The very first lunch I had upon arriving in Costa Rica was my host mom’s picadillo de chayote. I hadn’t yet overcome my picky eating at this point, but I also hadn’t quite mastered enough Spanish to say “I don’t like vegetables.” Lucky thing, because this dish was an explosion of Costa Rican flavor on my tastebuds, and once I learned enough Spanish, I requested this meal constantly. For many years I tried to master this dish, but it wasn’t until I went on my family cooking tour of Costa Rica that my sister in law taught me the secret to this dish (butter and cream, of course!) It’s a great vegetarian dish, and the whole meal can be ready in less than 30 minutes! This dish serves 2 adults as a main dish or 4 adults as a side.
- 2 chayotes (I find them locally at Sprouts, King Soopers, and most Mexican supermarkets. Be prepared for your checker to have no idea what they are or how to ring them up.)
- ½ white onion
- 3 cloves garlic
- 2 TB butter (salted or unsalted doesn’t seem to matter)
- 1-1 ½ tsp salt
- heavy cream
- ½ can of whole kernel corn
- ½ bunch of cilantro
As with most recipes, this one starts with a sofrito. In a heavy saucepan, heat the butter on medium-low (Costa Ricans would actually use Numar margarine, but I prefer using butter over margarine). While it’s warming, chop up the onion into very fine pieces and mince the garlic (I put it in a garlic press). Raise the heat to a good medium and add the onion and garlic and cook until the onion is transparent. You’ve just made your sofrito!
While that is heating up, go ahead and wash and chop your chayotes. There are probably a zillion ways to do this, but here is how I go about it:
The key is to make each piece even in order to make the dish look pleasing visually.
After you’ve diced them up, add the chayotes to the pot, cover it and turn up to a good medium high. Chayotes are mostly water, so you want to cook the water out. I cover the pot to let them boil a bit, until almost completely tender and dry. The chayote will often cook all the water out and want to brown on the bottom of the pan. Brown is no good. In order to combat the dryness, I open the can of corn and add about ½ cup of the liquid to the pan and let it keep cooking. You could also add water here, but I prefer to use the liquid from the corn, and it adds some nice flavor. This dish is usually served with rice, beans, and tortillas so I get those going while the chayote is boiling.
Once tender, add in your salt, and your half of the canned corn. (You can definitely use fresh sweet corn here, but I don’t have the patience for it.) Cover with heavy cream (or put in as much as you want) and heat thoroughly. Chop up some cilantro and stir it in about 10 minutes before serving. Buen provecho!
**You can make this a dairy free recipe by boiling in water until the water evaporates and serving it “dry”, or add chicken broth or stock and serve it in a bit of liquid. You can also substitute oil for the butter.
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