Mirliton, the prickly pear

Before I came to Haiti, I had never tasted Mirliton. I had actually never even seen it before, as it is not native to Guyana nor to South America for that matter. It is quite a popular vegetable here and is used in salads, stews; but the most delicious preparation is in the form of a gratin with a luxurious cheesy Bechamel sauce. It has a subtle flavor with a velvet texture, and is a delightful dish to savor. The most spectacular presentation is when the mirliton is carefully scooped out and the cooked filling is then refilled in the shell.

The mirliton is a large green pear in appearance, but unlike a smooth pear, it is undulated and uneven. The fruit is usually green and varies for a deep dark green color to a pale almost yellow color and is a good source of vitamin C. There is even a type that has a very prickly surface; hence the name “prickly pear”. This squash variety is native to Mesoamerica and probably originated in Mexico. It is also known as a “chayote” (Sechium edule), Cho-cho or Christophene and belongs to the gourde family. It grows on a vine and the vegetable can vary in size from 3″to 6″ in length. At the core is a large seed and the flesh is a white milky color when cut open. The flesh can be used raw in salads julienned; they add a crunch. They can also be boiled in stews or soups like a turnip or potato. As there is no particular taste of its own, the mirliton can harness the flavor of all of the ingredients in which it is cooked.I have even come across a recipe where cooked mirliton has been used as a substitute for apples. They are cut into slices, seasoned with sugar and cinnamon and used to make apple pie.

Here is a family favorite:


Mirliton Gratin with Shrimp

Serves 6

3 medium to large-sized mirlitons

2 cups milk

1 tbsp flour

2 tbsp butter or margarine

1 tsp garlic, minced finely

1/2 tsp black pepper

1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp mustard

1/8 tsp cayenne pepper

1/4 tsp thyme, finely chopped

1/2 cup cheddar cheese

1/2 cup tete de maure cheese or parmesan cheese

Shrimp Saute

1lb cleaned shrimp or 12-14 shrimp

1 tbsp green seasoning * recipe on blog

1 tsp soy sauce

1/4 tsp sugar

1 tsp rum or cognac

1 tsp olive oil

Topping

2 tbsp bread crumbs

2 tbsp grated cheese ( cheddar or parmesan)

METHOD

Wash the mirlitons well and cut them in half lengthwise.

Place in a large pot of water and boil until cooked and tender. 15-20 mins

Scoop out the flesh with a spoon, and avoid breaking the skins of the mirliton. Place skins on a baking sheet and put aside.

In a bowl, crush the mirliton flesh, or pass it through a food mill to puree. Place in a large sieve to drain. There is a great amount of water in this vegetable and to ensure that your gratin is not water-logged, you need to drain the vegetable well. You should have at least 2 cups of puree.

In a medium deep casserole pot, melt butter and add the flour. Brown slightly.

Add 1 cup of milk and whisk together well to dissolve all lumps. Add the second cup of milk and combine. Add the minced garlic, thyme, and then the cheese in 2 batches. Stir  or whisk constantly. Add the cayenne pepper and black pepper and then the mustard. Cook on low heat for 8 minutes. The cheese sauce will come together quickly now. Adjust the seasoning if necessary.

Cut each shrimp into 3 pieces. Season shrimp with green seasoning, rum, and soy.

In a fry pan, heat olive oil and add the seasoned shrimp. Quickly saute until pink . Remove from pan and put into a small bowl. Squeeze half of a lime over the shrimp.

Heat oven to 375 degrees

Pour 2 cups of bechamel sauce over the pureed mirliton and mix together incorporating both mixtures well.  Add the cooked shrimp and fold in well. Fill each mirliton skin with the mixture and top with sprinkled breadcrumbs and cheese. Chop parsley finely and add to the top.


Place baking tray into oven and bake for 20 minutes or until the gratins have cooked through and are bubbling.

You can also bake this gratin in a pyrex dish, or use individual -sized ramekins. This presentation is not as impressive as the ones in the skins, but they taste exactly the same.


Butter a 9 “x 9 “pyrex dish or a rectangle ( 9 1/2″x 5”) and pour mirliton mixture in. level and sprinkle with breadcrumbs, cheese and parsley.

Bake for 30 minutes or until golden and bubbling.

For a vegetarian dish, omit the shrimp.

Serve with a Roasted chicken or your favorite meat dish.

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