Thursday, October 6, 2011

Plant of the Week: Chaya

Cnidoscolus aconitifolius, commonly known as Chaya or Tree Spinach, is a large, fast growing leafy perennial shrub that is believed to have originated in the Yucat√°n Peninsula of Mexico. It has succulent stems which exude a milky sap when cut.

Brought down from the Mayans to modern Mexicans this plant provides a "megadose of vitamins" and about 10 times the minerals of other healthy vegetables. (Researchers and studies say that this plant contains powerful doses of vitamins, proteins, and minerals)

It is a popular leaf vegetable in Mexican and Central American cuisines, similar to spinach.

NOTE: The leaves must be cooked before being eaten, as the raw leaves are toxic.

Chaya is easy to grow, a tender perennial in the US, and suffers little insect damage.
It is tolerant of heavy rain and has some drought tolerance.

Chaya leaves can be harvested continuously as long as no more than 50% of the leaves are removed from the plant (this insures good steady growth).. Young Chaya leaves and the thick, tender stem tips are cut and boiled as a spinach.
Traditionally leaves are immersed and simmered for 20 minutes and then served with oil or butter. (Cooking for 20 minutes or more will render the leaves safe to eat though some say as low as 3 minutes will as well but be safe because the toxin can cause diarrhea).

I really hope to grow this plant in the near future as one of the people who will be attending my potluck said she hopes to bring me a plant!!! It will be planted in the front yard so its less likely my daughter will tear off a leaf and eat it..

Recipes:

CHAYA TAMALES

3 garlic cloves
¼ cup of chopped onion
½ spoon of yellow or green chili or two green serrano chilies
1 cup of beef broth, cold
750 grams tamale flour
2 cups of chaya leaves, cooked and chopped
1 cup of beef broth, hot
200 grams of melted lard, hot
1/4 cup of chopped coriander
4 corn husks or banana leaves

~Blend the garlic, onion, chili and one cup of broth, keep it apart.
~ Mix the flour, chaya, hot broth, salt, lard, coriander and the mix you prepared before.
~ Beat it by hand until all the ingredients are mixed.
~ Divide the dough in four or six and wrap each one of them in a tamale leave.
~ Cook in a steam pot on high for one hour after the water boils.
~ Turn off and leave the tamales in there for twenty minutes.
~ Serve and Enjoy

Chaya Frittata:

- 2 Tbs. olive oil
- 4 oz. slab bacon, cut into large dice
- 1 large red onion
- 6 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
- 1 large red bell pepper, seeded and diced
- 8 cups chaya leaves, thick stems removed and coarsely chopped
- Salt and pepper, to taste

~ In a large skillet, heat olive oil and bacon until bacon is cooked.
~ Remove bacon and set aside to drain.
~ Reduce heat and add onion, garlic and bell pepper and cook until softened.
~ Add chaya and cover.
~ Cook 20-25 minutes or until chaya is tender, stirring occasionally.
~ Return bacon to skillet and toss to incorporate.
~ Check seasonings and serve.

Chaya Casserole

- 3 cups chopped and cooked chaya
- 4 tbls chopped onion
- 2 eggs, lightly beaten
- 1 cup milk
- 1/2 cup bread crumbs or ground bread
- 2 tbls butter
- Salt and pepper to taste

~ Mix together the chaya, onion, salt and pepper
~ Stir the eggs into the milk and add to the chaya mixture and place in a greased casserole dish
~ Sprinkle the top with the bread crumbs and butter.
~ Bake at 220 degrees for 15 minutes.

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