Monday, December 15, 2014

A Guatemalan Dessert with Unusual Name

Chancletas. That is the unusual name.

Chancleta is a rough, slang-like word for something like a slipper, or some type of slip on shoe. I guess I can sort-of see the chancleta reference. Last evening, as we ate this dessert after a lovely dinner of Hilachas, looking at the now-empty shell, there is a vague resemblance to a slipper. 
Chancleta, served

Whatever the word Chancleta means, that is what they called this particular dessert in Guatemala, made with a vegetable called Chayote. Guatemalans seem to make desserts out of the most unlikely things. Squash becomes candy, yuca root becomes a torta-type cake, and these Chayote Squash (called "Guisquil" in Guatemala) become funny-looking slipper-like desserts. 

Chayote Squash growing on a structure.

What is a Chayote?

Chayote Squash are known by many, many other names around the world, some of which are Mirliton, Vegetable Pear and Christophene. The vegetable, Sechium edule, is an edible, vining plant in the gourd family, along with cucumbers, melons and squash. They are extremely easy to grow - just stick one in the soil with the puckered end upwards. As with most vines, it will grow and positively take over an area. With these smaller squash, it is best (and easiest to harvest) if the vine has some sort of structure it can climb. The ripe squash will hang below and are easily seen and harvested. 

When I lived in Guatemala, I grew these Chayote Squash in our backyard, just as shown above. When you suddenly have 15 or 20 of them all ripe and waiting for use, you grasp at any recipe available. I made Chancletas relatively often! Obviously, these squash can be used in many other ways. They are not terribly flavorful, so using them in a dish with other flavors as the main point is great. I have often successfully made a "scalloped potatoes" recipe, using chayote squash instead of the potatoes, for a remarkably good and far less starchy meal or side dish.

How to Work with Chayote

Lower photo: slightly defined area to cut
There are a few small things to know about chayotes, when working with them. When peeling them, the inner flesh is a little sticky feeling. No big deal, but it is normal. Just an FYI. To take out the seed and the surrounding fibrous mass, lay the vegetable on one side and slice the vegetable across through its width, so the knife passes through and across the puckered end. This is shown in the photo sequence below. That picture shows an already cooked chayote, but the method is the same. The reason for this is that the seed is wide and flat, and it is surrounded by a fibrous mass akin to one of those loofah sponges, and totally inedible. You could try, but you would be chewing all day ;-)

If you have never worked with a chayote before, it is good to know where, exactly, this fibrous mass is, in order to cut it out effectively. Of course, you will find out soon enough. The knife won't pass through that mass either! In the photo here above, first is a photo of what these vegetables look like. They come in completely smooth skins and some are so spiny they are hard to touch. Most sold in the US are totally smooth. The ones I grew in Guatemala had a few little spines on them. The lower picture in the photo shows a chayote cut open. I drew a faint line that shows where to insert the knife when cutting out the fibrous part. Insert the knife at a flat angle and cut out a very flat cone and discard. At any point, if the knife will not penetrate, this means you've hit the fibrous part; just re-angle the knife until it goes around easily. 

This may all sound difficult. It is not. I just want anyone daring enough to try something new, to know just exactly what to expect. This always helps me want to try something new.

Now that I have it prepped....

At this point, you have the vegetable ready to use. These are not starchy squash. They have a fair amount of water to them. They will cook easily. Add them to any dish where other vegetables are used, such as a stew or a vegetable soup. It can be sliced or cubed, as desired. They are one possible addition to the Hilachas recipe I posted a couple of days ago. To cook a whole chayote, first the timing will depend on the size of the vegetable, but the ones I used for making the Chancletas cooked through in about 45 minutes or so. If cooking them whole to make Chancletas, when piercing to test for doneness, try to keep to the edge where the vegetable will eventually be cut. You will be reusing the skin. Now you are ready to make Chancletas.

Slice the squash through the width  |       inside     |  take out seed and fibrous mass  |         inner meat       |      ready to bake
The sequence of photos here above show the prep for making Chancletas. 
  1. The vegetables are cooked whole, covered in boiling water. Once cool enough to handle, they are sliced as shown, across the widest part of the vegetable. 
  2. The whitish area surrounding the seed is a good indicator of where to insert the knife to remove the fibrous part surrounding the seed. 
  3. The third photo shows the seed and fibrous mass removed. 
  4. The next step shows the flesh scooped out of the shell. Keep in mind, these "shells are very soft and tear easily, much like a cooked potato. Think of making Twice Baked Potatoes. You will need to leave just enough of the skin to give it a little structure. Not so much that you have nothing to use for the filling.
  5. The fifth photo shows the skins filled with the mixture, which is explained in the recipe below:


Makes 3 or 4 servings

My chayotes had excessive amounts of water to them. They kept leaking out more and more, to the point where I only had enough filling to fill 3 of the 4 chayote shells. This had never happened before, so much of this recipe will depend on how much of the flesh is scooped out to work with. Amounts may need to be adjusted.

2 Chayote squash
3/4 cup Champurrada crumbs or crumbs made from plain wafer cookies
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons sugar
4 teaspoons raisins
1 tablespoon butter
pinch salt

Set the chayotes in a pot and cover them with water. Bring to boil, lower heat and simmer until they are cooked through, about 45 minutes to an hour. Drain and set the chayotes aside until cool enough to handle.

Following the photos in the sequence above, first slice the chayotes in half as shown. With a small paring knife cut out a wide flat cone around the seed and fibrous mass. Discard. With a spoon, carefully scoop out the flesh, leaving only enough to give a little structure to the skins, which will be used to hold the filling. Puree the scooped out flesh and then add in the remaining ingredients. Once combined, fill the reserved skins with the mixture, set them on a baking sheet and bake at 350 for about 25 minutes, until set and golden. Serve warm. 

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.