Something to Crow About

Perhaps you'll excuse me as I strut around this blog the way a mariachi singer struts around the stage while I proclaim something that we mexicanitas had long suspected. Let me cry a triumphant ¡ajúa! to the very few—and very sad—Mexican food haters who think that Mexican food is bad for you (until they read this post). Because this misunderstood and supposedly fat and mean cuisine is not just delicioso, but it can also cut your risk of coming down with breast cancer if eaten everyday.**
Well, duh, we don't need no stinkin' scientific study from the April 2008 Journal of Clinical Nutrition to know that Abuelita's native home cooked comida is not just beyond delicious, but healthy as well, now do we? Not when we consume a diet high in fiber, low in fat (yes, you read right), and abundant in fruits and vegetables such as cabbage, chiles, squash, corn, and lean meats, fish and cheeses. Not when we eat beans almost everyday, or when we enjoy hearty but low fat water-based soups, tomato-based sauces and salsas and corn tortillas. Our cheeses, most of them partly skim, are the supporting players and not the main attraction to our dishes. It's actually no surprise here that the breast cancer risk for Mexican women is two-thirds less than the general population—so if you need an excuse to eat enchiladas, well, did you ever really need an excuse???
Which brings me to the subject of Chayote Salad, a little recipe from Morelos, and the perfect introduction to this green, pear-shaped, sometimes smooth, sometimes dangerously spiny relative of the gourd and squash families. Of course, when you bite into it, you might not think that it tastes like much of anything, except perhaps a cross between a zucchini and a cucumber, but it can absorb any flavor you want, combining beautifully with almost any dish. In a soup, it will impersonate a potato. Peel it and cut it into small pieces and add it raw to a green salad, and it will satisfy those crunch cravings. Simmer or steam it, peel it and slice it into wedges and allow it to absorb the flavors of red wine vinegar, olive oil, garlic and fresh roasted and dried chiles, and, of course, those sweet little grape tomatoes—all fussily arranged into a shape of a flower to amuse and perhaps annoy your family like I do mine. Now that it is warm outside, and I am able to look at a cold salad in the face again, I promised myself that I would eat something more exciting than just a green tossed salad from a plastic bag that you buy in the grocery store. It seemed just too easy and a tad boring, frankly.

And there is more: the green wrinkled split-brain look of a chayote conjures up images of the outdoor mercados (marketplaces) of Mexico where you will find an overwhelming variety of exotic fruits and vegetables and other ingredients. Then it hits you, this food is healthy and good. These are people who are downright passionate about their food—even those persnickety little 80 year old viejitas (little old ladies), who, if they lived in Florida, would be taking it easy playing bridge or getting their hair done, are instead running around cooking up a storm or terrorizing the produce venders by loudly commenting on every fruit and vegetable they see and sniffing everything in sight. If they can live this long and healthfully by eating all of that Wicked Mexican Food, then I want in. And if that means that I have to peel a nasty looking chayote, and getting stuck by a stinger or two, then it is a sacrifice I am willing to take (though you don't have to).

They say that revenge is sweet, but I believe that there is something else that tastes entirely more satisfying. Really, what can be more delicious than a plate of vindication for my favorite cuisine with a little gloating on the side, especially when it is served hot and spicy?
So stop eating all of those golocinas y "purundangas" (sweet stuff and our family's word for junk food) that your madrecita warned you about and eat a chayote, okey?
**Note: Cancer is an equal opportunity disease, cutting across all social, national, and ethnic barriers. If you have any Spanish-speaking friends or relatives who are battling cancer, please have them check out Lance Armstrong's Livestrong Foundation's Spanish-language webpage so that they can have access to support and necessary resources.)

Chayote Salad
Ensalada de Chayotes
Make sure that the chayotes are fresh. They should be firm with no brown spots or sunken areas. The original recipe has no chile in it, so you don't have to add any to the recipe if you don't want to. I found, however, that the grape tomatoes, toasted garlic, fresh roasted chiles and bits of red hot dried chiles and some chopped cilantro added some wow factor to this cold salad. You can remove the heart of the chayote if you want, but I like its nutty flavor. You can omit the red wine vinegar and olive oil and garlic and use your own low-cal or bottled red wine vinegar dressing if you wish. Adapted from Mexico The Beautiful Cookbook.
3 smooth skinned chayotes
grape or cherry tomatoes, split in half, as many or as little as you want
6 tablespoons olive oil
3 or more tablespoons red wine vinegar to taste (3 tablespoons are never enough for me)
2 cloves garlic
½ teaspoon sea salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon dried oregano
¼ to ½ cup finely chopped fresh cilantro (optional)
½ red onion, finely sliced
1 fresh Poblano chile, roasted, thin-sliced or diced; OR, 2 serrano chiles, roasted and chopped if you want more fire; OR, both chiles
(Click here to learn how to roast chiles.) (optional)
1 dried whole or cut up chile de árbol or any small dried red chile (optional)
Cooking Instructions:Put the chayotes, one clove of garlic, and a pinch of salt in a large pot. Cover with water and bring to a boil. Then lower heat to a simmer. Cover and cook for about 30 to 40 minutes, or until the chayotes are tender when you pierce them with a fork.
In the meantime, roast and peel the chiles. Toast the other garlic clove in its skin over a hot skillet for about 5 minutes or so.
Discard the water and let the chayotes cool for about 5 to 10 minutes.
Take a potato peeler and peel the chayotes' outer skin. Cut each chayote in half lengthwise, then cut into quarter wedges, and then cut into eighths (see picture, top). Chill them in the refrigerator for an hour or so.
Remove the chayotes from the refrigerator. Take some paper towels and dry them off to remove any excess moisture. Peel the toasted garlic
In a small bowl, stir together the olive oil, vinegar, the toasted garlic, oregano, salt and pepper and let the flavors blend.
Chop the cilantro and dice the roasted chiles.
Toss together all the ingredients, including the red hot dried chile. Add more seasonings if you wish. Let stand for a few minutes before serving.


elizabethrosasjewelry said...

another wonderful recipe for me to try. I think the vendors of San Miguel de Allende sell some sort of chayote snack, they used to roam the streets yelling "chay-oteeee". I always wondered what they were saying, but the people came running for it.

( I haven't made the Horchata--yet)

Clementina aka "La Traductora" said...

Hola Elizabeth!
A chayote snack? Sounds very intriguing. I wish I could go to San Miguel de Allende myself and find out!

Chef E said...

Strut girl Strut!!! I practically grew up surrounded by this good food, and am glad I learned about it at an early age...cannot get enough and I also got my gloves on and pulled my own catus paddles off to prepare for friends while in Texas! That post will be coming soon!

This plate, and your new banner look great!

Clementina aka "La Traductora" said...

Hola Chef E!
I'm strutting as fast as I can!Please let me know when you've posted your experience with the nopalitos. I would just love to read it, okay? Thanks for the compliment.

Mari said...

Your chayote salad sounds good. I'll try it one of these days. I've just been to a Mexican market (Vallarta) but forgot get them. I do cook chayote, with chicken.

You posted a comment on my cactus salad post some weeks ago.

I had cactus salad again 2 days ago. LOL

Anonymous said...

A Chayote Salad sounds delicious and healthy - beautiful presentation too!

Clementina said...

Hola, Mari and 5 Star Foodie!
Mari, I don't know if you have posted your recipe for chayotes with chicken, but it sure sounds like a great dish.
5 Star Foodie, thank you for the compliment! Who says that good food has to look ugly?

mimi charmante said...

Oh, I am so happy that you left a comment on my site so that I was able to find you! Your blog is fantastic~ My sweet sister-in-law is from Mexico and my brother is the king of learning to cook all of her family's favorite meals. I will definitely be following your blog!

Clementina said...

Hola, Mimi!
Wow! You have your own Mexican born sister-in-law--how wonderful is that? Well, if she has a great authentic recipe to share, then I am all ears! Thank you for visiting my blog!

kobico said...

I used to eat chayote and jicama salad with a dressing made from perilla leaves (in Japan, it is called shiso, and they use it in a lot of pickles). I will definitely have to try this salad when I head home next month!

Clementina said...

Hola Kobico,
I hope you like it, and have a safe trip!

Term Papers said...

Thanks for post. It’s really informative stuff.I really like to read.Hope to learn a lot and have a nice experience here!

Anonymous said...

Hola Clementina!

Your blog is terrific and it is very helpful to find out what all of these lovely Mexican dishes that I have heard about --actually look like! Thank you!

I am actually a student carrying out a project on Mexican food and I am wondering if I could gain permission to use one of your photos of chile on a flier that I am creating. I would be happy to credit you and I can assure you that I would only make 50 fliers and would just give them out to participants in my study and I would not profit or sell them. If you could get back to me that would be fantastic. Thank you so much! Best wishes!

Clementina said...

Hola, Anonymous!
Well, my dear, I'm interested in know exactly which photo you are referring to. A course on Mexican food? Wow! One of my favorite subjects (can you tell?)
For the sake of your privacy, can you please email me at Right now I am leaning toward yes to your request, but I do have two requests: I would at least like to know your name. Plus, I would love to read your study.
Does that sound do-able?? Yes? Then, please drop me a line!