Hailing from Southeast Asia, the winter melon (bi dao) is considered by many Vietnamese to be a “super food” chockful of nutrients and health benefits. It purportedly clears “heat” and is an anti-inflammatory agent. I’ve seen this melon turned into hot herbal tea, cold drinks, candy and various dishes. Its mild taste, similar to that of a zucchini, makes it a versatile vegetable with many culinary uses, but it’s probably most popular in the form of soup. The flesh is firm and juicy and becomes very tender when cooked. I like the smaller, immature ones of the oblong variety so that the seeds, which adds wonderful flavor, can be used in the soup as well.
My parents are visiting, so my sister, KC, asked me to make winter melon soup for lunch. This was my first time cooking for them, so I had to endure some teasing from my dad. I think he was pleasantly surprised when he took the first bite and realized that his daughter is not completely helpless in the kitchen. :)
- 1 winter melon, peeled & sliced into bite-size pieces
- 10 raw shrimps, shelled & deveined
- 4 shallots, chopped
- Vietnamese fish sauce to taste
- Freshly cracked white pepper to taste
- Extra virgin olive oil
- ½ tsp crushed dried red chili
- 2 Thai Bird’s Eye chili, left whole with slits
- Sea salt to taste
- Handful of culantro (ngo gai), finely shredded
- 2 scallions, finely sliced
Throw shrimp and some of the shallots into a mortar and crush into chunky pieces. Season with freshly cracked white pepper and fish sauce.
Place a soup pot over high heat and drizzle with a bit of olive oil. When oil is hot, throw in the remainder of the shallots and dried red chili. Toss until fragrant and put the shrimp in. Stir quickly and as soon as prawns turn pink, pour in the water. The amount of water will depend on the size of your melon and how watery you like the soup. Throw in the whole chilies. Bring water to a rolling boil and dump the sliced melon into the pot.
The melon is done when the flesh turns translucent. I take it off the burner as soon as the water returns to a rolling boil and allow it to finish cooking with the residual heat. Immediately adjust seasoning with more salt or fish sauce. Stir in culantro and scallion and serve steaming hot.