Chayote Salad



This spiny chayote reminds me of an old man who needs a shave! I bought the chayotes from an elderly Chinese woman selling them in her front yard on Fruitvale Avenue in East Oakland. They were so prickly that I had to use oven mitts to handle them at home and use a fork to steady it while I peeled it with a knife.

Chayote squash was grown by the Aztecs who named it chayotli in their Nahuatl language. I combined ingredients of Mexican and Spanish origin to make this salad. I drew inspiration for this recipe from Ensalada de chayote written by my friends and gourmet role models, Victor M. Valle and Mary Lau Valle, in their fascinating book, Recipe of Memory: Five Generations of Mexican Cuisine

Chayotes come in smooth skinned varieties as well, but Victor and I agree that the spiny ones are more flavorful. I suppose I could make some sort of analogy to life or raising kids who are hard to handle but, well I’ll let you finish that sentence.

Ingredients

1 large or 2 medium chayotes

about 10 Kalamata olives

15-oz  can drained garbanzo beans

1/2 tsp minced fresh oregano or 1/4 tsp dried oregano.

1 cucumber, peeled

1 small avocado

two radishes

¼ cup cilantro leaves

handful of fresh lettuce leaves for each bowl

Dressing:

2 Tb extra virgin olive oil

2 Tb fresh lime juice,

½ tsp salt

pinch of chipotle chili powder

Boil whole chayote with 2 cloves smashed garlic and a tsp salt for 30 minutes until tender. Let cool in refrigerator, then peel, remove pit, and slice. Add  kalamata olives, garbanzo beans, and oregano.

Dressing : Whisk 2 Tb garlic olive oil, 2 Tb lime juice, ½ tsp salt, with a pinch of chipotle powder. Pour over salad. Let sit for several hours.

Cut a peeled cucumber and a small avocado into bite sized chunks. Gently toss in salad with  two sliced and quartered radishes and ¼ cup sliced cilantro leaves.

Frijoles pintos (Mexican pinto beans)

¡Frijoles! Mexican Pinto Beans

These beans are a favorite of my friends and family. This recipe evolved from my mother-in-law’s frijoles al charro. She made hers with bacon to flavor the beans. I usually omit the bacon, but it’s good either way. The chipotle and smoked paprika give it a nice smokiness. You can either use powdered chipotle or a whole one. Discard the seeds and ribs, unless you want super spicy beans.

There are many opinions  in this family about cooking beans. My husband is  insistent about not soaking the beans first, as he swears that takes away the flavor. I boil the beans with all the flavorings on the theory that they will soak up the flavors. My mother-in-law says the garlic will help eliminate the gas from the beans. She told me never to put salt in until the end because it will toughen the beans. And I add cocoa powder to bring out the flavor of the chilies, just as the ancient Aztecs did.

epazoteI recently started to add epazote leaves, which are popular in southern Mexican cooking. My mother in-law, who came from northern Mexico, didn’t use them. They have a sharp smell, akin to turpentine, but they adds wonderful flavor to the beans.

Ingredients

9 cups of water

1 chopped onion

4 minced garlic cloves

1/2 – 1 tsp. chipotle powder (to taste) or 1 dried chipotle pepper

1/2 tsp. smoked paprika (optional)

1 tsp. cumin powder (comino)

1 1/2 tsp. cocoa powder

2 tsp. dried oregano

1 diced Roma (plum) tomato

1 diced bell pepper (green or red) or 1 cup frozen diced bell peppers

1 bunch of chopped epazote leaves, stems discarded

3 cups dry pinto beans

2-3 tsp. salt to taste

Wash beans thoroughly, checking that there are no stones.

Heat water to boil in large pot.

Add  chopped onion, garlic and seasonings.

When water is boiling again, add beans and boil for a minute or two.

beans with epazote stirred in

Pour into a crock pot. Cook on low until very tender, usually 5 hours. You can make it in the evening and let it cook overnight or make it in the morning and it will be ready for dinner. Add 2-3 tsp salt to taste when cooked. Serve with fresh cilantro, either queso cotija, queso fresco, cheddar or jack cheese, and chopped onion if desired.  Serve with warm corn tortillas.

Excellent for making tostadas. Simply mash well-cooked beans with the pot liquor, no frying necessary.

Vegetarian/ Vegan tacos: Fill a warmed tortilla with beans, fresh tomato, avocado and cilantro. Top with salsa and a shake of sea salt.

Store beans in small containers in the freezer. Sure beats opening a can!