27 August, 2017

Chaya and Cicadas in the Heat

Boy, is it hot!  The local produce suffers in the heat; the heat makes the water spinach and lots of other greens very bitter.  One plant we are turning to more and more is Chaya, also called spinach tree.
We were given a hand full of cuttings several years ago that were the start of this big clump of Chaya.
We put the handful of chaya cuttings that we got from a friend down into a bucket of water for a couple months and basically forgot about them.  When I finally remembered to check on them, they had developed a nice root system, so we  planted them behind our back veranda.  For 2 years now we have been harvesting chaya leaves.  I started routinely harvesting them about once a week several months ago when all the greens we bought at the market were quite bitter from the heat.  All except the chaya, which thrives in the heat and has no bitterness at all.  I'm actually rather puzzled about how to describe the taste of chaya.  It is mild, but has an almost meaty hint to it that spinach and other greens I am familiar with lack.  Maybe this is because it has higher protein content than spinach does.  Anyway, the taste is pleasant and mild, almost bland.
Freshly harvested chaya leaves ready for de-stemming and chopping.
I harvest only the newest, still-glossy leaves since the older leaves can be quite tough - even after boiling for 15 minutes!  Chaya is incredibly nutritious, packing in a lot more nutrients than traditional spinach.  One draw-back is that when raw it contains a cyanide generating compound, which fortunately is destroyed by boiling for 12-15 minutes.
Boiling the chaya.
I usually boil up a couple of cups of chopped leaves, which yields about 3/4cup of cooked chaya.  The leaves are sturdy enough that they stay intact through the boiling.  After boiling, draining, and cooling the chaya, I usually put in a baggie and store it frozen until I am ready to cook with it.  You can use it the same way you would for spinach - in soups, enchiladas, scrambled eggs, spaghetti sauce, or added to casseroles.
Chaya in creamy cheese sauce.
A couple of nights ago, I added chaya to a creamy cheese sauce that I made to put over baked potatoes.  I also put in a couple of red jalapeƱo peppers to give the sauce a little extra kick.
Chaya cheese sauce over pan-seared turkey sausage bits atop baked potatoes - a meal in bowl.
The sauce was very tasty.  In retrospect, I could have added more chaya.  Next time.

Besides bitterness to greens, the hot weather also brings out the cicadas.  I had been noticing empty cicada exuviae still clutching knee-level vegetation when out on my morning runs.  I got a photo of one, only to realize when processing it that the nascent adult had not yet emerged.
Last larval stage of a cicada.  I think the nascent adult is still inside.
The hotter the weather, the louder the adult cicadas sing - at least that is I learned growing up in Georgia.
Adult cicada.
I saw this cicada on the outside of the veranda screen and it stayed still long enough for me to get my camera and immortalize it.  They are sure loud these days.


  1. Those cicadas could drive a person crazy, but your photos are exceptional. I've never heard of chaya. It sounds good... especially the high protein. I developed an allergic reaction to spinach; it depends on how it's cooked (raw is impossible for me to eat) and causes my tongue and the inside of my mouth to get really irritated. Too bad, too, because I really love it.

    1. Too bad about the spinach reaction! I really like chaya, but I like spinach too. Did you get those periodic cicadas in Connecticut? Boy when those have a hatching, summer can be deafening! At least these cicadas aren't quite as numerous as the ones we had in Georgia.

  2. Chaya looks pretty, and I'm impressed by how healthy it is. Yet, cyanide generating's a bit scary. Do keep boiling the heck out of it.

    Have a nice week, Wilma.

    1. I know! Reliable sources say you can eat up to 5 fully-cyanide loaded raw leaves a week (or was it day/) and not worry. But I do worry, so I always cook it. Makes it easier to use anyway.

  3. The goodness in that Chaya sounds terrific but that cyanide start would worry the life out of me. I remember from my holidays in the Caribbean the non-stop noise of the cicadas, it must drive you almost mad on a regular basis, although I guess you'll say that you just get used to it.

    1. We don't hear them too often right where we are, but they are loud back in the jungle. The big broods of periodic cicadas that we would get in Georgia every 13 years were truly deafening in their huge numbers. Don't think one could every get used to that cacophony!

      Lots of food have toxic components unless cooked - kidney beans for example. I just cook the chaya as recommended and don't worry about it.


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