Ana Castro’s Candied Chayote Is a Soothing Celebration of a Misunderstood Squash

Chayote squash is poached with cinnamon, anise, and orange in this Mexican-inspired dessert. Labneh lends the perfect creamy dollop to finish it off.

Chayotes En Tacha with Labneh

Jennifer Causey / Food Styling by Jennifer Wendorf / Prop Styling by Christina Daley

Active Time:
45 mins
Cool Time:
2 hrs
Total Time:
4 hrs 50 mins
8 servings

The swinging, bulbous, bright green gourds of chayote growing in my grandparents’ backyard didn’t belong there. After all, their tiny spot in San Francisco was often wrapped in a blanket of fog and averaged a crisp 60 degrees. It was the opposite of the steamy, tropical climate where chayote (sometimes called vegetable pear or chocho in English — or mirliton in the Deep South) typically grows. Despite it being geographically out of place, the squash thrived, and today it wends through memories of my home and family. The curlicue chayote vines wrapped around my nana’s clothesline remind me of her nimble fingers threading wet clothes to dry. On rare sunny days, the chayote shaded my grandpa while he hoed weeds, humming a tune that I still know by heart. In the early days after I was born, my grandparents cooked comforting pots of chicken tinola, a fragrant Filipino soup with chicken and chayote slow-cooked in an aromatic ginger broth, for my sleep-deprived parents. It was a bowl of “Everything is going to be OK.”

Frequently asked questions

What is chayote?

Chayote squash are gourds that are typically in season October through March. Many grocery stores, however, now carry chayote year-round. Raw chayote is crisp and has a mild apple- and cucumber-like taste. Not the most glamorous of foods, chayote's skin is lumpy, bumpy, and phosphor green. But underneath that unassuming exterior is an ingredient rich in culinary tradition dating back to the Aztecs and the Mayans, and one that’s beloved in modern Mexican, Latin American, and Asian cooking. Find chayote at many supermarkets or at your local Mexican grocery store.

How do you cook chayote?

“I love chayote’s versatility,” says 2022 F&W Best New Chef Ana Castro. “Not only is it a fixture of Mexican cooking but of Southern cooking as well.” Castro’s recipe for Chayotes en Tacha (Candied Chayotes) with Labneh, below, is a soothing riff on a classic poached pear. For New Orleans–based Castro, cooking chayote reminds her of her abuela and growing up in Mexico City; it helps to ease passing waves of homesickness.

In my own kitchen, especially if I’m under the weather, a quick stir-fry with chayote, ground pork, and fresh ginger fills my tummy and brightens my spirits, and it makes me yearn for the days when I could watch my nana untangle the vines and hear my pa’s little hum. I wish they could see me now, proudly hauling my big bag of chayote into my kitchen. — Andee Gosnell

Notes from the Food & Wine Test Kitchen

Reminiscent of a poached pear, mild tasting and crunchy chayote squash (mirliton) are sweetened with cane sugar and infused with cinnamon, anise, and orange as they poach until fork-tender. An aromatic sauce made from the reduced cooking liquid does double duty in this dessert — it’s used to sauce the chayote and it acts as a sweetener that’s stirred into tangy labneh to dollop onto each serving.  When reducing the liquid, keep a heatproof measuring cup nearby, and use it to periodically check the volume of the sauce as it cooks down.

Make ahead

The chayote can be prepared through step 3 and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.


  • 1 (2-inch) cinnamon stick

  • 4 1/2 cups water

  • 3 cups raw cane sugar

  • 1 1/2 cups cane syrup (such as Steen’s)

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt

  • 1 whole star anise

  • 1 medium orange

  • 4 medium chayote squash (about 2 1/2 pounds), peeled, halved lengthwise, and seeded

  • 2 cups labneh


  1. Preheat oven to 325°F. Using a lighter, scorch one end of the cinnamon stick; blow out flame.

  2. Stir together 4 1/2 cups water, sugar, cane syrup, kosher salt, star anise, and cinnamon stick in a large Dutch oven. Using a peeler, peel wide orange zest strips from half of the orange; add zest strips to sugar mixture. Reserve orange, and set aside. Bring sugar mixture to a simmer over medium; simmer, stirring occasionally, until sugar dissolves, 10 to 12 minutes.

  3. Add chayotes to Dutch oven; tightly cover with a lid or aluminum foil. Roast in preheated oven until chayotes are easily pierced using a knife, about 1 hour and 30 minutes, turning chayotes once halfway through roasting time. Remove from oven, uncover, and let cool to room temperature, 2 to 3 hours. Reserve 3 cups cooking liquid; transfer chayotes and remaining liquid to an airtight container. Refrigerate until ready to use.

  4. Bring reserved 3 cups cooking liquid to a simmer in a medium saucepan over medium-low. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until reduced to 1 1/2 cups, 20 to 25 minutes. Meanwhile, fill a large bowl with ice and water. Transfer cooking liquid to a medium-size metal bowl; place over bowl of ice water, and stir until sauce is cooled to room temperature and thickened, 5 to 10 minutes. Set aside.

  5. Place 1 tablespoon cooled cooking liquid in a large bowl; add labneh. Finely grate zest from remaining half of orange, and add to bowl; whisk to combine.

  6. Serve chayote halves, cut side up, with sauce. Top each serving with a dollop of sweetened labneh.

Originally appeared in Food & Wine magazine, November 2023

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