Gourd with shrimp? You should try mirliton

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 3, 2016

Mirliton is from Mexico and is better known as chayote, but here near New Orleans it is mirliton and it is usually paired with shrimp. I found this soup recipe a couple months ago, but no mirliton was available yet. They come on the market in late fall and I just recently saw them in the market. So I did this soup as a starter for our Thanksgiving dinner.

1203-mirliton-shrimp-soupMirliton came to New Orleans by 1867 and is a backyard vine in a lot of homes. It has become the unofficial squash of New Orleans. Sechium edule is really a gourd but for eating we treat it like a squash. The U.S. agricultural service tried to introduce it to America by sponsoring it in Homestead, Fla., in the 1920s and they called it a vegetable pear, but it never took off. It is eaten in a lot of tropical locations but in the U.S. it is primarily seen around the South Louisiana area. The entire plant is edible. The shoots can be used in salads and stir-fries and the roots can be used like yams but it is the fruit that is usually eaten here.

The ones in the supermarkets are usually imported but local varieties can be had in farmer’s markets and are better. Better yet, grow your own. You may use one from the supermarket but sometimes they are chilled and do not sprout. I have found them rooted already in my favorite Baton Rouge nursery. Sadly they were put out of business with the August 11 flood there. And I lost mine also. So will be looking now for some local varieties to start over next year.

Let your mirliton sit out in a dish in the kitchen. It will start to sprout and when the sprout is about 5 inches, pot it up. The fruit should not be buried but sticking out of the soil. It can be transplanted into the garden when danger of frost is over. They should be grown in a well-drained spot, perhaps a raised bed. I think the much rain this year is why I lost my plants in our garden. The plants can grow to 50 feet and need something to climb on. A horizontal trellis like a grape arbor is said to be best. Mine have climbed upon the live oak near the garden; difficult for harvesting. The plants need space. They have shallow roots that need up to 12 feet in diameter to spread without competition. If in a raised bed give it at least 3 feet on each side of the plant. Mulch heavily to conserve moisture but be sure it will drain well. The plants will not fruit until about October, and temperatures below 55° will kill immature fruit, and all should be harvested before frost. They will keep a month or so before sprouting and becoming uneatable. A first year plant will produce up to 30 fruit though I have not been that successful. Second year, maybe 80, and more the next year. Some plants in the right climate can produce up to 400 mirliton! Yield depends on hours of full sun (at least six hours), fertility (they are heavy feeders), and root competition.

So if you can find them, enjoy but save at least one to try and produce your own for next fall.

This soup was a very nice starter for our Thanksgiving feast. I think it helped us not to eat so much because we were satisfied. So next year give this a try and see how it goes.


From ‘Louisiana Cookin’ October 2016

Cream of Mirliton and Shrimp Soup

Serves 10

8 mirlitons, halved

¼ cup Louisiana pecan oil, (I used extra-virgin olive oil)

½ cup butter

1 cup chopped sweet onion

1 cup chopped celery

1 ½ teaspoons minced garlic

1 pound small shrimp, peeled and deveined

1 teaspoon ground black pepper

1 teaspoon ground white pepper

1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon ground ginger

½ teaspoon dried basil (I used fresh basil, about 2 tablespoons)

2 tablespoons quick-mixing flour, such as Wondra

2 quarts chicken broth

1 cup half-and-half



To a large pot, add mirlitons and enough water to cover. Bring to a boil, and cook until fork-tender, about 45 minutes. Transfer mirlitons to a colander, and let stand until cool enough to handle.

Remove and discard seeds and fibrous membranes from mirlitons, and scoop out as much flesh as possible. Place flesh in a large bowl, and mash until smooth.

In a large Dutch oven, heat oil and butter over low heat until melted. Add onion, celery, and mirliton; cook until onion is soft, about 8 minutes. Add garlic and shrimp; cook for 2 minutes. Stir in peppers, salt, ginger, and basil. Add flour, stirring well.

Stir in broth, and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat, and simmer, stirring occasionally for 30 minutes. Remove from heat, and add half-and-half. Serve immediately.