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The Story of Roux and Chayote

The Story of Roux and Chayote

 

Laurie Colwin once said, “No one who cooks, cooks alone. Even at her most solitary, a cook in the kitchen is surrounded by generations of cooks past, the advice and menus of cooks present, the wisdom of cookbook writers.”

 

I agree with Laurie, “No one who cooks, cooks alone,” especially when “Surrounded by generations of cooks past,” or how I like to put it, I cook with the blessings of my ancestors and throw until a voice says throw no more.  Now I know this is not the conventional way of cooking, but this is pretty much how I have cooked all my life, and how I used to see my mother and grandmother cook. Yes, on rare occasions you will find me using a recipe but, when I do, I usually substitute something or add a dash more of something. Has it always worked out for me? Sure, 95.99% of the time. If you ask me, I will say that is pretty darn good! So, what about the other 4.01% of the time you ask? Well, I just chalk that up to youthful exuberance or lessons learned.

 

Here’s a little secret between us. I spent the first sixteen years of my life watching my mom and grandma cook the way they did and practiced the same thing (I was cooking before I was 10). I then went off to college to pursue a three-year diploma course (now it’s a degree) in Institutional and Catering Management thinking that I would become this great chef and work on ships or in 5-star restaurants while “livin' la vida loca” like Ricky Martin said. I learned the fundamentals of the science behind cooking and all that beautiful stuff then left college and went back to cooking exactly how I used to. Life, I tell you! I spent about 4 years in the hotel industry and never once in a kitchen. I stuck to my kitchen or that of family and friends I like. Some days if you ask me how to make a roux I would probably say, “Roux who?” or ask you, “What is that?” Just kidding, I know how to make an awesome roux and how to transform it into many tasty accompaniments for other dishes.

 

As I sit at my desk writing this piece one of my favorite recipes’ pops into my head – one that I call “The Rouxfully Cheesy Christophene Au Gratin.” It is filled with veggies and baked in my rouxfully cheesy sauce, or a cheesy béchamel sauce, if you will.

 

The Real Taste of Jamaica Cookbook

Let’s talk a little about the components of this tasty little treat.

A roux is a 1:1 ratio blend of butter (or other fats such as oil or drippings) and flour. It is used as a basis for sauces, soups, stews, and casseroles as a thickening agent. You can use a variety of butters/fats to manipulate the taste of your roux and ultimately the taste of whatever you use it in.


Some popular uses of roux:

  1. Classic Béchamel Sauce – basic roux with milk added. You can season it with salt, pepper, and nutmeg (optional).

  2. Cheesy Béchamel Sauce – classic béchamel sauce with your favorite cheeses added. Great for your au gratins and macaroni-and-cheese dishes.

  3. Brown Gravy – basic roux with a broth of your liking, plus Worcestershire or soy sauce added. Season with whatever tickles your fancy and serve with potatoes, rice, or meatloaf.

  4. Velouté Sauce: basic roux with chicken, fish, or vegetable broth. Can be used as a base for other sauces or as a stand-alone.

  5. Cajun Gumbo – if you live in Louisiana, you know that this is the foundation of any good gumbo. Cook the roux until it is dark and then add all the other gumbo stuff.

Like the roux, knowing the basics of cooking can make you transform any unexciting food item into something that tantalizes your taste buds and leaves you wanting more. And, speaking about wanting more, let us explore Chayote (chai·ow·tee). Sounds cute, doesn’t it? Well, it should. In Brazil, the word for chayote is “chuchu” which is how they affectionately describe someone who is “cute” or “pretty.” This leaves me wondering about this, though. Have you ever seen the skin of a chayote? It is often rough and spiky, although there are some with smooth skins with ridges. But, to each his own as the saying goes. Notwithstanding that, let us dive into the smoothness that is on the inside and discover its versatility and flavor.


The Chayote Explored


Did you know that chocho was a fruit and not a vegetable?

Chayote (Sechium edule) otherwise known as vegetable pear, mirliton, or christophene in various parts of the world, and chocho in Jamaica, is technically a fruit and not a vegetable, though it is consumed mainly as a vegetable. Chocho, by its very name already sounds boring, unless you call it christophene which sounds a bit French-ish, and is, in my opinion, a very bland, unattractive – not the first thing I would get excited about – food item. However, like the roux, chocho can be a versatile thing, making it a nice addition to both sweet and savory dishes, and the best part is that it is extremely low in calories which makes it a win in my books.

The chayote offers several health benefits including, as I mentioned before, low-calorie content, rich sources of dietary fiber, vitamins and minerals – including vitamin C, vitamin B6, folate, and potassium, and it contains antioxidants. Research also speaks to its use in reducing the growth of cancerous cells, lowering blood sugar levels, reducing ulcer formation, and reducing cholesterol deposits in the blood vessels. Not bad for an un-cute, not so tasty, fruit that is a vegetable. 


Predominantly used in savory dishes like stir-fry, raw and cooked veggie salads, soups, salsas, curries, stews, and my favorite – casseroles; chayote can also be used in desserts like my mom used to make. She had a knock-out chocho bread, which I unfortunately never learned to make and there’s no recipe because Mama used to work with the ancestors by her side. I guess I will have to try my luck and do the same while praying that I hear the right portions. Wish me luck!


Now back to the beginning

Why did I make the comparison between roux and chayote? Because, in the kitchen, you can turn any basic or bland item into something marvelous that packs a punch or two and is overflowing with flavors. Here’s my fun way of marrying my roux to my chayote. Note, that there will be no exact amounts of ingredients given here. Let your ancestors be your guide, except for the base roux formula – don’t mess with that.

I call this “The Rouxfully Cheesy Christophene Au Gratin,” but you can call it anything you want. It’s like a potato au gratin but with veggies. Miss Chayote, of course, is the main character.



Recipe

  • Thinly sliced Chayote /Christophene/Chocho (and all other names by which it is called)

  • Carrots, Broccoli, Cauliflower, Sweet peppers, Onions, Garlic

  • Scotch bonnet hot pepper – because I’m from the Caribbean

  • Salt, black pepper, and any other seasoning of your choice – to taste

  • The Cheesy Roux – which is your basic roux with milk and loads of cheese

  • Lots of love and a smile


Wisenvoy Ceramic Loaf Pan

Things to Note

  • I parboil the chayote if I use thick slices or wedges to cut down on baking time. I also parboil fresh broccoli and cauliflower – if using frozen ones, I just throw them into the mix. Please note that parboiled items should still be relatively hard, think of it like blanching except you won’t be adding the cold water /ice.

  • I use a variety of cheeses to give it that nice palate tease.

  • Replace regular milk with coconut milk (I think coconut milk makes everything taste better).

  • You can opt to roast the sweet peppers and caramelize the onions before adding them to the mix.

  • If you are worried about your hips widening, or your cholesterol shooting up, reduce the amount of butter, cheese, and milk you use – or use low-fat items – or reduce the amount you consume on a regular basis. Remember, chayote has approximately 19 calories in 100 grams so you are starting from a good number. Don’t overdo it!

 

That’s it!

Oh, well, no, you must put it into the oven next. Lightly grease your favorite baking dish and layer your ingredients, starting with a little sauce at the bottom of the pan, veggie mix, cheesy roux, veggie mix, cheesy roux, then top with shredded cheese and breadcrumbs. Bake until you see it bubbling and the top is nicely crusted. Remove from the oven, let cool, then serve with love!

 

Like Joey Fatone says,

“If you combine good flavors, food turns into an orchestra.”

Oh, what a symphony 🎶


P.S. This article was first published as a contributory piece in The Amaranth: A Journal of Food Writing and Art, October 2023. All rights reserved by the author, Deon C. Dewar-Gray (me).


Cheers❤️

Deon Cecile

 

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Welcome to my blog, "Penned Inspiration," an expressive hub where I find joy in sharing my inspirations and stories. I am Deon Cecile, a Jamaican Writer, Blogger, and Aspiring Author. This space is dedicated to stories about Women Over 40, Wellness, Lifestyle, Organizing, Decluttering, and pretty much anything that I find fun and inspiring. I invite you to delve into my content today and discover something that may help/inspire you, or make you smile. I hope you enjoy reading and please feel free to leave a comment or idea below, I'd love to hear from you.


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3 Kommentare


Gast
28. Feb.

I love cooking (with the anscestors) too. And even when I do recipes, there's an ancestor peering over my shoulder adding her interpretation of the recipe. :-) 

Your article was a great read!!!

Peace, love & coco bread!

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Gast
28. Feb.

Weh di other receipe dem deh! Mi waan cook mi Cho Cho dem now.

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Gast
28. Feb.
Antwort an

🤣🤣

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I'm Deon Cecile and this is my passion coming to life. I'm a multifaceted person with varied loves and a zeal for organization.  Here you'll find me sharing a lot of my life experiences, as well as showcasing ideas and techniques that have helped me to keep my life and home organized. Read more...

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