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Serving Squash the Mexican Way

The ancient word for any squash is of Indian origin: askutasquash (meaning raw). Both summer and winter squash varieties are very popular in Mexican cooking, including pumpkin, cucumber, yellow, pattypan, zucchini, and the odd-looking chayote.

It's not just the fruit that is edible. Many Mexican markets carry the blooms and you'll find plenty of recipes for preparing squash blossoms (including battered and fried).

Remember that most winter varieties have a tougher skin. They'll require a longer baking or steaming time.

I'm including two favorite Mexican squash recipes. One is with pumpkin and the other is with the lesser known chayote. It's green and pear-shaped with deep ridges. If you're lucky enough to find it, don't hesitate to give it a try.

Baked Chayote

The chayote is actually found in many countries. It's called "christophene" in France and "mirliton" in the Southern U.S. Other names include: chocho, brione (West Indies), and chouchoute (Polynesia).

Look for smallish fruits with smooth, unwrinkled skins. There's a spiny version, too, that is just as tasty. The inside meat has the texture of a water chestnut and tastes a bit tart with a touch of zucchini flavor. Prepare chayote as you would summer squash. Remove the skin before or after cooking, but be forewarned: it emits a sap that can be irritating. Wear latex gloves or hold under running water while peeling.

Split the chayote open and remove the seed. It's edible and can be sautéed separately. Brush the halves with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper plus any desired herbs and spices. Preheat the oven to 375-degrees F. and bake for about 30 minutes or until tender. Scoop out the flesh and eat or mix with other veggies.


Pumpkin in Syrup (Calabaza en Jarabe)

1 small pumpkin
1 ½ cups dark brown sugar (or look for piloncillo, the Mexican version)
½ cup water
1 teaspoon ground cloves
12 cinnamon sticks

Cut pumpkin in half; remove the seeds and fibers, and slice into several wedges. Layer wedges and sugar in a lidded casserole dish. Pour water around edges. Sprinkle cloves on top and include two sticks cinnamon. Cover and bake at 350-degrees F. for about half an hour. Check to be sure the pumpkin is not drying out or burning on the bottom. A nice, thick syrup will develop. When tender, place pumpkin on a platter or serving dishes and top with the syrup. Add remaining cinnamon sticks before serving.

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