The humble choko, known as ‘chayote’ in Cantonese and colloquially as ‘choko’ in Australia, has a fascinating journey from its origins in Mexico to becoming a backyard staple in Australian households.
Originally a staple food for the Aztecs and other Indigenous societies in Mexico, the choko traveled to Europe during the Columbian exchange in the 16th century. From there, it made its way through Asia before finally arriving in Australia, likely introduced by Chinese immigrants during the Gold Rush.
In Chinese, ‘chayote’ is ‘chai yuet’ (菜芋), which gradually transformed into ‘choko’ in Australia. While it has diverse culinary uses in Chinese cuisine, the choko’s history in Australia is distinct.
During the Great Depression, chokos gained notoriety as a “filler” for low-income families due to their prolific growth and nutritional value. Many Australians remember it as a source of free fiber and nutrition during tough times.
Today, chokos remain a polarizing vegetable, often boiled or baked with butter, salt, and pepper. However, its culinary potential is vast, ranging from choko gratin and choko curry to pickled choko and cheese-stuffed choko in soup. Despite its mixed reputation, this underappreciated vegetable offers delightful surprises in the kitchen.
Chokos can be prepared in various ways, and they are grown to full maturity in Australia, unlike in South America, where they are eaten young and raw. Young chokos are tender, crispy, and have a mild flavor.
While the spiky wild-vine chokos are challenging to handle, commercial cultivars are selected for their smooth skin and ease of peeling. When selecting chokos, look for firm, plump, and heavy ones with few grooves, and darker skin indicates maturity.
Chokos are a versatile ingredient that deserves a second chance in your kitchen. Give them a try, and you might discover a newfound appreciation for this unsung hero of Australian backyards.
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