By Lolis Eric Elie
If you arrive in New Orleans from the North (meaning anywhere north of south Louisiana), much of New Orleans food seems strange. But most of what we eat has connections to other parts of the world. It's just that our emblematic foods are very different from the standard American diet. Take mirlitons, for example. They are known as chayote in Latin America, christophene in most of the French-speaking Caribbean, and cho-cho in Jamaica. They are known as mirliton in only two places, Haiti and New Orleans. That makes sense: The population of New Orleans doubled in the decade after the Haitian Revolution. So many of our ancestors, black and white, slave and free, hail from Haiti.
The Lambreaux family serves stuffed mirliton as part of their Christmas dinner. Not only that, they serve a variety of other dishes that would seem somewhat redundant even to New Orleanians.
"Gumbo and crab soup. Stuffed mirliton and stuffed peppers. Turkey and pork roast. Now sweet potato pie and pumpkin pie too," Albert Lambreaux (Clarke Peters) observes. Fearing that Albert's illness is serious, his kids have put together a very special dinner. Perhaps they went overboard.
If you'd like to go overboard, we have an extensive essay on mirlitons in our forthcoming cookbook, 'Treme: Stories and Recipes from the Heart of New Orleans.' (You can pre-order the book at the HBO store).
In the meantime, here's a recipe for stuffed mirliton that you can make for Thanksgiving, Christmas or whenever.