Also Known As:
Chinese okra, silk squash, sing qua (Cantonese), sponge gourd
As pleasant as most summer squash is for eating, it is usually a backdrop for the other flavors. But luffa squash is much spongier than most gourds, and when quickly stir-fried, it has a fantastic silky texture and subtle sweet taste that's lovely on its own. with its dark green, rather tough skin and thin, ridged, slightly curving body that grows up to a foot long, the luffa is impossible to miss in the market. A smooth variety is also eaten (and in its mature stage is dried to use as a scrub for the bath, hence the name), although I seldom see it in the markets.
Selecting and Storing:
Look for luffa squashes that are relatively small and are firm and unshriveled (make sure the growing end is not soft). Store in a loosely closed plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to a week.
How to Use:
Although some sources will tell you that the youngest luffas don't need to be peeled, I think they do. The skin is usually very bitter and should be removed completely, so that you're left only with the pale green flesh. There's no need to seed a luffa; in fact, luffas can be eaten raw. Literally a sponge, it will soak up whatever flavors with which you pair it. It's used in coconut curries and brothy soups and pairs nicely with shrimp and squid. The cooking time is remarkably short.
I can't tell you how much I love this simple, ten-minute dish. Like many Asian recipes, the meat—in this case, shrimp—is the flavoring, and the vegetable is the focal point. Luffa squash is seasoned simply to show off its supple texture and slightly' sweet flavor. When Kasma Loha-unchit, who gave me this recipe, cooks it, she cuts the luffa into chunks bigger than you'd expect would cook in time, but they cook quickly so the size works perfectly.
2 tablespoons canola oil
4 cloves garlic, chopped
10 shrimp, peeled, deveined, and finely chopped
4 luffa squashes, about 1-1/2 pounds total,
peeled and cut into 1-1/2-inch chunks on the diagonal
1 tablespoon fish sauce, or to taste
White pepper to taste
In a wok or large, deep skillet over medium-high heat, heat the oil. Add the garlic and stir-fry for 15 seconds until fragrant. Add the shrimp and stir-fry for 1 to 2 minutes, or until the shrimp begin to turn opaque. Add the squashes and stir-fry for a minute or so until the squashes begin to cook and turn just a little translucent. Add the fish sauce and pepper, stir well, and serve at once.
By Sara Deseran
Chronicle Books, June 2001
Color photographs throughout
Recipe reprinted by permission.
This page created September 2001
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