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Cooking with Choko

Cooking with Choko

A squash from tropical America, it is also known in that part of the world by various names including chayote, christophene, custard marrow, mirliton, pepinella and vegetable pear. A perennial vine, it adapts well to any sunny climate. There is more than one edible part to the plant. The fruits may be steamed or boiled, or battered and fried, and also make a delicate addition to Asian soups and stir-fries. The tender shoots, boiled, are served like asparagus while the leaves are eaten like spinach and the large, tuberous roots are used like yams. A popular vegetable in all the cuisines of Asia.

Shaped like a flattened pear 10-15 cm long with deep creases at both ends, it has a thin but tough jade-green skin, occasional soft spines and a single seed which is soft and edible, provided the fruit is not too mature.

Purchasing and storing : Choose the smallest (therefore youngest and most tender) chokos from the pile. Even if the fruit is large, those with the softest spines will be the more tender. They keep well at room temperature, but if kept too long will start to sprout from the seed and become stringy. They are easy to grow. Simply bury one in the garden and they will start to grow. But be warned, they are vigorous growers and will twine their sturdy tendrils around anything that stands still like clothes lines, other trees and the garage roof.

Preparation : Wash the chokos, halve lengthways and cook them either with or without peeling. The skin, which should be removed before eating, protects the pale, delicate flesh which remains curiously crisp when cooked. If the choko is to be sliced or diced, it is better to peel it before cutting it up. The cut flesh of the raw fruit exudes a strangely slippery sap which is difficult to wash off one's hands, so if sensitive skin is a problem, oil hands lightly or protect hands with thin rubber gloves before peeling. Chokos are delicious simply steamed and buttered with a grinding of black pepper. Added to soups they provide unique texture without adding an obtrusive flavor.

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