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Stuffed Chayote with Carne Molida | Caribbean Squash with Ground Beef

How do you decide which recipes to make daily or on special occasions? What sparks your interest? A good photo? A mouth-watering description in a cookbook? The smell of a particular food coming from a neighbor’s house? A memory of someone?

For me, it’s usually a little bit of each, but this time tidbits of stories about my abuelita {grandmother} motivated me to hunt down chayote {a Caribbean squash}, stuff it with seasoned carne molida {ground beef} and serve it how she might have from her mountain home of Orocovis, Puerto Rico.

The background story is that my grandmother was an exceptional cook, someone who could whip up a meal with just a few ingredients on hand. I have some memories of her, but never of her cooking. I only remember her while she infrequently visited here in the States. She came with bundles of guava candy, coconut candy, and savory pasteles. I never knew how much people loved her food.

Until recently.

Most families today come together in times of celebration or in times of hardship, but less often in between. In our case, we’ve had relatives visiting because my grandfather is quite ill, and it’s good to see them. He’s given us a reason to re-connect, reminisce and learn more about our family’s roots, which certainly run deep.

When he was better, I used to ask my grandfather a lot about life in Puerto Rico, especially about the foods he grew up eating and the foods my grandmother used to make. His answers were simple and basic: platanos {plantains}, guineos {bananas}, yucca {cassava}, gallina {chicken}. He never talked recipes, but always said my grandmother was a wonderful cook.

Fast forward to a time when relatives begin to reminisce.

My mom’s cousin tells me about how she loved visiting my grandmother while they lived in Puerto Rico because she was such a creative cook. One of her favorite dishes was stuffed chayote and if she knew my grandmother was making it, she was sure to be there for it.  I asked if anyone ever wrote down the recipe, or any of her recipes for that matter. It seems as though she hadn’t.

I asked my grandfather about the dish and before I could finish, he already knew what I was talking about. He finished my sentence when describing what it was made up of, but couldn’t tell me how or exactly which ingredients to use.  From that point on, I wanted to find the chayote and go from there, which is exactly what I did.

My grandfather isn’t able to eat solid foods anymore and my grandmother is no longer with us to try it, but I think both of them would love how it turned out.

I hope you do, too.

Stuffed Chayote with Carne Molida | Caribbean Squash with Ground Beef

Chayote is a Caribbean gourd, or type of squash. It’s commonly used in Latin and Caribbean cooking because it is a locally grown tropical fruit that is cooked as a vegetable. In the U.S. it is normally found in Latin markets, especially those catering to a Puerto Rican and Caribbean consumer base.

Cooking/Recipe Tips

  • Don’t over-stuff the chayote when baking so that you are able to enjoy its soft, subtle flavor.
  • Bring the meat to room temperature before frying so that it doesn’t stick to the pan and become tough when cooking.
  • If you have any leftover ground beef after stuffing the chayote, throw it in a tortilla and add some avocado, sour cream, hot sauce and lime juice to make one of the best tacos you’ll ever have!

Serves 8

Ingredients

4 chayotes

cooking spray

1/8 cup olive oil plus more for drizzling

1 -1/2 pounds ground beef

1/2 cup yellow onion, diced

3-4 cloves roasted garlic or 2 raw cloves, roughly chopped

1/2 teaspoon sea salt, or to taste

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon oregano

1 teaspoon ground annatto seed

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1/8 cup tomato paste

1/2 cup green Manzanilla olives, cut in half plus some of the vinegar from the jar

freshly cut cilantro

1-2  avocados, thinly sliced

4 limes, cut in wedges

Directions

  1. Cut chayotes in half and scoop out the flesh. Roughly chop the flesh the same size as the chopped onion and garlic. Place the chayote shells on a baking sheet that has been sprayed with oil or cooking spray.
  2. Add oil to a large skillet or sauté pan and heat until warm. Add the onion and the cut flesh of the chayote. Saute until the onions have become translucent and chayote has begun to brown slightly.
  3. Add the meat, garlic and ground spices. Mix well, breaking up the ground beef so that it cooks evenly. Add the tomato paste and stir to blend thoroughly throughout the meat.  Allow to cook on medium-low for about 15-20 minutes, uncovered.
  4. Add the chopped olives and a little bit of the vinegar from the jar of olives. Remove meat from the heat and allow to cool for just a few minutes.
  5. Depending on the size of each chayote, add about 1/4 cup of meat to the inside of each shell, or just enough so that meat does not fall out. Drizzle each top with a bit of olive oil.
  6. Cover the baking dish with aluminum foil. Poke holes in the foil and place the sheet in center of the oven. Bake at 350º for 40 minutes,  or until chayotes are completely softened.
  7. Remove chayotes from baking dish and place on serving platter. Add a bit more olive oil to each, if necessary, and fresh sprigs of cilantro.  Serve with fresh slices of avocado and lime quarters for individuals to use with each.

7 comments

  1. Thank you for this recipe. My neighbor gave me several chayote and I sauteed them with onions garlic and cilantro and yellow squash.But I love your recipe better.

  2. I really need to take the time to look at your site better and see if you have a bio. I did not know you are of Puerto Rican heritage! I am half Puerto Rican myself, masha’Allah. Maybe this is a regional dish or an invention of your grandmother because I was never exposed to it. I am planning to make these for my father and see if he recognizes them, insha’Allah.

    • Yes, I am Puerto Rican (half). My grandmother used to cook a variety of foods, not necessarily Puerto Rican, per se, but with the local ingredients and spices plus whatever she could find and was interested to make. From what I’ve been told by family members, she was really creative and loved to develop new recipes all the time…I suspect that’s why it’s in my blood, too!

  3. What a lovely post and what looks like a fabulous recipe. I’ve always been hesitant to try chayote because I haven’t known how to prepare it. Now I’ve got a recipe and the incentive to try. Thanks.

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