Patola – Angled Luffa, Loofah Gourd
Patola belongs to the cucurbit family like squash, pumpkin and cucumber. It is similar to the Chinese Okra which has a smoother skin while the “patola” is ridged and tapers to the end of the fruit. But they are both considered “luffa” gourd or loofah because when the fruit is dried and the seeds are taken out, they can be used for body washing or dishwashing like a sponge or dishcloth.
Anyways, the patola I remember is the ridged type. Before Western folks found out about this loofah gourd, we are actually have been using it to wash our dishes and also for exfoliating the skin together with a good pumice stone from the river when taking a bath or shower. Not only it is economical but it is also bio-degradable so you can always toss it in the compost pile when it is frayed then just get a freshly dried one. I remember my grandma using the loofah with ashes from the rice mill and it becomes a good cleansing agent like comet or ajax to clean pots and pans (because we use firewood for cooking, our pots and pans are full of soot and dust).
Patola are grown same way as other squash and gourd family. It needs a support of a trellis in order to have good straight fruit. Prepare the soil by amending it with lots of compost and sow about 5 seeds per hill. When the plants emerged, thin by selecting only the most vigorous one. It needs full sun so make sure you situate your trellis or “palapa” in the sunny spot of your garden. It grows in a vine and has green fuzzy leaves. It will have yellow flowers and when it start flowering, it is time to feed them with a fertilizer with a higher middle number like 10-15-10 to ensure good harvest, or if you grow organically, you may use bone meal or fish emulsion and lots of compost. The flowers are pollinated by bees so it is best if you have flowering plants too, like zinnias or marigolds to entice the bees to come to your garden. Fruits are ready to pick when they are about 1 1/2ft. long sometimes 2 ft. about 100 days from sowing to fruiting.
We use patola just like zucchini. We use zucchini as a substitute, if we cannot find patola
in the local market in California but it is readily available here in Hawaii so I really don’t have a problem about substituting. You can enjoy patola almost year-round.
The best recipe I know about patola is soup with the noodle we call “misua” which is equivalent to the Japanese somen noodles. Prepare some diced pork and shelled shrimp, saute’ in garlic and onions, put chicken broth about 2 cups, then put the noodles when boiling, and then add the patola at the last minute plus some green onions for garnish. It is a good soup meal for a rainy day or cold, winter days.
Patola or angled luffa is a good source of protein, calcium, iron and Vitamins A and C.