Davina Lambreaux: When my mother was alive, she and our neighbor had a standing arrangement. When the mirlitons got ready in the fall, Mama would send me or Delmond or Cheri, or sometimes all three of us, to go around the corner and pick all the mirlitons we could. It seems like there would be hundreds of them. I know it was dozens at least. Then Mama would boil them and scoop the meat out of them. She would stuff the meat back into their skins with some shrimp or some ham and some seasoning. We would keep about half of those for Sunday dinner and send some to our neighbor. There was still plenty of mirliton left. So Mama would freeze the rest of the meat and cook it a little at a time until Christmas. That’s when she cooked the last of it.
This is my favorite of my mother’s recipes. (It’s also my daddy’s favorite.) My mother always hated it when people made ground beef the main ingredient in their oyster dressing or their stuffed mirliton. Why call it oyster dressing? Why call it stuffed mirliton? She would say it’s really just beef seasoned with oysters or mirliton or eggplant whatever. I hear her voice echoing with that whenever I eat other’s people’s versions of one of these dishes. The mirliton and the shrimp are the stars here. Mostly, it’s the mirliton.
My mama died years ago. That neighbor never came back after the storm. The mirliton vine drowned in the flood. It wasn’t until the year after Katrina that it hit me. We had us a little ritual. And as much as I used to hate pick¬ing mirlitons and helping Mama clean them and cook them, it was one of the things that we did together. When I would walk back to the neighbor’s house and see how happy she was to get the stuffed mirlitons, it all seemed worth it.
If you can’t find a neighbor with a mirliton vine, then try to find a neighbor without one. When you buy the mirlitons from the store, get two or three extra ones and fix them for your neighbor. That’s about the best advice I can give you to make your mirlitons taste like Mama’s used to.
From Treme, by Lolis Eric Elie
- 8 medium mirlitons (chayotes) (about 4½ pounds total weight)
- 1/4 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
- 1/4 Cup minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
- 3 Tablespoons finely chopped green onions, white and tender green parts
- 2 celery stalks with leaves, finely diced
- 1/2 Cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, plus about 5 tablespoons
- 3/4 Pounds medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
- 1 Teaspoon basic Creole seasoning blend
- 1 Teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 yellow onion, chopped
- 2 1/2 Tablespoons finely chopped garlic
- 1/2 Cup very fine dried bread crumbs, plus about 5 tablespoons
- 1 Teaspoon salt
- 1/2 Teaspoon freshly ground pepper
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
Put the mirlitons in a 3-gallon pot, or two large stockpots, and cover with water. Bring to a boil over high heat. Cover the pot(s) and continue boiling, just until the mirlitons are fork tender, 45 minutes to 1 hour. Remove from the heat and, using a slotted spoon, immediately transfer the mirlitons to a colander to drain and cool.
Once cool enough to handle, place the mirlitons on a cutting board or other flat surface. Cut them in half lengthwise. With a paring knife, shallowly trim away any spiny or blemished spots from the skin, and tough pulp from the end nearest to the seed. Remove and discard the seed and use a small spoon to carefully remove the pulp from the inside of each half, leaving a ¼- to ½-inch-thick shell. Drain the mirliton pulp in a colander, lightly squeezing it to release excess moisture, then chop the pulp. Set aside the pulp and shells.
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Season the shrimp with the Creole seasoning and cayenne, mixing well. Set aside. In a heavy 5-quart saucepan or large Dutch oven over low heat, melt the ½ cup of butter. Add the onions and cook until they start to soften, about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in the celery, bell pepper, parsley, green onions, and garlic, and cook and stir for 2 minutes. Add the reserved mirliton pulp and cook for 6 minutes. Put ½ cup of the bread crumbs into a small bowl.
Once the mirliton pulp mixture has cooked for 6 minutes, add 2 tablespoons of the reserved bread crumbs, mixing thoroughly, then continue adding 2 tablespoons at a time until you have added all of them, stirring thoroughly between additions.
Cook the mixture over low heat, until it is noticeably dryer but still moist, about 3 minutes, stirring as needed. Next, add the seasoned shrimp, salt, and pepper.
Continue cooking until the shrimp turn pink, about 1 minute more, stirring almost constantly. Remove from the heat and stir in the egg, blending well.
Mound the stuffing in the 16 mirliton shells, using it all. Place the stuffed shells in a baking pan, such as a 12-by-17-inch baking pan, that will hold the shells in a single layer touching each other lightly to help support their shapes as they cook. Sprinkle about 1 teaspoon more bread crumbs evenly over the top of each stuffed shell and center a scant 1 teaspoon butter on the top of each. Cover tightly with aluminum foil and bake in the hot oven for 10 minutes. Remove the foil and continue baking until the tops are browned, about 1 hour more. Serve at once.