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'Treme' Cookbook Captures The Flavor Of A Show And A City

Microwave pralines are easier to make than stovetop pralines, and just as tasty.
Ed Anderson
Chronicle Books
Microwave pralines are easier to make than stovetop pralines, and just as tasty.
Lolis Eric Elie is a New Orleans native and a story editor of HBO's <em>Treme.</em>
Ed Anderson / Chronicle Books
Chronicle Books
Lolis Eric Elie is a New Orleans native and a story editor of HBO's Treme.

If you find yourself craving New Orleans food, you could go there and melt in the sweltering heat for a dose of gumbo or praline bacon. Or you could settle in on your couch, as I've been doing, and torture yourself watching reruns of the HBO series Treme. It's set in post-Katrina New Orleans and, along with the music, it puts the city's food on center stage.

Now, if you want to cook the food for yourself, there's Treme: Stories and Recipes From the Heart of New Orleans. It's written by Lolis Eric Elie, a writer and story editor on the show, who was born and raised in New Orleans.

The cookbook is divided into sections, each told in the voice of one of the characters — from Janette Desautel, the chef, to Antoine Batiste, the trombonist. Elie says he wanted them to have their own chapter so they wouldn't interrupt each other.

"These are the voices I hear when I walk down the street: 'Boy, you gotta soak your red beans the night before or otherwise they're going to take forever to cook. Or you need to put pickle meat in those beans — I don't know what all this vegetarian stuff is about,' " Elie says. "People talk about the fact that they're sitting in the supermarket line in New Orleans, and people say, 'How you gonna fix that? White beans and shrimp? What you gonna do with that?' I don't think that happens as much in other cities."

The show includes real life musicians and cooks. When we see Kermit Ruffins, he's often cooking over a barbecue.

Elie says he called Ruffins to get his butter bean recipe, but he realized Ruffins wasn't going to write it down for him. Instead, he interviewed the musician to get the details.

For more, listen to my conversation with Elie on Tuesday's All Things Considered. And while you wait for Treme to start up again in December, Elie says you can do one thing: eat.

Recipe: Stuffed Mirliton

(from Treme character Davina Lambreaux)

8 medium mirlitons (chayotes)

3/4 pound medium shrimp, peeled and deveined

1 teaspoon Basic Creole Seasoning Blend

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/2 cup unsalted butter, plus about 5 tablespoons

1 yellow onion, chopped

2 celery stalks with leaves, finely diced

1/4 large green bell pepper, seeded and chopped

1/4 cup minced fresh flat-leaf parsley

3 tablespoons finely chopped green onions, white and tender green parts

2 1/2 tablespoons finely chopped garlic

1/2 cup very fine dried bread crumbs, plus about 5 tablespoons

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1 large egg, lightly beaten

Put the mirlitons in a 3-gallon pot, or two large stockpots, and cover with water. Bring to a boil over high heat. Cover the pot(s) and continue boiling, just until the mirlitons are fork tender, 45 minutes to 1 hour. Remove from the heat and, using a slotted spoon, immediately transfer the mirlitons to a colander to drain and cool.

Once cool enough to handle, place the mirlitons on a cutting board or other flat surface. Cut them in half lengthwise. With a paring knife, shallowly trim away any spiny or blemished spots from the skin and tough pulp from the end nearest to the seed. Remove and discard the seed and use a small spoon to carefully remove the pulp from the inside of each half, leaving a 1/4- to 1/2-inch-thick shell. Drain the mirliton pulp in a colander, lightly squeezing it to release excess moisture, then chop the pulp. Set aside the pulp and shells.

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

To make the stuffing: Season the shrimp with the Creole seasoning and cayenne, mixing well. Set aside. In a heavy 5-quart saucepan or large Dutch oven over low heat, melt the 1/2 cup of butter. Add the onions and cook until they start to soften, about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in the celery, bell pepper, parsley, green onions and garlic, and cook and stir for 2 minutes. Add the reserved mirliton pulp and cook for 6 minutes. Put 1/2 cup of the bread crumbs into a small bowl.

Once the mirliton pulp mixture has cooked for 6 minutes, add 2 tablespoons of the reserved bread crumbs, mixing thoroughly, then continue adding 2 tablespoons at a time until you have added all of them, stirring thoroughly between additions.

Cook the mixture over low heat, until it is noticeably dryer but still moist, about 3 minutes, stirring as needed. Next, add the seasoned shrimp, salt, and pepper.

Continue cooking until the shrimp turn pink, about 1 minute more, stirring almost constantly. Remove from the heat and stir in the egg, blending well.

Mound the stuffing in the 16 mirliton shells, using it all. Place the stuffed shells in a baking pan, such as a 12-by-17-inch baking pan, that will hold the shells in a single layer touching each other lightly to help support their shapes as they cook. Sprinkle about 1 teaspoon more bread crumbs evenly over the top of each stuffed shell and center a scant 1 teaspoon butter on the top of each. Cover tightly with aluminum foil and bake in the hot oven for 10 minutes. Remove the foil and continue baking until the tops are browned, about 1 hour more. Serve at once.

Note: To make ahead, prepare through the point of stuffing up to 1 day in advance. Cover the stuffed mirlitons tightly and refrigerate. Bake as directed when ready to serve.

Makes 8 main-course servings or 16 appetizer servings.

Recipe: Microwave Pralines

(from Treme character LaDonna Batiste-Williams)

1 pound light brown sugar

1 cup heavy (whipping) cream plus 1 to 3 teaspoons cream or milk for thinning batter

2 tablespoons light corn syrup

2 cups pecan halves, cut in half again (in other words, not too big or small)

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into 4 pieces

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Line a heatproof surface like a countertop or 2 baking sheets with wax paper.

In an 8-cup microwave-safe glass measur­ing cup with a handle, combine the brown sugar, cream and corn syrup, mixing until all the sugar lumps are dissolved and the bat­ter is well blended.

Position the measuring cup in the micro­wave so you can see how the batter inside measures; the batter will be at or near the 2 1/2-cup mark. Microwave on high without covering or stirring, watching it continuously, until the mixture slowly bubbles up to slightly higher than the 8-cup mark and then deflates to near the 4 1/2-cup mark, 10 to 16 minutes (depending on how quickly your microwave cooks). Do not open the microwave during the cooking process and, if in doubt, cook for less time, not more.

(If you want to make praline sauce instead of pralines, let the batter cook as directed until it has expanded to slightly over the 8-cup mark and then has slowly deflated just to the 7-cup mark. Use warm or at room temperature. Refrigerate the leftovers, tightly covered, for up to 1 week.)

Carefully remove the very hot measuring cup from the microwave and, using a sturdy metal mixing spoon, gently stir in the pecans, butter and vanilla, being careful to not splash any of the hot mixture on your skin. Continue stirring until the mixture is noticeably less glossy, about 3 minutes.

Working quickly, and using two spoons, scoop rounded tablespoonfuls of the mixture onto the wax paper, about 1 inch apart and, using a second tablespoon to push the batter off the mixing spoon. If necessary, thin the batter with the remaining 1 to 3 teaspoons of cream as you reach the end of the batter and it thickens as it cools. Let the pralines cool to room temperature, about 20 minutes, then serve as soon as possible. Any leftovers can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 4 days.

Makes 24 to 34 two-inch pralines, or 3 cups of praline sauce.

From Lolis Eric Elie, Treme: Stories and Recipes From the Heart of New Orleans, Chronicle Books (2013). Excerpted with permission.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Melissa Block
As special correspondent and guest host of NPR's news programs, Melissa Block brings her signature combination of warmth and incisive reporting. Her work over the decades has earned her journalism's highest honors, and has made her one of NPR's most familiar and beloved voices.