Philacatessen | Luffa: It’s Not Just a Sponge


Ever on the lookout for new and exciting produce, I happened upon the luffa last week at the Asian produce stand at my local farmers market.

The merchant informed me that it was a type of edible gourd, and was very high in antioxidants. Further research informed me that the luffa is also high in folates and fiber, and is a good source of vitamin A, as well as thiamin, niacin, calcium, iron, zinc, potassium and manganese.

And, yes, further research revealed that this cucumber-esque vegetable that I brought home was a baby version of the bath sponge that was touted on the 1970s version of infomercials to remove cellulite. Once the gourd grows beyond a certain point, the flesh becomes spongy and fibrous and more or less inedible, but the young version is soft and mild, and behaves pretty much like a zucchini when cooked.

Because the plant originates in the East, most recipes for luffa were Asian — featuring ginger, coconut milk, sesame and other items in that flavor profile. I stayed in that lane, and created this simple sauté which was quite tasty with tenderloin and a salad.

Admittedly, most anything sautéed in ginger, garlic, and chili is delicious to me, but this vegetable absorbed the flavors well and had the benefit of being something totally new and different, yet oddly familiar.

Photos by Keri White

Luffa for Two

1 luffa, about 10 inches long, peeled and sliced

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 pinch salt

1 tablespoon minced ginger

1 teaspoon minced garlic

¼ teaspoon chile flakes (or to taste)

¼ cup vegetable stock, chicken stock, or water

  1. In a medium-sized skillet, heat the oil, salt, ginger, garlic and chile until sizzling and fragrant.
  2. Add luffa and stir to coat. Saute, stirring frequently for about 2 minutes.
  3. Add broth and cook, uncovered, for about 2 minutes until done.


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