Eggplants Stuffed w/ShrimpRecently, The Strand’s Brooklyn warehouse closed, so the library-sized storeroom invited shoppers in to clear the shelves. Fill a bag with old books and pay $15 for the bag. So, in a whirlwind of giddiness, I paid for many pounds of old cookbooks. Great fun!

This explains why I will now dig into this oldie: Craig Claiborne’s Southern Cooking, published in 1987. Claiborne, remember, was born in Mississippi and was the food editor and restaurant critic at The New York Times from 1957 to 1986. He published more than 20 cookbooks and died in the year 2000.

First, I turned to a slightly decadent stuffed-gourd recipe: the “Mirlitons Stuffed with Shrimp” (recipe below), knowing that instead of using the Louisiana mirliton (chayote) squash, I’d use eggplants.

Mirlitons Stuffed with Shrimp
Craig Claiborne’s Southern Cooking
Makes 6 servings

3 mirlitons (chayotes) (3/4 to 1 lb. each)
salt to taste
3/4 lb. raw shrimp in the shell
4 Tbsp. butter
1 cup finely chopped onion
1 tsp. finely minced garlic
2 Tbsp. flour
1 cup milk
1/4 cup finely chopped scallions
1 egg yolk
freshly ground pepper to taste
1/2 cup fine fresh breadcrumbs
1/4 cup finely chopped parsley
1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese

Split the mirlitons in half lengthwise. Put in a kettle of cold water and add salt to taste. Bring to the boil and simmer about 10 minutes. Do not overcook or the mirlitons will become mushy. Drain and run briefly under cold water. Drain again.

Using a spoon or melon-ball cutter, scoop out the flesh and seeds of each half, leaving a shell about 1/8-inch thick or slightly thicker. Set the shells aside. Chop flesh and seeds fine. There should be about 1 cup. Set aside.

Peel and devein the shrimp and coarsely chop. There should be about 1 1/4 cups. Set aside.

When ready to cook, preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Heat 2 Tbsp. butter in a saucepan and add the onion and garlic. Cook, stirring, until wilted. Sprinkle with flour and stir to distribute evenly. Add the milk, stirring rapidly with a wire whisk.

When the sauce is thickened and smooth, add the chopped pulp. Bring to the boil, stirring, and add the scallions.

Remove from the heat and stir in the egg yolk. Let stand to room temperature. Stir in the shrimp, salt, pepper, 1/4 cup breadcrumbs, and parsley.

Stuff the mirliton halves with the mixture, piling it up and smoothing it over.

Blend the remaining 1/4 cup breadcrumbs and the cheese. Sprinkle over the stuffing, patting to help it adhere. Dot with remaining 2 Tbsp. butter.

Arrange stuffed halves in a lightly buttered baking dish and place in the oven. Bake 20 minutes.

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Instead of boiling mirlitons, I halved three eggplants and microwaved them for 8 minutes, so I could then scoop out and chop up the softened pulp. Easy. The sauce unapologetically thickened with butter and milk and an egg yolk. Scallions contributed to the appealing flavor, as did the breadcrumbs and cheddar cheese atop the assembled eggplant shells. “Dotting with butter” was the triumph of the final loveliness. Shrimp and eggplant became a delicious pair.

Okra w/Tomato SauceMust I shout out the virtues of fresh okra? I keep buying beautiful specimens at my food coop. We three enjoy it. And I like how okra doesn’t need a recipe, really.

Claiborne includes the simplest recipe for “Okra with Tomato Sauce” (recipe below) in this cookbook. If you’re not eating this fantastic green yet, you should.

Notice how straightforward this is. The okra cooks perfectly, boiled in a half cup of water for 7 minutes, then with the diced tomatoes for another 10 minutes. Too easy. The diced tomato sauce would have been fine for me, but Claiborne makes sure to add a half stick of butter. Thanks, Craig!

Okra in Tomato Sauce
Craig Claiborne’s Southern Cooking
Makes 4 to 6 servings

2 lbs fresh baby okra
4 cups canned tomatoes
4 Tbsp. butter
salt, pepper

Wash the okra in cold water. Drain well.

Put the okra into a pan and add about 1/2 cup cold water. Cover and cook for about 5-7 minutes, or until the okra is tender.

Meanwhile, blend the tomatoes thoroughly in a blender.

Drain okra and add tomatoes, butter, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, partly cover, and cook until the okra is tender and the sauce has thickened, about 10 minutes.

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Southern Biscuit MuffinsLastly, I couldn’t resist the “Southern Biscuit Muffins,” which Claiborne unashamedly bakes in muffin tins. There’s no lard here. Lard scares me away from traditional biscuit recipes. These biscuit muffins indulge in butter and buttermilk.

The 3 Tbsp. of sugar made these biscuit muffins sweet, I thought, rather than bready. My crowd loved them.

These biscuits bake longer than your typical muffin, but oh the rewards…

Eggplants (2.56 lbs.) = $5.43
Shrimp (12 oz.) = $14.28
Okra (2 lbs.) = $5.56
Canned Diced Tomatoes (4 cups) = $3.77

PREP TIMES: microwave the eggplants for 8 minutes, cook and cool the sauce and the shrimp over a stretch of time, bake the masterpieces for 20 minutes; eat okra after less than 30 minutes of prep and cooking; biscuits need an hour of attention/cooking
shrimp and eggplant play well with buttery scallions and breadcrumbs, okra always sings a great song, and biscuits become a sweet buttery treat

Well this was fun! I’ll keep this cookbook handy and work with it again soon. But, next week, I want to cook the “Spring Ham Steaks with Sweet Pea-Leek Pan Sauce” from the April 2014 issue of Food & Wine, along with the “Asparagus-Mushroom Mini Lasagnas” from the March/April 2014 issue of Eating Well. Come back next week to celebrate this meal.