Cucurbitaceae clan has to be one of the most varied and also one of the most ubiquitous. The family name itself probably means nothing to 99.99% of the world's population, but there are very few people wandering the earth who haven't eaten one or another of the family members at some time - a cucumber, a cantaloupe, a watermelon, a pumpkin, a zucchini or a honeydew melon.
One member of this family, scientifically known as Sechium edule, has a long history as an important food crop in Meso-American and South America, but it's only within the past decade or so that it has become an established menu item in North America and Europe - excepting in Cajun cuisine where it's always been an integral part of the culinary larder. In Louisiana they call it a mirliton, but most of the rest of North America calls it by its Mexican name, chayote. In the English-speaking Caribbean, it's a christophene and in India it's a chow chow. In Brazil, where it is a common ingredient in salads, stews and mixed vegetable preparations, it's a chuchu.
Chuchu is almost always available in vegetable markets and supermarkets in Brazil, without a definite season and it's always inexpensive. Yesterday, in Fortaleza, I bought some for R$0.75/ kg or about USD$0.20/lb. It's particularly associated in Brazil with the cooking of the northeastern region, but grows almost anywhere in this warm-weather country and is eaten in just about every region.
Chuchu can be cooked like almost any other summer squash, such as zucchini or patty-pan, and benefits from shorter cooking period. The flavor is somewhat bland, but combines well with other ingredients in soups or stews. Its uses in the kitchen, however, aren't restricted to cooked dishes - chuchu can also be eaten raw, and makes a great addition to a fresh salad. It also takes very well to pickling.
The next posts on Flavors of Brazil will include some typical Brazilian recipes that feature this versatile vegetable.