Sunday, November 16, 2014

Chinese Winter Melon Soup

I remember fondly the myriad of Chinese soups my mom would make when I was growing up to accompany dinner. "Yum tong" (drink soup) was her favourite saying. All the family members would get half a bowl of soup in our empty rice bowls to drink before commencing the meal and a full bowl after we were done. Depending on the type of soup, it could be the highlight of a four or five course meal. The main star of this soup is winter melon, which imparts a soothingly mild flavour and the melon pieces could be served at the table as they are tasty to eat too. It is very versatile to use and you can pretty much add your favourite combination of ingredients. You can use chicken bones to create a cleaner broth, or my typical combo of chicken and pork in soups. Today, I only have pork on hand and I also plan to add dried shrimps and scallops for more "seen teem" (seafood sweet) savoury flavours. The Chinese believe that these kind of slow-fire soups are not just soups but more like tonics.  This is attributed to the concept of balance in one's body, that winter melon soup brings down heat in one's body and so is especially suitable in the hot weather. Although for me, this is an all-weather comfort and nourishing food. It is known to cool the internal heat, lowers blood pressure, promote yin and also helps to lose weight. Incredibly easy to put together, you just need to cook the soup base and add the winter melon during the last 30 minutes. 

Chinese Winter Melon Soup
Makes 8 to 10 servings (perfect for the same night and leftovers for the next)

1 lb. pork shank, or pork bones

1 to 2 slices ginger
4-6 dried shiitake mushrooms, rinsed and hydrated
1/4 cup dried shrimp, soaked in water (
found in the Chinese dried good stores or refrigerated section in Asian supermarkets).
4-6 dried scallops, rinsed and soaked in water
2 lbs. winter melon
salt for seasoning

Bring two-and-a half quarts of water to a boil in a large soup pot, add the ginger and pork. Then add the mushrooms and seafood, and let simmer for one-and-a-half hours.

Meanwhile, prepare the winter melon by scraping out all the seeds and white membrane from the centre, leaving only the hard white flesh. Use a knife to carve away the green skin. Then cut the melon flesh into 1-inch cubes. Add the melon to the soup. Reduce to a simmer and let cook until the melon becomes translucent, about 30 minutes. Remove from heat and season with salt to taste. Serve warm.

For another tonic soup, try my Black Chicken Tonic Soup. According to TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine), you should never drink tonic soups when you are sick, as it could do more harm than good. The belief is that the deep nourishing effects will nourish the malady in you furthering the weakness in your condition and prevent you from getting better. 

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