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A new vegetable recently caught my eye at Maria’s sidewalk market.  Light green and slightly ribbed, it was extremely lightweight and hollow.   “Que es esto?”  I asked Maria, who was helping several shoppers.

“Achocha,” she replied then resumed weighing vegetables.

Left to ponder the unusual vegetable, I inspected the display, sniffed the achochas, rattled one,  tossed it into the air, caught it,  then added two more to my selection.  Why not try this curious new vegetable?

I have learned to love the achojchas!  Hollow and fleshy like a pepper, they have a subtle cucumber aroma.   They keep for more than a week at room temperature, are great to stir fry with other vegetables, work well with soups and sauces, but the best bonus is their stuffing ability!    The options are endless!  They can be stuffed with a meat or seafood-quinoa mix or filled with a spicy spinach-mushroom cream cheese mixture.   While having lunch at a friend’s house, we were served achojcha traditionally stuffed with a rice-cheese mixture that also contained a surprise: a hard-boiled egg!

I asked many people, “What is this vegetable?  Is it a vine? Does it grow on a tree?  What color is its flower?”    Everyone called it, “achocha” then shrugged.

An answer arrived through a cyberspace forum reply!     The mysterious achojcha, sometimes called caigua,  is scientifially classified as Cyclanthera pedata.   Now popular in other areas of the world, its many names translate to Stuffing Cucumber, Sparrow Gourd, Slippery Gourd, Crows Beak and more.  Achojcha’s health benefits range from lowering cholesterol and blood pressure to helping eliminate cellulite!

Reported to grow up to 40-feet high in tropical climates, the achojcha has the potential of soon claiming the side garden of my house!  The leaves are edible, so I’d best start finding ways to prepare them!

Below:  Enjoy a photo trip to Maria’s vegetable market in Manabi, Ecuador!

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