Rediscovering Luffa Squash


Luffa squash lying elegantly on my dining table

Our taste buds are the most effective memory keepers of all.

Let me explain.

A few weeks ago, I was talking to my favorite Hmong farmer, Moua, about the assortment of Asian vegetables he grows and sells. He drew out an elongated green specimen which could have come straight out of a Star Trek episode. The curved gourd has a matt green skin with ridges running down the length of it. “It’s called sing gua,” explained Moua. “Stir fry with pork, garlic and lemongrass .”

Moua and Mary

Moua and his daughter Mary at the Pacific Grove Certified Farmers’ Market

I happily took one home with me to experiment.

Once in the comfort of my own kitchen, I looked up sing gua in Sara Deseran’s “Asian Vegetables.” This odd vegetable is also called luffa squash, Chinese okra and sponge gourd (for good reason!).


If anyone tells you you don’t have to peel the skin, don’t believe them.

To peel the luffa squash, I trimmed the ends and cut it in half. Standing the flat sides of each half on the cutting board, I peeled the bitter skin completely to reveal the pale green flesh. I then cut it crosswise into 1-inch coins.


Peeled and sliced luffa, kinda looks like honeydew melon!

While a luffa has seeds, they are edible and don’t need to be removed. And like a sponge, it will soak up whatever flavors you pair it with.

Anyway I stir fried the luffa as instructed by Moua and sat down to eat. I popped a spoonful of luffa with rice into my mouth and started chewing. As I chomped down on its supple texture, savoring its sweet flavor paired with fish sauce and lemongrass, visions of a childhood dish comprising slices of a soft green vegetable, carrots and cellophane noodles played themselves out in front of my eyes in a wave of nostalgia.

OMG, I know this vegetable!

A quick phone call to my mum revealed this vegetable to be oyong in Indonesian and she furnished me with a recipe.

Funny enough, this childhood dish has been on my radar for the last couple of weeks since I’ve been compiling a list of my favorite recipes for a new book proposal.

The world works in mysterious ways. The stars align. Serendipitous things happen.

Stir-fried Luffa Squash with Pork and Carrots

stir-fried luffa

Luffa is delicious in stir-fries, soaking up the flavors of whatever seasoning or meat/ seafood (it tastes great with squid and shrimp) you pair it with. Try it in curries or soups as well.Some people like it raw too! Ever adventurous, I picked up some burgundy carrots at the farmers’ market which stained the cellophane noodles a purplish hue. Heh.


A burgundy carrot is beautiful to behold but watch out–the color bleeds!

Time: 20 minutes
Makes: 2 servings over rice as a main course

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
I clove garlic, chopped
1 Asian shallot, sliced
4 ounces pork shoulder or loin, sliced into bite-sized pieces (or chopped raw shrimp)
1 medium carrot, peeled and sliced thinly on the diagonal
2 ounces cellophane noodles, soaked in warm water and drained
1 small luffa squash (8 ounces)
Water or stock
2 teaspoons fish sauce
Salt and white pepper

In a large wok or skillet, heat the oil over medium heat until runny and ripply. Stir in the garlic and shallot and fry until fragrant, about 30 to 45 seconds.

Add the carrot and toss for 1 to 2 minutes. Add the pork and toss until the meat loses its blush, 1 to 1 1/2 minutes. Add the luffa and mix well. Add the cellophane noodles followed by 2/3 cup water. Add fish sauce, salt and pepper to taste and mix well.

Cover and reduce the heat to medium-low. The dish is done when the cellophane noodles are completely transparent, the carrots are soft, and the liquid has reduced to about 1/4 cup, 2 to 3 minutes. The dish should be rather soupy but use your discretion and reduce the liquid further or add more water.

Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary. Serve with steamed jasmine rice.


28 thoughts on “Rediscovering Luffa Squash

  1. Oh, yes, I’ve seen it labeled singhua, or singua, or singha in Asian (predominately Vietnamese) markets. But it is unmistakable. No matter what the market calls it, in its natural state the appearance is quite distinctive. It DOES absorb flavors readily and has a delicious, slightly sweet undertone. Great with seafood in general, but makes a fine curry by itself. I LOVE this stuff. Just one more note – It does not keep well, so prepare it within one or two days after purchasing it. Thanks for the recipe; I just found this site and I’m enjoying it!

    1. Hi Loren, thanks for sharing your knowledge about luffa squash. I’ve been eating it since I was a child but only recently knew it’s name. I dont’ see it very often, and only at Asian markets like you mention. When I lived in Monterey, there was a Hmong farmer who sold luffa squash and many other unusual Asian veggies–I miss him! Thanks for dropping by!

  2. Sound fabulous. I will definitely try this recipe. For those wondering, the IS the plant that the Loofah sponge comes from. When the fruits mature and dry out, the plant is washed and all that is left behind the the thick cellulose that makes up the loofah scrubber as we know it here in the west. In parts of India, it is called turai, I am told in South India it’s called peerkangai, other areas know it as ridge gourd, Chinese okra, etc.. It has many names all over southeast Asia, apparently. In the US it has been unknown as a food item until quite recently, even now can usually only be found in Asian or Indian supermarkets.

  3. The ridged ones are thinner and while they can be used as sponges, or scrubbers, the larger smooth-skinned species is more likely the one you will see in the bath. You need really mature – beyond-edible ones to make the sponges. You let them dry first, or simply let them rot (it’s called retting in the fiber world) and then wash off the rotted flesh and such. Then another drying in the sun makes them fresh and bleached a bit. It’s sort of a smelly process! Young edible ones are much easier to deal with. I don’t peel, unless the skin is tough – it never seems bitter – but the ridges can be really tough some times (the ridged ones that is). The smooth-skinned ones can be tough if let to grow larger than ideal – then you often have to de-seed them as well.

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  6. We grow a smooth skinned luffa that is picked when they’re approx 30cm long, chopped up and added to stir-fry every day – haven’t noticed any bitter taste in the skin. The ones that ‘get away’ and grow much larger we dry and use as body scrubbers. They’re prolific bearers. Well worth growing for the vine too – beautiful dark green leaves with bright yellow flowers – I enjoy looking at it from my kitchen window. We have what I suspect is a bumble bee that does the flowers over every day so no need to hand pollinate. Normal bees are scarce around here at times despite the fact that I grow a lot of flowers to attract them.

  7. In Mandarin, it’s cai gua 菜瓜 or vegetable gourd, but yes, all the same as loofah. My Dad grows it in his garden every summer. We save half to dry and use as loofah sponges to wash dishes and people. The other half gets stir-fried, deep fried, or submerged in soup.

  8. In India, this vegetable is called tori. It is cooked with fish. If slow cooked, it releases lot of water

  9. Actually, this IS the same plant as the loofa sponge! When the squash is mature it dries out and the internal fibers become hardened cellulose. You can find seeds online.

  10. You have just inspired me to buy some luffa the next time I stop at the farmers’ market. I confess I usually bypass it for the bok choy, Chinese broccoli, or long beans instead. But you have made me a believer. 😉

  11. It is called “see-gua” in Cantonese! I love this vegetable, but my mom never peeled it. She always used it in soup though, so perhaps the long cook in liquid tenderized the skin a lot more than if she stir-fried it. I will have to try stir-frying this vegetable–I’ve only had it in soup!

    1. Lori, I love going to the farmers market because I learn so much and discover all these amazing veggies and fruit! Plus, I’m supporting small family farmers too :). I highly recommend it in addition to surfing blogland.

  12. Marvin, I believe the loofah sponge is a sea creature of some sort 🙂

    Justine, do try it out and see how you like it.

    Tuty, thanks for the recipe suggestion. It sounds yummy!

  13. I believe this is called oyong in Indonesian. My mum’s fave squash. She made a simple soup with misua, garlic, and scrambled eggs. Humble yet delicious.

  14. This isn’t the same thing as loofah is it? The thing that dries out and then turns into a loofah sponge? If so, then it looks so different from its dried state. Whatever it is, I can imagine it soaking up all the goodness from your stir fry.

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