Saturday, September 22, 2007
Sauteed Chokos with Prawns
They are not the prettiest of vegetables but chokos once helped sustain a generation during the Depression. In the temperate zones of Australia, the plant is evergreen and can produce abundantly for most part of the year. Apparently, chokos became a staple when times were hard and this humble vegetable was served up in various guises. It was also mainly used to bulk up dishes when traditional ingredients were too scarce or expensive. This,perhaps, is partly responsible for it being seen as an 'old-fashioned' vegetable now. Granted, it's not the tastiest of vegetables either but its very subtle flavour makes it more amenable to the influence of herbs and spices. The choko can be used in curries, stir-fries, mash and even pies.
Interestingly, there was a rumour that went around in Sydney (not sure if this was Australia-wide) that the McDonald's apple pie fillings were actually made from chokos! Of course, the company has went on to refute it. It would also have been improbable given that chokos are normally more expensive than Granny Smith apples.
*Hmm, this gives me a little project- use chokos as pie filling and see how it turns out...*
I actually grew up in the Philippines knowing this vegetable as sayote. Alternate names for it include chayote, christophene and mirliton. This is one of the few vegetables I actually liked as a little girl as there was no bitterness in it at all compared to other greens. Belonging to the gourd family, it has a pretty bland taste similar to cucumber or some melons. My Mum would usually put it in nilaga (literally 'boiled' meat with lots of vegetables like onion, potato, cabbage, carrots, etc) or as a substitute for green papaya in tinola (a gingery soup with chicken and pepper leaves). Mum tells me that the shoots and leaves also make for a popular Filipino dish although I don't recall ever having tried it. I first saw a choko plant soon after we moved to Australia where the hardy vine commonly swamp fences and outhouses. My dad and aunts also started growing chokos in their backyards and there's always too big a harvest for the family to eat. Chokos are most abundant from late summer to early autumn but it is not unusual for vines to fruit for most part of the year especially in warmer climates. A single vine can produce bucketloads of vegetable but you'd be lucky to find neighbours who would actually be glad to partake a share of the harvest. Chokos seem out of favour these days, which is a shame. They are high in fibre and low in calories, an important consideration in food ingredients considering current nutritional concerns.
One of the dishes my Mum makes with chokos (and the only dish I know where this vegetable actually takes centre stage) is a simple sautee with garlic, onion and tomatoes. She would throw in some pork in there or sometimes, prawns. I tried recreating this dish with prawns, to coincide with this week's Weekend Herb Blogging. It is such a great event as it always proves to be a forum for discovering unusual ingredients. Kalyn of Kalyn's Kitchen started this event. You should check out her fabulous blog which highlights fresh, simple and healthy fare. This week's host is Myriam, owner of the creative apron behind Once Upon a Tart-home to decadent and delicious recipes.
Preparing the choko for cooking is easy. Cut the vegetable in half and then into segments. I use a potato peeler to take the skin and seed off. At this stage, I rinse the segments thoroughly as choko sap is quite slimey and tacky. Then cut up into desired size.
To make 2 servings of this dish, you will need:
1 large choko, cut into bite-size pieces
1 clove garlic, sliced thinly
1 medium red onion, cut into crescents
1 large ripe tomato, chopped
300g prawns, shelled and de-veined
3 Tbsp vegetable oil
salt and pepper
In a wok or fry pan, heat up the oil. Add the garlic and onion and mix around until the onion is transluscent. Add the tomatoes, stir and then cover for two minutes or until very soft and the juices have turned into a thickish sauce.
Add the chokos and let cook until tender. Toss in the prawns and stir around until they turn pink (probably needs only a minute). Season with salt and a generous amount of pepper.