Ask about a chayote and few in Louisiana know what you’re talking about, but ask about a mirliton and you’re probably going to hear about a good recipe.
The French refer to the fruit as christophene or christophine. The green, gourdlike fruit, with its many names, is about the size and shape of a pear; hence its common name “vegetable pear.”
The chayote was a staple food of the Aztecs and Mayas, and it’s still a favorite in Mexican homes. If you’re in Jamaica or the Caribbean, you might be offered “cho cho steamed pudding,” a sweet dish using the mirliton/chayote.
I’ve been seeing so many recipes for mirliton lately. This is the season for them.
After all, “Dance of the Mirlitons” is one of the selections in Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker ballet. Timothy Muffitt, music director of the Baton Rouge Symphony Orchestra, mentioned at the recent Masterworks Series holiday concert that chef John Folse taught him how to pronounce mirliton and how to cook the fruit.
The mirlitons I bought at the grocery store were tucked individually in plastic bags. They bruise easily and bagging individually helps. You can also get them at farmers markets. I like to have a few of these stuffed and wrapped separately in the freezer. They’re ready to pop in the oven when you need them.
By themselves mirlitons have little taste, so you have to add flavor by combining them with other foods. For Louisiana residents, that’s not a problem with “the trinity” and our seafood. I did learn that some cooks put raw shrimp into the stuffing mix while others precook the shrimp before mixing it into the stuffing. I did it both ways, and both are delicious. If you’re putting shrimp in raw, you do have to make sure your oven is preheated and that you bake it long enough to cook the shrimp. Shrimp is cooked when it’s opaque and takes on an orangey cast.
Corinne Cook is a columnist for The Advocate. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.