Walking in Chinatown today, it’s so nice to see luffa, also known as loofah, angled luffa, Chinese okra and silk squash, in nearly every produce stand. This time of the year they’re perfect. Young, with a smooth, velvety skin, you’ll find the squash are about 10 to 12-inches in length. Later in the season, I stop eating them because they’re so mature, the skin becomes tough, leathery and hard. In China, the overgrown squash can be 2-feet long, are left in the fields to dry and become the loofah sponge, used for bathing.
I took this photo at one of my favorite produce stands in Chinatown. To the right of the squash is a cut piece of taro root. You can steam luffa, use them in soups and braises, but my favorite way to cook them is to stir-fry. The flavor is reminiscent of zucchini but much more interesting.
2 young luffa, about 1 pound
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon Shao Hsing rice wine or dry sherry
1 teaspoon Asian sesame oil
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil
3 slices ginger
1. With a vegetable peeler, peel only the ridges on each luffa, leaving strips of green skin. If the skin appears to be tough, peel all the skin. Trim 1/4-inch from the ends of each luffa. Cut in half lengthwise. Cut each half into 1/4-inch thick slices on the diagonal.
2. In a small bowl combine the soy sauce, rice wine, sesame oil, pepper, sugar, and salt.
3. Heat a 14-inch flat-bottomed carbon steel wok on high heat until a bead of water vaporizes within 1 to 2 seconds of contact. Swirl in the oil, add the ginger and stir-fry 10 seconds or until fragrant. Add the luffa and stir-fry 30 seconds or until bright green. Restir the sauce ingredients and swirl into the wok and stir-fry 1 to 2 minutes or until the luffa is just tender crisp and still bright green. Serve immediately. Makes about 3 cups.