A Recipe for Luxurious Luffas

PIus, Some Tips for Growing Exfoliating and Edible Gourds

A Recipe for Luxurious Luffas

“Taste this,” Paew Piromya tells me in her father’s Bangkok restaurant as she passes a green vegetable dish with brown gravy across the table. “Guess what it is.”

The thick vegetarian gravy had balanced flavors of  ginger, garlic, cilantro, sugar, onions and serrano chilies.  The vegetable’s texture was a little silky, like cooked okra, and its flavor was slightly sweet but the delicious gravy  was definitely affecting (positively) the flavor. I couldn’t  pin point it. And for good reason, I had never eaten this vegetable, only exfoliated with it.

Back in the United States, Deanne Coon, owner of The Luffa Farm in Nipomo, California, has been growing luffa (or loofah) for more than 30 years. She has grown them in San Francisco bay area and Missouri. Fifteen years ago she decided to grow luffa due to demand and curiosity of the public in Nipomo, which is adjacent to the beautiful Pismo Beach area on the Central Coast of California.

“I opened for Agriculture Tourism tours and have welcomed thousands of visitors from all over the world,” Coon says. “We display and explain to them the store bought ones are grown in other countries and are required to be chemically treated, vacuumed packed and in some cases even fumigated just to be in the U.S.”

At her store, visitors compare store bought luffa to her home grown gourds. Many of them “ooh” and “ah” over the softness.

“Most all of our guest are just amazed to see them growing on their vines and being able to pick and peel their own luffa,” Coon adds. “We see their eyes light up when they start peeling the skin revealing our soft, all natural inviting luffa hiding on the inside.”

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In Nipomo she grows the luffa in stationary five-gallon buckets, within a greenhouse. Nipomo presented a few different growing problems. “We are on a mesa, which has a wind that blows lightly daily. To prevent the luffa flowers from being blown off we brought in the greenhouses,” she explains.

Spider mites and aphids can present a problem, which Coon controls using a soap solution, which she sprays on the entire plant.

Here in Florida, I have had no noticeable pest problems. When I grew the small Luffa cylindrica the vines started off slow and then anchored themselves not only on the trellises but also the surrounding trees. At the end of the season I had, happily, a couple dozen luffas hanging in the two story oak trees. Once they dried up, they would fall and were ready to be used as sponges. Luffa cylindrical common names include vegetable sponge and dishcloth gourd. They require 150 warm days to produce sponges or 65 days for edible fruits. If harvesting for eating, choose fruits that are one inch diameter or less. Mature fruits which are between 14 and 24 inches in length are used as sponges. Vines are reminiscent of gourds or cucumbers and have bright yellow flowers.

This year I have added Luffa acutangula to my garden. This luffa also known as Chinese vining okra, or ridge gourd, requires 76 days for edible fruits and 135 days for sponges. These fruits can reach lengths up to 30 inches.

For those growing luffa in the North, starting them in a hotbed or greenhouse is necessary. Vines can grow up to 30 feet long and require sturdy structures to climb on. For those who make homemade soap, this gourd seems like a natural progression to add to your garden. By slicing and adding sections of luffa into hand crated soaps you could sell a product that not only cleans but exfoliates. Luffas make great natural presents.

“I love what we do at The Luffa Farm,” Coon says emphatically. “We have full size buses come in bring-ing groups of 40 to 50 people in at a time to learn about this crazy plant called a luffa sponge.  Living so close to the ocean many guests are convinced we grow them in the ocean and harvest from the sea water!”

STIR-FRY LUFFA

1 medium to large luffa squash (1 1/2 to 2 feet long), peeled and sliced
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2-inch ginger, thinly sliced
1/2 cup shiitake mushrooms
1 medium carrot, peeled and sliced thinly on the diagonal
Rice vermicelli noodles, soaked in warm water and drained
2 teaspoons soy sauce
2/3 cup vegetable stock

In a large pan, heat the oil over medium heat until it shimmers. Add ginger and garlic and fry for up to a minute until fragrant, stirring constantly to avoid burning the garlic.

Add the carrots and cook for 1 to 2 minutes. Add the luffa and mushrooms and mix well. Add the vermicelli noodles followed by 2/3 cup vegetable stock. Add the soy sauce and pepper to taste.

Cover the pan and reduce the heat to medium-low for 2-4 minutes. The dish should be soupy but reduce the liquid further or add more water according to your personal preference. Once you’re satisfied, serve the stir-fry hot with steamed rice or in a bowl.

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