The International Rescue Committee, which responds to humanitarian crises to help people rebuild their lives, has a program called New Roots that assists refugees with growing fresh produce for themselves and their communities.
“The IRC’s New Roots program is focused on connecting refugees with the land so they can grow their own fresh produce for themselves and for their families, connect with their local communities, and, in some cases, sell their produce at local farmers markets and to local businesses. To date, the IRC has been instrumental in connecting refugees with gardens or farms in eight of the cities where we assist refugees and we would like to see New Roots expand across our network (we resettle refugees in 22 cities across the country).”
They have a fundraising goal of $45,000, and they’re getting closer to it each day. One of the eight cities with an active New Roots program is Dallas where a pre-existing community garden that had fallen into disuse was restored two years ago. Currently, a group of women from Bhutan who had former gardening knowledge are growing enough produce to provide for family meals and to sell at White Rock Local Market. Jim Stokes, the Employment Supervisor in the Dallas office, explained: “It’s a nice way to empower these ladies who have skills.” Some of the most popular vegetables being grown are long beans, Malabar spinach, and pumpkin or squash vine tips. I didn’t even know squash vines could be eaten, but I was sent a recipe for vines that are cut into one-inch lengths and sauteed with mushrooms, bell pepper, tomato slices, and lots of spices including Szechuan pepper. I can't wait to try this as soon as I can get some vine tips. Edible Dallas/Fort Worth recently included a story about this New Roots garden, and a type of squash that goes by many names. The ladies from Bhutan call it iskus, but it’s also known as chayote or mirliton. I remembered a cooking class I attended where I learned a recipe for stuffed mirliton that I had never made at home. It was time to try cooking this squash.
Mirlitons are pear-shaped with a squeezed-in end that looks like it’s smiling at you. They look like they would have the texture of a zucchini, but the flesh is actually firmer and requires a little more cooking time. Hollowing them out, mixing the chopped and cooked flesh with seafood, and stuffing the shells is a common use of this squash in Louisiana. Ham is usually involved, but I, of course, skipped it. My version of the stuffing is a mix of chopped shrimp, crab meat, diced sweet peppers, onion, garlic, parsley, oregano, thyme, panko, and egg. The stuffing in the squash shells is topped with breadcrumbs tossed with parmesan, parsley, and oregano before being baked.
If you happen to be in the Dallas area, stop by White Rock Local Market for the fresh, locally-grown vegetables you expect to find and maybe a type of squash or two you haven’t seen before. And, learn more about the IRC and the New Roots program online.
Adapted from a recipe by Sara Roahen for Central Market Cooking School.
1 cup panko breadcrumbs
1 teaspoon fresh oregano
1/4 cup finely grated parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons plus 1/4 cup parsley, finely chopped
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1 cup onion, finely chopped
1/4 cup sweet pepper, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1 fresh bay leaf
3/4 pound shrimp, peeled, deveined, and diced
1 egg, beaten
1/4 pound crabmeat
salt, pepper, and hot sauce to taste
Place whole mirlitons in a large pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil, and cook for 20-30 minutes until tender when poked with a knife. Drain, and let mirlitons cool. Cut each mirliton in half lengthwise, remove the pits, and carefully scoop out the squash flesh leaving some attached to the skin for sturdiness. Dice the squash flesh, and place the mirliton shells in a baking dish.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Mix together the panko breadcrumbs, oregano, parmesan, cayenne to taste, and two tablespoons of the parsley, and set aside.
In a large saute pan over medium heat, melt the butter with one tablespoon of olive oil. Add onion and sweet peppers, and cook for a few minutes until softened. Add garlic, thyme, bay leaf, remaining parsley, and diced mirliton. Cook over medium-low heat, white stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are all completely tender, about 15 minutes. Add shrimp and cook until opaque which should only take a minute or two. Then, add the beaten egg, about three-fourths of the breadcrumb mixture, and salt, pepper, and hot sauce to taste. Stir to combine, and then gently fold in the crabmeat so as to keep the lump meat intact.
Divide the stuffing among the mirliton shells, mounding it up, and sprinkle the remaining breadcrumb mixture on top. Drizzle the mounds with olive oil, and bake for about 30 minutes or until the topping is golden brown. If you’re not happy with the color of the breadcrumb topping after 30 minutes, you can always place the stuffed mirlitons under the broiler for a few minutes for more browning.