Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Pra chuchu, try on the new aubergine

The voluptuous curves of Christophine, ( née chayote or pra chuchu )

Eu como legumes pra chuchu. E você?   I eat a lot of vegetables. And you?
Chuchu = chayote.
Pra chuchu is a Brazilian Portuguese street smart expression that means “a lot” or “very”. It is said that the expression was created because chayote grows abundantly almost anywhere in Brazil.

My first encounter with Christophine was at the Old Fort restaurant, the highest point on the Island of Bequia in the Grenadines.She drew me in from the moment I caught site of her as I cast my eye over the menu.I could tell already that one day we would become bosom pals.Her defining qualities reminded me of English painter Beryl Cook who painted larger-than-life, usually older ladies with wrinkled buttocks. I had my first taste, and left the restaurant self-assured that our paths would cross again.I spotted her again last week travelling under her Portuguese pra chuchu nome de plume in a supermarket in Vila Real de Santo Antonio. I brought her home and like Educating Rita, I brought out the best in her. This beautiful mature legume inspired so me much  that I turned her into more than the dish she could ever be,a Greek inspired Moussaka.I risked having plates thrown at me by the likes of Demitri, Theodore or hordes of holidaymakers returning from Corfu. I abandoned the all-important aubergine in favour of my newly preferred lady legume, the pra chuchu.The other crime I might be accused of committing against this iconic Ionian dish is seasoning my meat with Ras-al -hanout.However in the 1920s, Tselementes, a Greek chef who travelled far beyond Greek shores published a book.There is a whole chapter entitled "Mousakas" in Tselementes' book. It includes six recipes, basically substituting zucchini, artichokes, or potatoes for the eggplants. He even has one very interesting variation with alternate layers of zucchini and tomato slices, both dredged in flour and fried. "Tselementes" nowadays for Greeks is synonymous with "cookbook."Oh well, should my critics should utter my defence will be "its all because the lady loves ras al hanout."

Individual Brazilian moussaka with a simple Greek salad
Brazilian Moussaka
serves 2 for a main plate or 4 individual starters

4 tbsp olive oil
2 pra chuchus, boiled then sliced 
1 large onion, finely chopped
4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1.5 tsp Ras al hanout
1 tsp dried oregano
500g minced lamb
2 tbsp tomato purée, mixed with 150ml water
Small bunch of flat-leaf parsley, chopped

For the bechamel:
500ml milk
60g butter
60g plain flour
2 eggs, beaten
Nutmeg, for grating


Pre-heat the oven to 180C. Boil the chuchus unpeeled in salted water until tender, testing them after 30 minutes.Run them under the cold tap to cool them then cut them into 0.5cm slices.Set aside.
Meanwhile, put 2 tbsp olive oil into a large frying pan over a medium high heat and cook the onion until soft. Add the garlic,Ras-al-hanout and oregano and cook for a further couple of minutes, then stir in the lamb. Turn up the heat slightly, and brown the lamb well, cooking until the mixture is quite dry. Stir in the tomato purée and bring to a simmer, then turn the heat down low and cook covered for 30–40 minutes until most of the liquid has evaporated. Season and stir in the parsley.
To make the bechamel. Warm the milk, and melt the butter in another saucepan. Stir the flour into the butter and cook for a couple of minutes, then gradually whisk in the hot milk. Cook until you have a thick sauce. Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly, then beat in the eggs, salt to taste and generous nutmeg.
Arrange a layer of the chuchu slices on the base of a greased oven dish, and top with half the meat. Repeat these layers, then finish off with a layer of chu chu, and top with the sauce. Bake for about 45 minutes until well browned, and then leave to cool for half an hour before serving.

For individual starter portions:
Choose 4 x 7cm  pastry cutters and put them on 4 sheets of cooking foil large enough to form a base under the cutter and then wrap around the outside of the cutter to a height of  the depth of the cutter and half again. Cut 8 previously boiled slices of chuchu. Lay a slice of chu-chu on the bottom of each cutter top with a generous layer of meat filling and press down, cover with a second slice of chuchu.Top with bechamel sauce and cook as above.

Try another pair of chu chus.......


Chinelos pequenos de chuchus creoles com camarões
little Creole chu chus with prawns
serves 2
2 Pra chuchu
50g (2oz) breadcrumbs
4 tbsps home made tomato sauce
250g (8oz) shelled shrimp or prawns
salt pepper 
1tsp Cajun seasoning 
Boil  the chu-chu unpeeled in salted water until tender,testing them after 30 minutes.Run them under the cold tap to cool them,then scoop out the insides,leaving enough to make a firm shell.Mash the insides and to a pulp with the Cajun seasoning, in a processor.
Put the seasoned mashed chuchu into a frying pan with a good knob of butter,and cook quickly to get rid of excess water.As the mixture dries out,mix in 50g(2oz) breadcrumbs and fry a little longer.Stir in 4 tablespoons of the tomato sauce and 250g (8oz) shelled shrimp or prawns.Season with salt,pepper and cayenne.
Allow to cool slightly and then fill the scooped out chuchu shells.Sprinkle them with breadcrumbs and some melted butter and parmesan cheese.Bake at 200ºc /400ºf/ Gas mark 6 for 15-20 minutes.The tops should be golden brown,and have taste of downtown New Orleans.

5 comments:

  1. I've never seen such a legume. It looks like an old lady who has had a stick of alum shoved up her arse.

    Yummy.

    When i was a lad, holidaying in Crete in the 70s, we frequented a Taverna for breakfast, lunch, post lunch drinkies and snacks (this consisted of strips of zucchini, dredged in egg and flour and crisply fried in olive oil, dusted with sea salt and eaten warm *I shudder at the memories*)dinner and post disco (I did say this was the 70s)drinkies and more snacks. Yhe cooks invited us into the kitchen where they produced the best mousakka I have ever eaten. They mostly used the saintéd Aubergine, but quite often they would add layers of potatoes if they were short of Aubergines.

    Just writing this is making my mouth water.

    Enjoy your pra chuchus.
    Tel me, is there a difference in taste from the original Aubergines?

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  2. Aha, christophene. I introduced some diners recently to them when I did a Caribbean pop up at The Underground Restaurant - I sliced them thinly for a ginger butter gratin. Love how they keep their texture and never go soggy. Never thought of substituting them for aubergines though - quite different!

    Did you enjoy Bequia? I spent a couple of months there a few years ago, very relaxing time.

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    1. Catherine - That sounds delicious.They do need a strong foil to make a dish successful.Bequia was fabulous.We did lotsa limin and had the best Key lime pie at a restaurant called the plantation house.I think I might get a bit stir crazy though after a couple of months!!!!

      Twisted Scottish bastard -yes they have a completely different taste, much more watery that´s why they need strong flavours to support them.The reason I opt for them is as Catherine says they keep their texture and never go soggy, and they dont soak up the oil like an aubergine does.They are great with a béchamel sauce flavoured with parmesan.

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  3. AAAH thank you !!
    My blacksmith brought me a huge box of "chu-Chus" and I had no idea what on earth they were..he said they were widely eaten in South America....I did think they were rather watery and tasteless too however..but at least I know what they are !

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  4. I love this story! Brought a real smile to my face. I have always been intrigued by both the name and their appearance. But to be honest I haven't seen them very often over here.

    BTW I have to confess that for my 21st birthday one of my friends bought me one of Beryl Cook's prints of a naked lady laughing on a leopard skin rug. She said it reminded her of me . . . I decided not to be offended, although I suspect it has become a self-fulfilling prophecy!

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