Beyond Baths: How to Cook Loofah

Todd Coleman

While dining at the Golden Wok in Red Hook, New York (see Mystery Vegetable), author Daniel Pinkwater stumbled upon a vegetable that, though common in Chinese cookery, is virtually unheard of in U.S. kitchens. Loofah, a long green gourd, turns fibrous as it grows; dried, mature loofah is familiar to Americans as a bath sponge. But young loofah is a tender, adaptable vegetable; with its porous texture and cucumbery flavor, it takes well to preparations in which it can soak up sauces and the flavors of other ingredients. In China, loofah is steamed, boiled, or stir-fried with garlic, onions, or dried prawns, and it's used as a cooling ingredient in spicy dishes. Of the two key types of loofah, the ridged variety, called angled loofah, must be peeled to remove its sharp ridges before cooking; the more bulbous, smooth loofah, or sponge gourd, can simply be washed and sliced. Make sure to buy an ample quantity, as loofah shrinks as it cooks.