Picadillo de Chayote
Picadillo is a very common Latin dish and is made a seemingly infinite number of ways. It’s basically the Latin food equivalent of hash. Picadillo is made with a mixture of diced vegetables and often meat, such as ground or shredded beef. But, it can also be a vegetarian/vegan dish when made with only vegetables. Since we are trying to eat less meat and more vegetables, we made our version meatless.
We love it here in Costa Rica and really enjoy learning about the local culture and cuisine. We even picked up a cookbook of traditional Costa Rican dishes and have been trying some out. Our Gallo Pinto recipe is a good example of the colorful local food. And this picadillo de chayote is another recipe based on the local cuisine. Chayote is a very popular local ingredient. One of the most common versions of picadillo here is made with it. So we chose to make our version with chayote as the base.
Corn is the other main ingredient in our picadillo and is ubiquitous in Costa Rican cuisine. Corn is literally in everything here. We don’t usually cook with corn but it provides a really nice texture and color contrast to the chayote. Picadillo is usually served as a side dish along with rice and beans and is found on almost every typical plate in local restaurants here.
We had to modify the traditional recipes a little bit to come up with this vegan version. Since it doesn’t have meat, the vegetable broth is really important in building flavor in this dish. We recommend using homemade or high quality broth. We make our own from vegetable scraps such as the ends of onions and peppers. To make your own, just keep a gallon plastic bag in the freezer and throw all your veggie scraps in there. When it’s full, throw those into a pot with some bay leaves and fill it up with water. Let that boil down for a couple hours and you have free healthy vegetable broth made with kitchen scraps that would normally just be thrown away!
Chayote, What is it?
Chayote is a small green vegetable that is sort of like a cross between an apple and a squash. Technically it’s a gourd and belongs to the same family as melons, cucumbers, and squash. It is an important part of the Central American diet because it is very easy and inexpensive to cultivate and is a good source of Vitamin C and folate (vitamin B9). The pear shaped fruit doesn’t need to be peeled and can be eaten raw but is usually cooked. And, actually, the entire plant is edible, including the leaves, seeds, and roots. Chayote was brought back to Europe by early American explorers and is now a common ingredient in most of the world. It goes by a number of names and is used in Indian and southeast Asian cuisine such as curry, stir-fry and soup.
If you can’t find chayote in your normal grocery store, look for it in specialty Latin or Asian markets. And remember, it doesn’t need to be peeled or seeded. You can just dice the whole thing. It even has cardiovascular benefits and anti-inflammatory properties. And, if you grow it or can find the leaves, they can be made into a tea that helps treat arteriosclerosis and hypertension and even dissolves kidney stones!