Monday, September 13, 2010

Lady Slippers - Edible Gourds

I have been wondering for about 4 years what the heck these things are called outside Panama. I originally found these squash/pepper type vegetables in the mercado here in Boquete. They are only there every once in a while. All of the vendors and many of my Panamanian friends call them "Alcachofas" which is Spanish for Artichoke. These fun little veggies are in no way related to an artichoke. My worker who is from Bocas del Toro calls them Ahi Chino (Chinese peppers).

They are green and hollow inside like a bell pepper. The membranes and seed area remind me more of a gourd's inside. They do look like a Lady's Sipper or Aladdin's Slippers! They taste sort of like a cucumber.

I have been having a lot of fun cooking with them, they are so unusual looking and fun to use. They are a great replacement for bell pepper (nice if you have an allergy to the nightshade family) or squash for a stir fry. I wonder what they would be like juiced? humm.

I have never seen them outside of Panama, nor is it easy to find any information on them on the Internet. Nor has anyone ever really heard of them outside of Panama that I know of.

I finally found an article which led me to the right thing on Wikipedia. They listed it under the name Caigua. Here are excerpts. As you can see it is very versatile and I am digging the weight reducing possibilities.

The caigua (pronounced kai-wa) is a vine grown for its small fruit, used as a vegetable. It is also known as caygua, caihua, cayua, achocha, achokcha, slipper gourd, lady's slipper, sparrow gourd (Chinese: 小雀瓜; pinyin: xiǎoquè guā), stuffing cucumber in English, or korila in the Philippines.

In case of disease or/and obesity it can be eaten as juice extract during a fast. It is also effective as dehydrated powder. It has various traditional medicinal usages, mainly to:control cholesterol, reduce obesity, control high blood pressure, regulates the metabolism of lipids and sugar in the blood stream and decreasing cholesterol.

Likely domesticated in the Andes, the caigua is now grown many parts of Central America and South America, as well as parts of the Eastern Hemisphere tropics. The Moche culture had a fascination with agriculture and displayed this in their art. Caiguas were often depicted in their ceramics.

The immature fruits may be eaten raw or pickled. Unlike many cucurbitaceous fruits, the caigua become quite hollow as it matures, and the mature fruit is often eaten stuffed. The young shoots and leaves may also be eaten as greens.

Purported Health Effects: Caigua is traditionally taken to reduce blood cholesterol levels. It has been said, in Peru, that it is the most natural and the most potent fat absorber and taken together with a Peruvian herb known as Hercampuri. It is consumed in Peru, to rejuvenate & reduce cellulite. No studies conducted in any of the first world countries support any of these uses. It is of common knowledge in Peru that while eating it in small quantities reduces cholesterol levels, eating large quantities of caigua has the counter effect of damaging eyesight.

Phytochemicals: Ripe fruit contains: peptin, galacturonic acid, dihydroxitriptamine, pierine, resins, minerals (phosphorus), vitamins (thiamine, vit. C), lipoproteins and steroidal compound (systosterol and 3 beta D glucoside) with hypoglicaemic and antilipemic (against cholesterol LDL) action, low density lipoproteins. Wikipedia Link

Here is a recipe for how I mainly use them. It is an easy one and fun to improvise on!

Stuffed Lady Slippers

1 pound (about 6) of Lady Slippers
A stuffing mix, My Indian Potato and Pea stuffing follows.

The lady slippers tend to have a curl in the ends of them like a Genie's Slipper. Lay the vegetable down on the cutting board with the curl facing up and make a slit down the middle of that top side of the vegetable. Stick your fingers into the slit to remove the membrane and seeds, taking care not to rip the whole thing apart.

Blanch the lady slippers in boiling salted water for about 2-3 minutes. Rinse under cold water.

Make a stuffing, of any kind you like, We are going to try a cheese, chicken and hot pepper (like a popper-style) stuffing in the future, I think that would work out well and be good at parties. My personal favorite is an Indian style potato pea stuffing, recipe is below.

Lightly oil a baking dish, like a square or rectangular Pyrex.

Preheat oven to F 350 degrees or about 180 Celsius.

Stuff the Lady Slippers with stuffing, give them a topping if you want and bake for about 30 minutes.

Serve as an appetizer or an entree. If you are using the stuffing below, serve them as the vegetable in an Indian meal alongside of a curry, rice, yogurt, dal, chutneys and pickles, etc..

Indian Style Potato and Pea Stuffing

1 lb potatoes, peeled and diced about 1/2 inch.
1 medium diced onion
1 Tablespoon oil and 1 tablespoon of butter for sauteing
1 teaspoon each of ground cumin and ground coriander seed.
1/2 teaspoon of ground turmeric.
1 to 4 cloves of minced garlic, depending on your tastes.
1 Tablespoon of minced ginger
1-2 minced hot pepper- optional
1/2 cup of frozen sweet peas, defrosted.
1/4 cup of chopped cilantro

Boil the potatoes, til just tender. Set aside
Saute onion in the mixture of oil and butter.
Add the cumin thru hot peppers to the onions while they are sauteing:
Once the onions are nicely browned and everything has melded together, about 5 to 8 minutes, add the boiled diced potatoes.
Saute all together and cook for another 2 or 3 minutes.
Turn off heat and let cool.
Mix in the defrosted peas and cilantro

I like to top each one with a little more chopped cilantro and a small dollop of yogurt for garnish.

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