Featuring a great Autumn vegetable: What’s a choko (chayote)?

I grew up thinking chokos were some kind of wild New Zealand native – simply because I have fond memories of going for long winter walks with my Mum in the local park. We’d gather chokos from wild vines, pick up pine cones to paint, and kick oak leaves. In retrospect, that park didn’t have much in the way of NZ natives!

Note: In the wild, make sure that you don’t confuse chokos with Moth Plant – a noxious weed that grows in New Zealand and definitely should not be eaten. Check out this online information pamphlet from Auckland Council.

What is a choko?

The choko (or cheyote) actually originates from Mesomerica (i.e. Mexico, Costa Rica, Honduras) but has been established in Australia and New Zealand for decades. It’s a member of the gourd family, Cucurbitaceae, which means it’s related to foods like cucumber, squash, and melon. Personally, I think it tastes a bit like a cross between a zucchini and cucumber but it’s commonly referred to as a pear squash. It’s a useful vegetable to try as it has loads of Vitamin C, amino acids, and fibre. It’s also low in natural food chemicals (amines, salicylates, and glutamates) which makes it suitable for sensitive guts, and those following a RPAH Failsafe diet (often useful for allergy sufferers).

Tip: This is a great food if you’re pregnant! It naturally contains folate, as well as many other vitamins; is easy to mix into meals, and the fibre can help with pesky constipation!

Note: Other names for choko include – chayote, sayote, labu siam, seemai kathrikai, Buddha’s Hand Melon, lóng xü.cài, ishkus, इस्कुस, স্কোয়াশ, Bangalore brinjal, chou chou, pipinola.

How do I cook choko?

It’s a really versatile vegetable! Miss 2 loves it in apple pie style Choko Pikelets.

  • It makes a great (neutral) filler in jams and chutneys.
  • It can be stewed and made into fruit crumble.
  • Boil or steam then serve with butter and salt.
  • Slice thinly into noodles, cook, and serve with ragu for a paleo meal.
  • Bake with roast vegetables.
  • Add to curries, stews, and soups.
  • Bread it and fry.
  • Bake it with a cheese sauce.
  • Thinly grate it and mix with pork to make Chinese dumplings, sausage rolls, or meatballs.
  • Young leaves can be used in salads and stir fries.
  • The root or tubers can be used just like a potato!

Tip: Peel the chokos under a stream of running water or wear gloves as the older chokos tend to have a sticky sap just under the skin which can irritate some hands. The smaller ones don’t seem to have this problem and you can cook them and eat them with the skin on.

Tip: Remove and discard the pithy core.

Note: Although I call this a winter vegetable, in New Zealand it tends to be available April-June. If your local supermarket doesn’t stock it, try Fruit & Vegetable stores or the local Chinese supermarket. It actually prefers warm climates but hot nights slow it flowering; in parts of Australia it’s available year round.

How can I grow choko?

I asked around a few garden stores and none of them carry it. Never fear, the easiest way to grow your own choko is to simply buy a healthy, fresh, firm and green choko while they’re in season. Leave it in a dark, well ventilated, space until it sprouts. Once the sprouts are about 7cm long, take it outside and plant it in a sunny spot. They are a climbing vine so against a fence or netting is ideal. You will need to wait until frosts have finished (so in some climates, plant in Spring).

They grow prolifically once they’re established so you’ll probably only need one vine per household.  Apparently they make great chicken feed so you may want a spare vine for the chooks!

In New Zealand, where they can often only be purchased until June, you will need to nurse these inside until late Spring. They will take a while to sprout anyway and then you can keep them in a pot on the windowsill until they’re a bit bigger and hardier. They will start to flower in the summer and can be harvested in Autumn.

For more information on growing them, check out this great post from Lady Rain.

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Companion planting in the garden

companion-planting

Growing vegetables can not only be cost effective but it’s also a great way to involve kids in garden-to-table cooking. They can feel a real sense of accomplishment in growing and cooking something. My toddler (like so many others) goes through odd phases with vegetables. Sometimes the only vegetable she’ll reliably eat is dried seaweed, or peas and corn, or one month it was cucumber and another it was broccoli.

She does, however, have a distinct interest in eating anything she can pick from the garden herself – strawberries, sun-warmed tomatoes, sorrel, peas-in-a-pod, harvesting baby potatoes. We only a small raised square bed but I try to always have something in there (with some plants being more successful than others).

Companion planting is a great way of making the best use of your space and working out what plants are happiest co-habitating. I can only assume that tomatoes and potatoes are not happy flatting together – not only because of this eye-catching infographic but because my potatoes flourished below-ground while the tomato plants dies above-ground.

How to have fresh basil cheaply in the kitchen

I’ve tried multiple times to grow basil in the garden with visions of making my own pesto. My problem every time is that the snails think it is delicious and voraciously eat them before my culinary visions can come to pass.
I’ve discovered that it’s far more realistic to simply grow a pot of basil (or in my case basil & one emergency lettuce) on the kitchen window sill. That way you’ll at least have enough basil for topping pizza or spaghetti bolognese (and it smells good too!).