Philacatessen | Bottle Gourd

Photo by Keri White

I was intrigued at a recent farmers market when a sign that read “bottled gourds $1/lb.” caught my eye.

Upon closer examination, I saw a stack of long, cucumber-shaped, light-green vegetables in front of said sign. I inquired of the farmer, who described the bottle gourds as “zucchini-like” and suggested that I peel them and treat them just as I would a summer squash.

I researched a bit before cooking this new vegetable, and learned that bottle gourds are also called calabashes, although they are unrelated to the tree of the same name. They are believed to be indigenous to southern Africa, and are now cultivated all over the world in tropical regions, where it can be grown year-round.  It is also grown in temperate climates during the summer months.

Young bottle gourds can be eaten with the skin on, but as they mature the skin becomes tougher so it is better to peel them. In addition to being used as a food source, bottle gourds have been allowed to grow larger, then are dried and used as everything from a container to a helmet to a musical instrument. They have also been used for decorative purposes.

Bottle gourds are low calorie, and deliver small quantities of folates, vitamin C and several B vitamins. They are high in fiber.

My experiment was limited to one bottle gourd, which I served with Mexican braised chicken. To complement this meal, I sautéed the sliced gourd as the farmer suggested, and added some garlic, cumin, cayenne pepper and lime juice.

I liked the results immensely. My husband was less enthusiastic. He liked the flavor and the preparation, but found the larger pieces “rubbery.” That is easily addressed by cutting the slices uniformly and thinly, which I will do in the future.

Because these have a mild, neutral flavor, you can season them with just about anything — garlic, onion, lemon juice, herbs, curry powder, or just salt and pepper.

Mexican Sauteed Bottle Gourds

Serves two to four

1 large bottle gourd, approximately 7 inches long

1 tablespoons oil

1 clove garlic, minced

Pinch salt

½ teaspoon ground cumin

Sprinkle of cayenne pepper

Juice of ½ lime

  1. Peel and slice the bottle gourd.
  2. In a skillet, heat the oil and sizzle the garlic, salt and spices.
  3. Add the sliced bottle gourd and sauté until cooked, turning regularly, about 6 minutes total.
  4. Spritz with lime juice and serve.


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