Creole Curried Shrimp and Mirliton Casserole

Chayote, a gourdlike, pale green, delectable fruit about the size and shape of a large, scraggly pear, is called mirliton in Louisiana, where, as in Florida, it flourishes and is much loved. Over the years in New Orleans and around Cajun country, I’ve eaten mirliton fried, stuffed with seafood, and incorporated into salads, but since the fruit itself is pretty bland, it makes lots of sense to combine it with other ingredients, as in this popular curried casserole served at brunches throughout Louisiana. Just ten years ago, yellow squash, zucchini, or eggplant would have to have been substituted for the mirlitons outside the region, but now that chayotes (often called “vegetable pears”) are widely available in markets (especially during the winter months), there’s no excuse for not aiming for authenticity.

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • cups chicken broth
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon curry powder
  • 1 tablespoon light brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • ½ pound fresh small shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 small green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 4 medium mirlitons (chayotes), peeled and chopped
  • ½ cup dry bread crumbs
  • ½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted

Method

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter a 2-quart casserole and set aside.

In a large saucepan, melt the butter over moderate heat, add the flour and salt and pepper, and whisk till the mixture bubbles. Add the broth and whisk till well blended and smooth. Add the cream, curry powder, brown sugar, and lemon juice and stir till well blended. Add the shrimp, stir, and remove from the heat.

In a small skillet, heat the oil over moderate heat, add the onion and green pepper, cook, stirring, about 5 minutes to soften, then remove from the heat.

Layer half the mirlitons over the bottom of the prepared casserole, layer half the onion and green pepper evenly over the mirlitons, and spoon half the cooked shrimp mixture over the top. Repeat with the remaining mirlitons; onion and green pepper; and shrimp mixture. Cover the casserole, and bake 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a small mixing bowl, toss the bread crumbs and cheese with the melted butter. Spread evenly over top of the casserole and continue to bake, uncovered, till golden brown, about 20 minutes more. Serve hot.