There are two species of luffa (loofah) – angled luffa (luffa acutangula) and smooth skin luffa (luffa cylindrical). This article will focus on angled luffa. I will write about smooth skin luffa in another post.
Angled luffa or loofah also known as ridged skin luffa, silk squash, Chinese okra, sin qua and see gwa, is a member of the Cucurbitaceae family. There are many varieties with edible fruit ranging in length from 12″ – 36″ and has 10 ridges running the length of the fruit.
Growing – Luffa is a climbing vine, requiring strong support. Easy to grow but requires a long growing season (see NOTE 2 below).
I am a windowsill gardener living in zone 5 and need to start my seeds indoor around mid-March. If you have a greenhouse you could start your seeds later, if you live in areas with longer growing season you could direct sow same time as cucumber and melons.
Seeds are slow to germinate. I soak my seeds overnight before planting with the pointy end down.
Luffa is cold sensitive. Set transplants in garden when danger of frost is past and soil is thoroughly warm. Plant in full sun around a trellis or along a fence 15″ – 20″ apart. A heavy feeder and likes to be well watered, mulch to conserve moisture.
Harvesting – Harvest immature fruit when green and flexible. Length of fruit will depend on the variety, most are edible at 12″ – 18″. Seed packet should, hopefully, give the information. One year I grew a variety that was over 36″ long. Never able to locate that variety again.
Cooking – Use as you would summer squash in stir-fry, soup or stew, alone or combine with other vegetables.
Asians remove the ridges but leave the green skin, they like the contrast between the crunchy green skin and the soft white flesh. Non-Asians prefer to remove both the ridges and the green skin.
Below are two recipes, use them as a guide.
STIR-FRIED CHICKEN & ANGLED LUFFA
Adapted from “My Students’ Favorite Chinese Recipes, updated edition” by Norma Chang
1 pound thinly sliced chicken meat
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon kosher salt or to taste
1 teaspoon sugar, optional
1 tablespoon ginger wine (see Giner Wine page)
1 tablespoon soy sauce (regular or gluten free)
dash of ground white or black pepper or to taste
Combine all the above. Marinate 1/2 hour if time permits. Can be done the day before and kept refrigerated
1 – 2 angled luffa (1 – 1 1/2 pounds), remove ridges, peel (optional) cut into bite-sized wedges
1 small onion, red or white, cut into 6 or 8 lengthwise sections
1/2 – 1 yellow pepper, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 small carrot, thinly sliced
1 – 2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt or to taste
3 tablespoons oil or as needed
1/4 – 1/2 cup chicken broth
1/2 – 1 teaaspoon Asian sesame oil, optional
1 tablespoon cornstarch combined with 2 tablespoons water
1. Add 1 tablespoon oil to preheated wok or frying pan. Swirl to coat cooking surface. Add salt and vegetables. Stir-fry till vegetables are slightly under desired doneness. Remove to a clean platter.
2. Add 2 tablespoon oil to wok or frying pan. Add garlic. stir-fry 10 seconds. Add chicken, stir-fry until chicken is thoroughly cooked. Add vegetables, combine well, add broth for gravy. Bring to a boil. Stir in sesame oil. Thicken with cornstarch mixture. Adjust seasoning. Serves 4 – 6.
VARIATIONS: Substitute summer squash for the angled luffa.
LUFFA, TOFU & BEAN THREAD SOUP
1 – 3 ounces bean thread, soaked for 15 minutes to soften, cut into about 3″-4″ lengths (see NOTE 1)
1/2 pound tofu, cut into bite-sized cubes
1 luffa, remove ridges, peel (optional), cut into bite-sized wedges
sliced scallion or chives for garnish
1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil (optional)
4 – 6 cups chicken or vegetable broth
Bring broth to boil. Add bean thread, tofu, luffa and carrot. Bring to a boil, simmer 2 – 3 minutes. Stir in sesame oil, adjust taste, garnish with scallion, serve.
VARIATIONS: Add chili oil, chili sauce or fresh chili peppers to taste at the same time as sesame oil.
NOTE 1: Bean thread is also know as cellephone noodles and glass noodles. Forgot to soak bean thread? No problem, add dry bean thread to broth and cut into desired lengths when softened (a kitchen scissors work well). You may need to add a bit more broth as the unsoaked bean thread will absorb more liquid.
NOTE 2: Angled luffa requires a long growing season, about 100 days, however, there is now an early maturing hybrid that can be harvested in 45 days, may try it next year.
Copyright © 2011 by Norma Chang