I wonder how many people are aware that the loofahs they scrub themselves with are the fibrous skeleton of a really delicious vegetable, the sponge gourd that Parsis know as turia. And I wonder how many people who eat it as a vegetable know that it is the same plant they scrub themselves with. Turia is a Parsi favorite. Thanks to the panAsian markets all over the United States, sponge gourd is easy to find. The scientific name for turia is Luffa, and it comes in two guises: Luffa cylindrica, which is what loofahs are made from; and Luffa acutangula, the ridge gourd, sometimes called Chinese okra, though I don’t know why. Both can be cooked without peeling.
Every year brings something new to the Alemany farmers’ market where we go every single week. There’s always something to surprise or thrill. One of my big thrills came a few years ago when snake gourd, Trichosanthes cucumerina, made its appearance. In Bombay markets, snake gourds (parval) stretch on and on, sometimes curling in on themselves, and no vendor expects you to buy more than a foot or so, which will be obligingly cut off and weighed. Our local snake gourds come in well-behaved lengths, but they’re just as delicious.
The following recipe is a versatile one because it adapts itself well to either of these gourds, or to any other summer squash. You can serve it as it is, steam eggs on top of it to make turia par ida (see Eggs on Anything,), or add small shrimp to the mixture (see the variations).
© 2007 All rights reserved. Published by University of California Press.