Winter Melon Soup: Comfort, Simple & Clear


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Among the many Cantonese-style soups of my Singaporean girlhood, the one I find myself craving once temperatures start heading south in fall is a simple one: Winter melon soup.

This broth, dotted with cubes of soft winter melon and bits of mushroom and pork, isn't an elaborate or fussy soup — it's what the Chinese call "cheng," or clear. The flavor is subtle; the experience is all about warmth and comfort.

So, when my Let's Lunch friends suggested doing a fall soup for November, I immediately started badgering my mother for her recipe

The recipe is simple, my mother says, insisting that I please remind my friends that she's "not a good cook" (even though she is) and that this is a very plain, "nothing special" soup that she makes at home for regular meals.

The first thing you'll need for this soup is winter melon, which you can find in Asian grocery stores or any Chinatown produce store.

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You can make large batches of this soup, versions that are made with pork bones and require hours of boiling, my mother notes. But when she's in a hurry, she forgoes pork bones, preferring to use minced pork instead.

"If you're using minced pork, then cut the cubes smaller," she says, showing me how she dices them into 1/2-inch cubes. You want the melon to be soft enough to chew and minced pork takes far less time to cook than pork bones do, she notes. "If you're using pork bones," she adds, "then you can cut the melon into bigger cubes."

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Next, you soak the Chinese mushroom in some water to soften it. Then you soak some dong cai, which is a salty preserved Chinese cabbage that lends umami to any soup, in some water. "You have to soak it because there's usually some sand in the dong cai," my mother warns.

Then you mix the pork and dong cai together, adding white pepper, vegetable oil and soy sauce to the mix and using that to form little meatballs.

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Then, as my mother always says, "You throw everything in the pot and boil, boil, boil!"

Because we're making a small portion that day, it isn't very long at all before we're sitting down to sip my mother's winter melon soup. The taste is subtle, as I remembered, and the juicy bites of soft winter melon are punctuated with mouthfuls of peppery and salty minced pork.

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For many years, my mother never bothered to teach me how to make this soup because it was so plain and so easy that she couldn't see me wanting to learn this boring recipe. Amid the procession of elaborate meals that I sometimes find myself having in New York, however, simple is a welcome change.

My mother was right on two counts — her winter melon soup certainly is plain and easy. But boring? Not a chance.

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If you'd like to join Let's Lunch, go to Twitter and post a message with the hashtag #Letslunch — or, post a comment below.

And don't forget to see other Let's Lunchers' fall soups below:

Cathy's Swiss Chard Mushroom Soup with Fregola at ShowFood Chef

Danielle's Carrot Soup & Chicharrons at Bon Vivant

Ellise's Potimarron ("Frenchy Pumpkin" Soup) at Cowgirl Chef

Emma's Roasted Tomato Soup at Dreaming of Pots And Pans

Linda's Oven-Baked Soup at Free Range Cookies

Mai Hoang's Apple Beer Cheese Soup at Cooking in The Fruit Bowl

Steff's Carrot Habanero Soup at The Kitchen Trials

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My Mom's Winter-Melon Soup

Serves 2

Ingredients

1/3 lb minced pork
1 Chinese mushroom, soaked in room-temperature water to soften
1 TB dong cai (salted, preserved dried cabbage)
1 inch-thick slice of winter melon
2.5 to 3 cups water
1/2 tsp vegetable oil
White pepper, soy sauce and salt to taste

Preparation:

Cut off skin of winter melon and slice into 1/2-inch cubes. Soak dong cai in a little water and rinse it out to remove impurities. Then, add dong cai to pork, mixing well. Add vegetable oil, some white pepper, a little bit of soy sauce and then form the mixture into rounded, one teaspoon-sized meatballs. Slice mushroom into bite-size pieces.

Bring water to boil in a small pot then add mushroom slices, cover and simmer for five minutes. Add meatballs to pot, stir slightly then add winter melon cubes. Add salt to taste (at least 1/4 teaspoon), cover and boil for 10 minutes. The soup is ready to serve at this point if the winter melon is soft enough to chew — but feel free to boil it longer if you want the flavors to intensify.

 

 


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12 thoughts on “Winter Melon Soup: Comfort, Simple & Clear

  1. Ooh, sounds interesting! I love the simplicity of Asian soups. Seullangtang and tteokguk have the same effect for me. Can’t wait to give this a try sometime, Cheryl!

  2. Love your mother’s directions: Throw everything together in a pot and boil, boil, boil!
    The soup looks elegant and comforting…wants some!

  3. Don’t you just love mother recipes – mine, too, gives directions like, “just throw it all in the pot.” This one sounds so incredible – and now I’m going to have to add winter melon on my list of ingredients to try. Or maybe I could call your mother and see if she’ll make me a batch? ;)

  4. Thanks, guys! My mom sometimes adds other ingredients like wolfberries (also known as goji berries) and dried red dates for added flavor. For the most flavor, you should really use pork bones instead of minced pork. This recipe is her quick version of the soup…

  5. Lovely to see this type of home recipe posted. My sister just bought fuzzy melon – and wanted to ask me how to make the soup, it’s just one of those things where I never do with measure out the amount. Trying to make an effort to document such recipes :)

  6. In addition to gobi berries and date – two slice of ginger, a handful of black eye peas, and fox nuts (see sat). It makes it more nutritious, but then you would have to let it sit longer on the stove.
    Thanks for sharing.

  7. I love this soup, it’s a staple of my childhood too! Never thought to use dong cai, in my trial and error version (didn’t get my grandmother’s recipe), I use cubed Chinese ham to add flavor. Gotta try your version this winter!

  8. Danielle…cubed Chinese ham…I’ve never tried making it with that. Will have to try that! Cathy — if you’ve never tried this soup before I’d recc doing it with pork bones. It’s much more flavorful that way. (My mom didn’t have enough time for the pork bone thing on the day that she taught me…)

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