It’s officially winter, so it makes sense to drink winter melon soup.
Winter melon, known as “dong gua” in Cantonese, is actually a fruit (similar to watermelon) but eaten as a vegetable like squash. Originating from Southern China, it’s popular in a lot of Southeast Asian cuisine like Vietnamese and Filipino. Of course, my Mom made it as a soup growing up and its texture and flavor are an acquired taste.
That’s because it comes as a huge gourd (thus the comparison to watermelon) with a fuzzy exterior. The fuzz lessons as it gets older and bigger, and the inside is the white flesh that’s cooked until it’s almost translucent and the texture is like mushy melon. Grown in warm weather, the dong gua has a long shelf life, which is why it’s one of the few vegetables around in the winter season.
I started seeing them at the Chinese grocery stores, and luckily you can buy them cut up in quarters. (Restaurants often cook the entire melon and at fancy banquets the soup will come out inside the center of the gourd with the shell decorated with beautiful carvings.) The soup with a chicken broth base is often drunk as a way to cleanse the system because of the almost bland flavor.
The soup itself is simple to make, and you can put whatever you want to add flavor (often ham or bacon), and it’s one of those soup that will warm your bones (I guess I should have shipped some to my friends in New York). Enjoy!
Dong Gua or Winter Melon Soup
Makes four to five servings
Quarter winter melon (about 1.5-2 lbs.)
4-6 cups chicken broth (I used home-made turkey broth from Thanksgiving; the amount really depends on how much soup you want)
4-5 dried shiitake mushrooms, rehydrated and chopped into small bits
1 Chinese sausage or lap cheong, minced (or 1/4 cup diced bits of ham)
1/4 cup dried shrimp*, minced
salt for seasoning
Prep the mushrooms by boiling them in a small pot with a tablespoon of soy sauce until the mushrooms are rehydrated and plump (about 15 minutes). Cool in cold water and then remove from pot, squeezing out excess water. Chop into small bits and set aside.
Prepare the winter melon by scraping out all the seed and white membrane from the center, leaving only the hard white flesh. Use a knife to carve away the green skin. Then cut the melon flesh into roughly 1-inch cubes.
Bring the broth to a boil in a soup pot, and then add the melon cubes. Reduce to a simmer and let cook until the melon becomes translucent, about 30 to 45 minutes (the time really depends on how big your chunks of melon cubes are). Add the minced Chinese sausage, mushrooms and dried shrimp bits about half-way through. When the melon cubes looks translucent, remove from heat and season with salt per your taste. Serve warm.
*Dried shrimp is often found in the Chinese dried good stores that sells dried shiitake mushrooms and herbs. Or they can be found sold in packets in the refrigerated section of large Asian grocery stores.
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