Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Harvest Time - Choko

Posted by Bel
From Spiral Garden

Last Autumn I wrote about my favourite vegetable, pumpkin, here. It's now harvest time again, and we are getting a lot of chokos (Sechium edule), a vegetable which originates from Mexico. Along with pumpkins, chokos are prolific here, and I enjoy using them in many different ways.

To grow a choko vine, buy a choko and place it in a dark cupboard. When the wide end splits to reveal the inner seed and a sprout, place into well-draining soil with the sprout just visible through the soil. The vine may be slow to become established, but once warm weather arrives it will grow rampantly. It generally needs a trellis, pergola, old shed, chook (hen) house or fence for support.

The central seed may be eaten when very young and the young leaves and shoots and fleshy roots are also edible. Choko may be used in place of fruit in some recipes (stewed with sugar and optionally a pear or golden delicious apple) – typically used as pie filling. It can also be preserved into pickles or relish. For any recipe that uses marrow or squash, choko can be substituted.
Tip: peel chokos under running water to stop the slime sticking to your hands.

To freeze, boil or bake until half-cooked. Cool and freeze in airtight containers or snaplock bags. Defrost slightly before resuming cooking. Choko has a freezer life of 6 months.

Normally, I simply add choko to soup, stir-fries, curries, etc. It takes on the flavour of what it is being cooked with. Younger chokos are also lovely raw, added to various salads. Here are a few recipes from various sources that I've tried and enjoyed:

Creamy Herbed Chokos (serves 2)
2 tbsp butter
1 small onion, chopped very fine
1 medium-sized choko, peeled and cut into cubes
A handful of fresh chopped herbs
½ cup cream.
Melt butter and saute onion until golden. Add cubed chokos and saute for further 2-3 minutes. Transfer to a casserole dish sprinkle with herbs and top with cream. Cover and cook in a 180 degrees C oven for about 25 minutes or until choko is soft but still bright in colour. Serve as a vegetable accompaniment to a main dish.

Easy Baked Chokos
If you have chokos with prickles, knock these off with the blade of a peeler, but otherwise leave the skin on. Place a piece of baking paper in an ovenproof dish. Cut chokos in half and lay choko, cut side down, on the paper in the dish. Bake in a 180 degrees C oven for about 40 minutes (test with a fork to see if cooked). To serve, place cut side up on plate. Make diamond shapes cuts into the flesh with a knife. Smother in butter, salt and pepper.

Choko tendrils (serves 4)
8 cups choko tops – tendrils, tips and small leaves
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves finely chopped garlic
1–2 tablespoons stock or water
salt and pepper
Heat oil in wok and gently saute garlic for ½ minute. Throw in the choko tops and stir for one minute. Add stock and continue stirring until wilted. Add pepper and salt.
Try with:
- a few drops of sesame oil
- a couple of squeezes of lemon juice
- Chilli and lime juice
- Toasted chopped macadamias
- Freshly grated parmesan cheese

Salade Chou Chou (serves 4)
(Choko Salad)
1 kg chokos
1 tablespoon white vinegar
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon freshly crushed garlic
1 medium onion finely sliced
1 tablespoon chopped fresh green chillies (optional)
salt and pepper
Heat enough water with a teaspoon of salt in a large saucepan and boil all the chokos for about 20 minutes or until tender. Remove from boiling water and allow to cool. Peel and halve the chokos. Discard the seeds and cut into slices. Mix together the oil, vinegar, salt and pepper to taste, freshly chopped green pepper and sliced onions. Pour over the sliced chokos and carefully mix without breaking the choko slices. This salad makes a good addition to any meal as a side dish.

Quick Curried Choko Soup (serves 4)
6 Chokos
2 carrots
1 onion
Fresh beans
Salt, pepper and curry powder
Peel all vegetables, place in a saucepan with enough water to just cover and boil until tender. Add curry powder, salt and pepper to taste. Puree to serve.

Choko wedges (serves 4)
5 medium chokos
½ cup breadcrumbs
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 egg, lightly beaten
oil for shallow frying.
Cut each choko into 8 wedges. Boil, steam or microwave until just tender. Drain and pat dry. Combine breadcrumbs and garlic. Dip wedges in egg, then in breadcrumb mixture. Heat oil in large pan. Fry wedges in batches until well browned all over. Drain on absorbent paper.

Stir-fried chokos
Peel a few chokos – small green ones are best. Remove the seed, slice them into matchsticks and then stir-fry them in olive oil with garlic and chopped parsley, then add a splash of balsamic vinegar at the last minute.
Or in sesame oil with garlic, ginger, chilli, and any other vegetables you like. Add a dash of lime juice and soy sauce. The texture of choko is ideal for this method.

Choko Jam
12 Chokos, peeled, de-seeded and diced
juice of 6 lemons
110g finely chopped crystallised ginger
½ a cup of sugar to each cup of cut-up chokos
Prepare chokos. Add the lemon juice and stand overnight. In the morning, pour off excess juice and cook fruit with 2 cups of water until tender. Measure the pulp and allow half a cup of sugar for every cup of pulp. Add the ginger and boil briskly until set. Bottle and seal while hot.

If you can grow chokos where you are, I encourage you to do so. They do prefer a six-month growing season. In the tropics our vine never used to die back, but it hardly produced in Winter. Up here in the mountains the vine dies back each year. I try to plant a sprouting choko each season so there'll always be at least one vine (white and/or green variety) for the next summer.

Even if you only use them as stock feed (cows and chickens generally enjoy them, and most farm animals like the leaves of the vine as well), chokos are worth growing. If you ever need a green leaf or root vegetable to use in a recipe, your choko vine will be there out the back, growing enough to feed the neighbourhood!