Here’s a quick lowdown on this mysterious salad vegetable: chayote is a native Mexican plant and is a member of the squash family. (Chayote is called chow chow only in India; chayote seems to be the more commonly used name for it the world over).
I’m going to unabashedly give myself full credit for this, but the first time I cut into a piece of chayote and bit into it, my first reaction was—’this tastes exactly like a pear!’ Both in terms of texture and taste. Later, much later, when I got curious one day and was researching chayote (food trivia and I = best friends), I found that it’s actually called ‘vegetable pear’! A somewhat bland pear, which is why I thought it’d be an ideal fit here to carry the flavours of that punchy Thai dressing. Make sure to pick and use tender chayotes. The skins get left on them, and the older ones—that look more shriveled with mottled brown spots—have thicker skins and can also sometimes be a bit bitter.
The salad itself has chayote, carrots, tomatoes, herbs, and roasted peanuts. No one likes a soggy salad so we’re going to grate and salt the veg and squeeze out all that extra moisture from them. Salt draws out moisture from foods – a nifty trick to remember even for other applications such as frying (one such). Chayote has something like 90% water content and we don’t want all that excess liquid ruining their crunch upon grating. When I’m making a big bowl of this for myself, I coarsely blend a small handful of dried shrimp and add to the mix. If you’re as into funk as I am, I can’t recommend this enough. Dressing is a taste-and-adjust type situation so keep sticking your finger into it and licking to balance as you go along.
THAI CHAYOTE SALAD
- 2 medium chayotes (aka chow chow)
- 2 carrots
- 1 large tomato, roughly chopped
- 2 tbsp roasted peanuts, crushed
- 1 tsp salt
- A small handful of mint leaves, chopped
- A small handful of coriander leaves, chopped
- Dried shrimp, coarsely blended (optional)
- 2-3 green chillies (or to taste)
- 1 large or 2 small garlic cloves
- ½ tsp salt
- 2 tsp sugar
- Zest of 1 lime
- 3 tsp lime juice
- 1 tbsp fish sauce
- Quarter the chayote lengthwise and remove the bits with the seed. If you have a food processor, use the grater attachment to grate them. If not, a handheld grater will do the job just fine.
- Grate the carrots and add the chayote and carrots to a bowl. Add 1 tsp of salt and toss them through with your hands. Set aside for 10 mins.
- Meanwhile make the dressing: use a pestle and mortar if you have one, otherwise use a blender. Pound the green chillies and garlic with the salt until you get a coarse paste.
- Add the lime zest and juice, sugar, and fish sauce. This is the part where you need to taste and adjust seasoning. Add a dash of one or more of the ingredients to get the right balance. Set aside.
- Taking small handfuls of the chayote and carrot, squeeze between your fingers to get most of the excess liquid out. Do this in batches and add to a bowl. Alternatively, add the whole lot to a tea towel and wring out the excess liquid.
- To serve, add crushed peanuts and mint and coriander leaves to the veg. Pour the dressing over the top. Add dried shrimp if using. Toss to combine. Taste again and adjust seasoning. Note: dress the salad just before serving.