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Thursday, December 31, 2009

Chinese Winter Melon Soup Recipe

Dong gua tang (Chinese Winter Melon Soup) is a light yet satisfying soup for cold Winter nights.
Winter Melon Soup
Did you know that we can grow winter melon squash here in Malaysia?
I saw it growing at a friend’s house here in Kuching. She told me that actually, winter melon grows quite wild here. Her vine had started at one end of her fence, given her about 6 fruit and then looked like it was about to die. But then new green shoots continued to come out and now half her fence has dying brown leaves while the other half has new leaves with another 5-6 fruit hanging from vine. Astounding!

What the Heck is That?

One day we were in our backyard inspecting the pandan plant on one side of the yard and the curry tree arching over from our neighbor’s yard on the other side. Imagine my surprise when I spotted a vine creeping among the branches of the tree, and saw this melon hanging on it! It was about the size of a medium watermelon. (I didn’t yet know that it was a winter melon.)
Winter Melon on vine
I struck up a conversation with my neighbour one day and asked her about the vine and she confirmed that, yes indeed, it was a winter melon. Two days later, while I was coming out of my house, she ran up to me and handed me half a melon that she had recently harvested from that vine. Sweet! That half melon was perfect for making pot of winter melon soup.

No Soup for Me!

Now, believe it or not, I had never cooked winter melon soup before. See, I’m not really a soup person. Strange I know.
Maybe it has something to do with the fact that I sweat a lot when drinking hot soups in a hot country. When I left Malaysia and went to live in the US, I enjoyed drinking soups in Fall and Winter when the heat from that bowl of soup really helped to warm me up.
Well, now I’m back in Malaysia where it is HOT! Especially here in Kuching. But maybe age is catching up with me because I am beginning to enjoy soups a bit more. When my neighbour handed this winter melon to me, I was happy to make this soup. What’s more, after I made it, I actually drank two bowls, sweat dripping from my forehead and all! Maybe it’s knowing that this fruit was home-grown or maybe it was the taste of the winter melon soup itself. Whatever it was, it was truly satisfying and comforting.

Making Stock

Making the soup itself is pretty easy. You can make the broth for the soup using chicken bones but I chose pork bones as I had them handy at the time. If you use pork bones, do this one additional step to help you to get a nice, clear soup—bring bones to a vigorous boil, then dump out the water and rinse the bones a few times before refilling with clean water and bringing the bones to a boil again. This technique of first boiling the bones and dumping out the water helps to give you a stock that is not murky from all the scum rising from the pork bones.
Once I’d done that, I added the dried scallops, dates and ginger to the stock and let them simmer with the pork bones for about an hour. While that was happening, I sliced off the skin of the winter melon, then cut it into chunks.
slicing skin off winter melonwinter melon chunks
I already had some boiled peanuts handy so I decided to add that in. I also added some reconstituted shiitake mushrooms to enrich the stock (not too many otherwise it would overwhelm the delicate flavor of the winter melon).

Chinese Winter Melon Soup Recipe

1/3 lb (250g) pork spare ribs or neck bones, cut into chunks
10 cups water
1/2 a medium winter melon, cut into large chunks (about 4-5 cups worth)
1/4 cup dried scallops
10-12 dried red dates
1 inch ginger, sliced thickly
2-4 dried shiitake, reconstituted
1/2 cup boiled peanuts (optional)
salt and some chicken bouillon to taste
dash of white pepper

1. Put pork bones in a large pot and fill with water, enough to cover pork. Bring to a boil and let boil vigorously for 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat and dump water. Rinse out pork bones until not much remaining scum can be seen (a little bit will always remain, it’s ok, no need to be too perfectionist about it—after all we’re not Tampopo!).
2. Return pork bones to pot with 10 cups of water. Bring to boil and as soon as it come to a boil, lower heat to a simmer.
3. Add ginger slices, red dates, scallops, and shiitake mushrooms and simmer for an hour. Season with a little bit of salt.

Adding Scallops to the Soup Stock

adding scallops to winter melon soup
4. Add winter melon chunks. Simmer for another hour or until winter melon is tender and all the components have melded together.

pork bones and winter melon soup
5. Season with chicken bouillon (about 1/2 tsp) and salt to taste. I always like to season my soups at the end because that gives time for all the flavors to develop and that is when I know what is still lacking. If you season too early, you might find yourself tempted to add more seasoning than it needs as the ingredients might not have released all its wonderful flavors yet.
Finish the soup with a dash of white pepper. If you want, you can also add a little bit of sesame oil. Serve in individual soup bowls and enjoy with rice and other dishes.
Winter Melon Soup
I just winged the recipe using my own instincts. If this is not the way you make your winter melon soup, please feel free to share yours with me. But I liked how mine turned out—the soup was very tasty, yet delicate. I can’t quite describe it in English—clear and light seems to be the best way to describe it, I guess. The addition of scallops and dates combined with the winter melon gave the soup sweetness while the pork bones and mushrooms added savoriness. The sliced ginger added some depth and heat and gave this soup that warmth to contrast with the coolness of the winter melon.
Quite a simple soup but thoroughly satisfying. Find yourself some winter melon and make this Chinese soup for yourself. It’s a wonderful soup for those days when you just want something comforting without being too heavy. And for those of you facing very cold temps, this soup will deliver warmth and satisfaction to take away that chill from your bones.
Cheers, Annie


J said...

Heehee... I see you've reverted to the -our spelling of neighbour. =) As soon as I clear the kitchen, guess what I'm having the kids make for New Year's Eve? Almond cookies and dirt cookies! Happy New Year!

Sonia said...

Nice soup !! Happy New Year and see you in 2010 !!

Borneoboy said...

Happy New Year 2010 Nate. Annie & the Lil' Ones !

And the Hokkien cooks and bakes said...

Hi Annie,

Happy New Year!

we always have winter melon soup when my mum cooks claypot rice, using the chicken bones after she uses the flesh! You should try with chicken, I find the taste lighter. The main ingredients are winter melon, dates, dried scallop and chicken bones. That's all. Just simmer all after boiling and 2 hours later, you will have rich winter melon chicken soup. Yum!

Dodol & Mochi said...

Hmm ... Glad to have found your blog! Most people think that Cantonese, including me, love to drink soup. I'm not a huge fan of it due to our warm Malaysian weather! I increased my consumption of it during my days in northern Minnesota. (I was a student there back then. Now, you can imagine it should be worse than what it is in SoCal & Hawaii ...)

Keep it up! Happy New Year to both of you!

Cheers from KL,

Carolyn Jung said...

That is so cool to have your own hand-picked, home-grown winter melon. This brings back such wonderful memories for me of enjoying this soup at many a Chinese banquet meal at restaurants with my family. Happy holidays!

Beachlover said...

healthy ,comfort and cold soup for everyone!! Happy New Year to you and family!!

yours deliciously said...

Just yummy...

Anonymous said...

Hi Annie,

Wow, this is so cool to have winter melon growing in the backyards in Msia. I never knew they can grow there. I always thought the melons are imported from China. I love winter melon soup and I usually cook them with pork bones (somehow with chicken bones, the soup is less sweet), carrot, red dates, dried scallops, a slice of ginger and a handful of nam hung and pak hung (chinese almonds). Now your pic make me want to cook the soup tomorrow :)


Nate @ House of Annie said...

@all - thanks for your comments!

@J - that's the way Annie has always spelled it, even when we were living in the states.

@Sonia - thanks! Happy New Year to you too.

@Borneoboy - thanks, CW!

@Hokkien cooks and bakes - yes, we go back and forth between pork or chicken bones.

@Dodol & Mochi - thanks, and welcome to our blog!

@Carolyn - These ones aren't as huge as the ones we used to see in the restaurants, with the intricate pictures carved into the sides. But they're still just as tasty!

@Beachlover - same to you!

@Yours - thanks!

@Eliz - hi there! Yeah, it's great that we can get this melon, not 20 feet outside our back door. Truly local eating.

nerdygf said...

any recommendations for what could replace the scallops? this sounds delicious, but i'm allergic to bivalves. My stomach tends to not digest them. at all. it is unpleasant.

Rose Belle said...

Hi Annie. I have never seen wintermelon fresh off a tree. What a pleasant surprise looking at the picture. I think hot weather bears the best fruits and vegies. I live in the US and my city is mostly foggy and cold so I can't really grow anything in my garden. You have a wonderful recipe very similar to my mom own. She doesn't include peanuts in her version.