Mirliton, christophene, vegetable pear, custard marrow, or chocho
The unusual-looking vegetable known as chayote (chah-YO-tay) is part of the gourd family, which includes cucumbers, squashes, and melons. In season from September through May (when summer squash is not), chayote is similar in flavor—sweetly fresh, with delicate notes of cucumber—and has a firm, crisp crunch.
Once cultivated by the Aztecs, the chayote fruit (also called christophene, vegetable pear, custard marrow, chocho, and mirliton) is a member of the gourd family, which includes melons, cucumbers, and squash. The perennial climbing vine on which it grows originated in Mesoamerica but is found today in tropical and subtropical regions worldwide. Not surprisingly, chayote—which is eaten as a vegetable—appears in Cajun, Caribbean, Latin American, North African, Australian, and Asian cuisines.
Chayotes can be pear-shaped or round, with smooth, hairy, or prickly dark- to lightgreen skin; their pale-green flesh surrounds a flat, edible seed. The chayotes found in the United States are smooth and apple-green on the outside and shaped like a pear, with a furrowed base that looks like a clenched fist.
Their subtle sweetness pairs with assertive flavors like red pepper flakes, fresh chiles, garlic, cilantro, scallions, lemon or lime juice, and warming spices like curry powder, cumin, and coriander. Chayote is also delicious with rich ingredients like coconut milk, butter, cheese, and bacon.
Chayotes may have smooth or spiky skin, but the smooth ones are what you’re likely to find in the United States. Look for chayotes in the produce aisle at the grocery store or in any Asian, Caribbean, or Latin American market. They should feel very firm and heavy for their size and be free of blemishes.
Chayotes have a mild cucumber-like flavor and can be prepared in any way you might use summer squash, raw or cooked.
Chayote skin is edible but not as tender as its flesh, so peeling is usually a good idea. The seed in the center of the fruit is also edible. It’s firm, not crisp like the surrounding flesh, and has a slightly nutty flavor; you can either leave it in or remove it by quartering the chayote and cutting it out, or by halving the fruit and spooning it out.
Prepare chayote the same way you might summer squash or cucumbers. Raw chayotes can be thinly sliced, julienned, or diced and added to salads, slaws, or salsas; they can also be pickled. Quick-cooking them in sautés (see recipe below) and stir-fries keeps chayotes crisp and juicy, but you can also deep-fry, stew, mash, roast, or stuff and bake them like a potato.
Refrigerate chayotes in a plastic bag for up to a month.