Gourd growers have always struck me as an interesting bunch. Many of us are familiar with the satisfaction of growing food, but to plant a seed with the intention of crafting a birdhouse, dipper, or sponge is uncharted territory for most. The luffa gourd that is most commonly known as a source of natural sponges is actually a dual-purpose plant – when picked young and succulent, the gourds are edible. And sure, I’ve read in the seed catalogs that people the world over eat luffas, and it’s a useful thing to know for trivia night, but have any of you ever actually tried one?
This year the student farm is growing a variety of Luffa aegyptiaca, and we plan to let the gourds fully develop into the sponge stage. I was fortunate enough to snag a few at the edible stage for my first-ever luffa eating experience.
The first thing I did was wash and peel the gourds. The skin on these can be kind of bitter. They sort of had an eggplant-like texture, and I decided to use my go-to curried okra/squash/eggplant/etc recipe. I cut up the luffas into ½-inch chunks, along with a yellow onion.
I use a steel wok and peanut oil for most of my stir-frying. As I waited for the oil to heat, I washed a handful of ¡hot! chile peppers, courtesy of Taylor Black – from his Transplanting Traditions CSA box. I didn’t know how hot they were, so I put extra! You may want to back off a little on this particular ingredient.
Commence the frying! The first ingredient was brown mustard seeds, dropped in the hot oil until they started to pop. Then onions and chiles went for a few minutes, followed by the luffas for another few. Then a healthy dose of my favorite spices.
All of that cooked together until the luffas softened up.
Once the cooking was done, I seasoned to taste with salt and lemon juice. Cilantro would have been a nice finishing touch, but I didn’t have any on hand.
Serve over rice. Voila!
The verdict: not bad, but not particularly exciting. The luffas don’t have much of a distinctive flavor, though maybe a bit earthy or nutty. The texture is airier than squash, drier than eggplant, and not slimy like okra. Overall, it was a pretty good dish, but that had more to do with the spices and the chiles than the luffa. (A note about the Scoville unit rating of this dish – whoa.)
For those of you who’d like to try cooking some yourselves, here’s my ingredients list (feel free to substitute the vegetable of your choice):
3 Tbsp peanut oil
½ tsp whole brown mustard seeds
1 medium yellow onion, small dice
5 or 6 young luffa gourds, peeled and chopped
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp ground coriander
salt, lemon juice, and cilantro to taste
-A. Jason Butler