Yes, you read that right… loofah. I had no idea that when I began eating food from all around the world, I would end up running across loofah.
Turns out, in Botswana, as well as many, many other countries, Loofah is common eats. The more I read about it, the more I realize that Loofah is not so “exotic” as I originally thought.
Whoa, now. Before you run off to your bathroom to slice and dice and cook up your loofah, let me explain.
When I say loofah is common eats, I don’t mean the dry, hay colored, scratchy, back and callous scrubber… like the one you have next to your bathtub:
I don’t think any amount of steaming, boiling, frying, or beating could make those loofahs tender. They come from the old, crusty loofah plant, the one that’s toughened up with age.
What they actually eat is the tender, young loofah. When picked fresh, the green loofah plant is slightly softer than a cucumber and slightly crispier than a zucchini. When cooked, the flavor is mild and slightly sweet.
This edible loofah is often called “angled luffa” or “ridged gourd” or “Chinese okra” or “tori” or “patola” (the names go on and on, depending on the country).
A few facts about Loofah:
– Loofah is thought to originate in India.
– Loofah eating is common throughout Asia and parts of Africa
– Loofah is in the cucurbit family (along with cucumbers) and is a type of gourd
Purchasing and storing Loofah:
– Check your local Asian or Indian Market.
– Look for small, heavy, evenly green produce (about 10 inches long is ideal)
– Check freshness by snapping the fin with your fingers. A crisp snap implies freshness, while a soft fin is older and better suited to your bathtub!
– Store in a cool, dry spot. Wrap in dry towels, in an airtight container for just a couple of days.
Make sure to clean the loofah before cooking. First, wash well and then peel off the tough outer ridges (you can peel off all the skin, if desired). Finally, cut on a bias for even cooking and presentation.
The loofah is versatile. Here are a few preparation ideas:
– Steam with or without stuffing (shrimp, vegetable, etc)
– Stir- fry with onion, tomato, ginger, garlic, chicken
– stew in coconut milk, or with fish or bamboo shoots
NOTE: Much of the information in this post was drawn from my uber awesome “nerd” book “The Essential Reference: Vegetables from Amaranth to Zucchini” by Elizabeth Schneider. Love this book!