Mirlitons make a magnificent side dish

Published 12:00 am Saturday, November 26, 2011

It is the Saturday after Thanksgiving, and I know there are leftovers at every home, but I decided not to do all the ways to use leftover turkey. My husband brought in some wonderful mirlitons (he has never produced such lovely ones). Frost has held off so far, so there are more to come. So I decided to check out a few recipes for use over the next couple weeks.

Mirliton is perhaps more commonly called chayote in the U.S., but in Louisiana it is a mirliton. It is native to Mexico but has been naturalized throughout Central America and the Caribbean. It was raised as chocho in Jamaica during the 18th century and exported to North American markets along the eastern seaboard. It was also grown along the coast of the U.S. as far north as Charleston well into the 1850s but the Civil War interrupted production, and its was not until the 1890s that it was reintroduced as a truck-farm product under the name Vegetable Pear. But in Louisiana the mirliton has been widely used locally since the 1700s. Custard marrow and christophines are other names for the vegetable.

Buy some to eat, and if you like them, you might buy some more and grow your own. Take the mirliton you purchase in the grocery and leave them out on a shelf. They will at some point begin to sprout. Plant the whole thing in a pot, sprout end up. When danger of frost is over, plant in the ground with a strong trellis for support. They can be dug up and stored over the winter like dahlias but mine comes back well here each year. The season is now, so you should be able to find them in the store.

Mirliton are members of the cucurbit family (cucumbers, watermelons) and are typically pale green and pear shaped. They can be used like squash. Frequently they are stuffed, usually shrimp and/or crab.

Taken from Poppy Tooker’s great-grandmother’s recipe. Poppy is the main person behind the Slow Food Movement in New Orleans.


Stuffed Mirlitons

Makes 8 servings

4 mirlitons

½ cup (1 stick butter)

1 onion, finely chopped

½ pound shrimp, shelled, deveined and chopped

½ pound claw crabmeat (cheaper and with a bit more flavor)

1 bunch scallions, thinly diced

½ cup seasoned dried breadcrumbs

2 tablespoons diced ham (I used prosciutto but if you have some ham left over from Thanksgiving you could use that.)

Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Halve the mirlitons lengthwise. Cook them until just tender, 15 to 20 minutes, in a large pot of boiling water, Remove seed and discard. Carefully scoop out the flesh with a spoon, preserving the shell. Coarsely chop the flesh.

Measure out and melt 2 tablespoons of the butter and set aside.

In a large skillet, melt remaining butter. Add onion and cook until translucent, eight to10 minutes. Add mirliton and toss to coat. Stir in the shrimp and cook until just pink, five to seven minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the crabmeat, scallions, ¼ cup of the bread crumbs and the ham. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Put the mirlitons on a baking sheet and sprinkle the remaining ¼ bread crumbs over all the mirlitons and pour the melted butter over the breadcrumbs and bake for about 20 minutes in the oven, or until the bread crumbs are somewhat brown.

This recipe is taken from Chef Paul Prudhomme’s, Louisiana Kitchen.

Fried Mirliton

Makes one to two

side-dish servings

Seasoning mix:

1 1/8 teaspoons salt

¾ teaspoon sweet paprika

½ teaspoon white pepper

¼ teaspoon onion pepper

¼ teaspoon garlic powder

¼ teaspoon ground red pepper (preferably cayenne)

¼ teaspoon black pepper

¼ teaspoon dried thyme leaves

1/8 dried sweet basil leaves (I still have fresh)

1 cup peeled and coarsely chopped cooked mirliton

½ cup all-purpose flour

½ cup very fine dry bread crumbs

½ cup milk

1 egg

Vegetable oil for deep frying

Combine the seasoning mix ingredients in a small bowl, mixing thoroughly. Sprinkle the vegetables evenly with about ½ teaspoon of the mix. Place the flour in a small bowl and the breadcrumbs in another. Add 1 teaspoon of the seasoning mix to the flour and 1 teaspoon to the breadcrumbs, mixing each well. In a separate small bowl combine the milk and egg until well blended.

Heat 1-inch oil in a 2-quart saucepan or deep fryer to 350 degrees. Just before frying, dredge the chopped mirilton in the seasoned flour, shaking off excess. Then, coat well with the milk mixture, and then quickly with the breadcrumbs, shaking off excess. Cook vegetables in the hot oil until dark golden brown, about two to three minutes, making sure to separate vegetable pieces as you drop them into the oil. Drain on paper towels and serve immediately.