Angled luffa (also called sinqua) is easy to spot at most Asian produce markets: look for a round, long, and dark green squash with tapered ends and thin ridges running its length. Select specimens that bend slightly; if they're stiff, they're probably old. The Xiongs use a sharp kitchen knife to cut away the skin; you may use a vegetable peeler. Some Hmong cooks don't stir this dish while it cooks, but John Xiong swears that doing so releases more of the squash's mildly sweet flavor.
Yield: serves 4
- 2 large angled luffas (about 1 3⁄4 lbs.)
- 5 tbsp. peanut oil
- <sup>3</sup>⁄<sub>4</sub> lb. coarsely ground trimmed beef top round or sirloin
- 4 scallions, white and light green parts only, coarsely chopped
- 1 stalk lemongrass, ends trimmed (leaving a 5"–6" piece), lightly crushed
- 2 sprigs thai basil
- Using a vegetable peeler or a sharp paring knife, remove only the rough, ribbed green skin from each angled luffa to reveal its spongy white flesh. Cut each luffa into 1⁄4"-thick slices on the bias and set aside.
- Heat the oil in a wok over high heat. Add the beef and stir-fry, breaking up the meat into small pieces, until almost cooked through, about 1 minute. Add the scallions and salt to taste and stir to combine. Add the reserved luffa and toss well. Add 2⁄3 cup water and stir again to combine. Cover the wok and bring to a boil.
- Uncover the pot, add the lemongrass, and reduce heat to medium. Cook, stirring often and mashing the luffa against the side of the wok from time to time, until the luffa is very soft, 4–5 minutes. (The white inner core will have mostly melded into the sauce, leaving behind spongy, firmer pieces of flesh.)
- Add the basil sprigs and continue stirring until they are slightly wilted and fragrant, about 15 seconds more. Transfer the dish to a shallow bowl and serve with steamed rice and chile–scallion relish, if you like.
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