have a very subtle taste, slightly sour and they have a nice and chewy texture. My favourite dish with Nopales is a salad made of lentils, tomatillos, cucumber, avocado, cilantro and chili with a dressing out of lime juice, garlic, olive oil, brown sugar, salt and pepper and some curd cheese (quark). The salad tastes best when you let it stand quite a while, so either prepare it in the morning for dinner or you can even prepare it a day ahead.