Hands that feed you

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 19 July, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 19 July, 2009, 12:00am

Chayote is not the most distinctively flavoured vegetable; in fact, it could be called bland. Its Cantonese name, fat sau gwa, translates to 'Buddha's hand melon' because it's said to resemble two hands clasped in prayer. The pale green vegetable has a small flat seed at the centre and skin that's edible but tough. It's almost always peeled before cooking, although the wavy surface and deep crevices at the stem end make that a difficult task. The flesh can irritate the skin so it should be rinsed frequently when peeling and slicing.

When choosing chayote, look for those that feel heavy and firm and have slightly glossy skin. The smaller ones are more tender and less watery.

Chayote can be cooked in stews and soups because it holds its shape well, becoming more tender as it cooks. Its mild flavour can absorb more pungent tastes such as chilli, garlic and ginger. For a vegetarian curry, cut peeled chayote into slices or cubes. Saut?chopped garlic and onions in hot oil until soft, sprinkle with curry powder, a little cayenne pepper and some salt, then cook until fragrant. Add the chayote and enough water to barely cover the vegetable and simmer until tender. Mix in some coconut milk and pieces of fried beancurd then bring to the simmer, lower the heat and cook until the beancurd is soft.

Chayote is delicious in a cooling summer soup. Cut the peeled chayote into large chunks, add some pork bones, lean pork, dried scallops, rehydrated Chinese mushrooms and a few Chinese dried dates. Cover with water and bring to the boil then simmer for several hours.

It also makes a refreshing salad. Julienne the peeled chayote (preferably using a Japanese mandoline) then blanch for about 30 seconds in boiling water. Drain it then squeeze out as much water as possible before mixing with chopped garlic, sesame oil, Japanese rice vinegar and minced spring onions. Leave for at least 30 minutes before serving, to allow the flavours to blend.