Had you presented me with these two names a couple of years ago, I would not have had a clue what you were talking about. In fact these are two names used for a single South American vegetable, Cyclanthera pedata, which is supposed to have been grown by the Incas. I am growing it for the first time this year, having got seeds from my friend Glen.
Some people also call it the Bolivian cucumber. It belongs to the same family as cucumber and squash (Cucurbitaceae). It is an annual vine that produces small pods, usually used in salad. They can also be cooked, for instance, in a stir fry.
|Achocha / Caigua foliage and pod|
They are basically grown like tomatoes. In our area, you need to start them in a protected place and only move them outdoors when all danger of frost is over. Apparently, they are slightly more resistant to cold temperatures than tomatoes. I will see if this is the case this coming autumn.
|The plants need a support as they grow very tall|
You definitely need a support to grow them on. Mine were put near one of the trellises that surround the garden, and they quickly reached the top which is 8 feet high. They are very attractive plants with large leaves and abundant delicate tendrils. Although the bloom is insignificant, the plant is certainly attractive enough to be grown for its looks, especially when the pods are on. It would be ideal to cover some ugly shed or to create privacy since it grows so quickly.
Once you grow it, it is easy to let some pods mature at the end of the season and save the big black seeds to plant the next spring.
The plant does not occur in nature which means that it has been in cultivation for a very long time. It was domesticated in the Andes. The pod is represented on ceramics of the Moche culture which flourished in the northern part of coastal Peru between the first and the eighth centuries C.E.
Eating and cooking
They do not have a strong taste, even though the fruit looks like a hot pepper. The taste is similar to that of cucumber The skin is slightly tough (again rather like a cucumber), and it works better when the pod is sliced in small sections, whether you cook it or use it in a salad. You pick the fruit when it is immature and still tender. They are dryer than cucumbers or zucchini (courgettes) and do not produce as much juice.
|Tendrils, on the plant and with new cherry tomatoes|
You can also use the male flowers and tendrils at the end of vines in salads. Like the pods, they have a very subtle taste and combine very well with lettuce and other greens. The pod can also be pickled.
Apparently, the plant is also popular in Northern India and can easily be integrated to Indian dishes.
|Unripe pod, ready for eating|
|Achocha with fresh garlic and coriander leaves on pasta|