This winter melon soup recipe 冬瓜汤 is the adaptation of my mother’s recipe, which she cooked for our family when I was young.
I love the subtle flavor of winter melon and the aroma of dried shiitake mushrooms. This soup just hit the bullseye, and I missed it so much since I am no longer staying with her.
You have the option to cook it, beginning from preparing the soup base or use the store-bought chicken broth for simplicity. Either way, this refreshing and comforting soup will be a hit for you and your family.
Note: This soup invokes many of my childhood memory. Another simple Cantonese style soup I love is Cream Corn soup. It is like egg drop soup with added sweet corns. Another soup that became my favorite is the hot and sour soup after I am addicted to it after trying it in a Szechuan restaurant only after graduation.
1. Prepare the ingredients
Winter melon is available in different sizes. Some winter melons are gigantic and sold in precut portions in supermarkets.
The skin is not edible. Cut off the skin with a knife or vegetable peeler. Remove the pith and cut the winter melon into small cubes or one cm thick slices.
Winter melon does not have an overpowering taste, but it has a beautiful texture and absorbs any flavor like a sponge.
Goji berries and red dates
Goji berries red dates have a subtle flavor, which is matches ideally with winter melons and some other Chinese herbal soups.
Rinse the goji berries and dried red dates with water to remove any dirt and sand. Cut the red dates to half and remove the seed. It helps to release the flavor while boiling. The red dates should be added at the beginning of cooking to extract its flavor fully, while the goji berries can be added later due to its small size.
Dried shiitake mushrooms
Soak the dried shiitake mushrooms in water until it is fully hydrated. You can use hot water to speed things up.
Once the mushrooms are soft, remove the stem and cut the mushrooms into small dices.
Few winter melon soup recipes include dried shiitake mushrooms. However, this is how my mother prepared it when I was young, which is our family recipe.
Do not throw away the water after soaking the mushroom. It acts as a mushroom stock, which should be added to the soup to intensify the flavor. Pour only the top portion as it may have some sand and dirt which sink to the bottom.
Soak the dried shrimps in water until rehydrated. Discard the water and remove any shell that may still attach to the dried shrimps.
Toast the dried shrimps with a small pan until it smells fragrance. Now it is ready to add to the soup base.
Ginger is often used in Chinese soup to add some flavor, and two to three slices are enough. It plays a secondary role and shall not overpower the taste of other ingredients.
My mom does not use carrots, but I am in favor of adding a small quantity to make the soup more colorful. The taste of the carrot is also in agreement with other ingredients in the soup.
Pork (or chicken) meat
Our family recipe includes some small dices of pork, which are marinated with salt, light soy sauce, and cornstarch. My mother likes to add all the salt required for the soup to the pork. This idea is fantastic because the pork will still be well seasoned after boiling in the soup.
I am using chicken breast meat to substitute pork in this recipe. Chicken has a universal meat flavor, which is an excellent alternative to pork.
There are options apart from adding the minced meat. For example, you can form some meatballs with minced meat (use more cornflour and reduce the salt in the recipe) or adding some meaty pork ribs. These are all popular ways to make the winter melon soup. There aren’t any standard rules on how to prepare it.
What if I do not have all the ingredients?
My mother would cook with whatever ingredients she found in the kitchen. In the simplest form, the soup only required three components – winter melon, minced meat, and dried shiitake mushrooms, seasoned with salt and pepper.
Goji berries and red dates are the welcome addition, but you can go without them. Sometimes we just get lazy at home and prepare a simple meal with less complex flavor.
On the contrary, you can switch up the soup by adding dry scallops and use a more superior stock as the soup base and serve in carved winter melon. This treatment will turn it into an elegant dish fit for the Chinese banquet.
2. Make the soup base
a) Make from scratch
A superior soup base is the foundation of an excellent winter melon soup. You can boil the chicken bone, chicken feet, or chicken carcass to prepare the soup base. Another popular method is to include pork ribs into the recipe.
- Prepare a pot of boiling water. Then put the chicken or pork into the water.
- Let it boil for 3 to 5 minutes and then removed. The goal is to remove any blood and debris. This step is a crucial step to produce clean and clear soup.
- Clean it under running water or in a pot of cold water.
- Bring a separate pot of water to a boil. Lay the chicken bones or pork ribs in it over medium heat to extract the flavor.
- Skim off any scum floating on top from time to time.
- Boil for half to one hour. The actual time required depends on the size of the bone.
If you are using bones, pour the stock through a wire mesh strainer to remove the bone and debris, then add the remaining ingredients into the clean stock. If you are using meaty pork ribs, there’s no need to pass through the strainer. Add the remaining ingredients directly into the pot of pork ribs.
b) Use ready-made stock
Use the ready-made chicken stock if you want to save time. Read the instruction on the packaging before use. Some chicken stock is concentrated, and others may have added salt. Adjust the amount of seasoning required based on the information on the packaging.
3. Boil the soup to perfection
How long should you boil the winter melon?
I find that boiling the winter melon for about twenty minutes will yield the best texture. Therefore, I will cook other ingredients first before adding the winter melon
Here are the steps to boil the winter melon soup
- After preparing the soup base, add the red dates and the mushrooms. Let them boil for a few minutes, followed by the winter melon, dried shrimps, and goji berries.
- Test the doneness of the winter melon after fifteen minutes. The melon should have been thoroughly cooked through and become translucent, but not mushy.
- Once the winter melon has the right texture, add the pork or chicken dices into the soup and stir to loosen it. The meat will cook once the soup returns to boil.
- Season the soup with salt and ground white pepper., and serve. (Note: You may not need to add much salt if you marinate the meat with extra salt. Also, you can add a few peppercorns into the soup while boiling instead of using the ground pepper.)
For the stock
For marinating the meat
- 200g chicken, minced
- 1.5 tbsp wine (optional)
- 2 tbsp light soy sauce
- 2 tsp salt
- 1 tbsp cornstarch
Prepare the ingredients:
- Cut off the skin of the winter melon. Remove the pith and cut the winter melon into small cubes.
- Soak the goji berries and dried red dates with water. Cut the red dates to half and remove the seed.
- Soak the dried shiitake mushrooms in water until it is fully hydrated. Remove the stem and cut them into small dices.
- Keep the mushroom stock, added to the soup later.
- Soak the dried shrimps in water until rehydrated. Toast the dried shrimps with a small pan until it smells fragrance.
- Cut the carrot into small wedges.
- Marinate the chicken meat with salt, cornstarch, soy sauce, and wine.
Prepare the soup:
- Prepare 6 cups of soup base by using one liter of chick stock. Bring it to a boil. (Refer to the text if you want to prepare from scratch)
- Add red dates and the mushrooms, followed by the winter melon, dried shrimps, and goji berries.
- Test the doneness of the winter melon after fifteen minutes.
- Once the winter melon has the right texture, add the minced meat.
- Season the soup with salt and ground white pepper., and serve.
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Amount Per Serving: Calories: 243 Total Fat: 8g Saturated Fat: 3g Trans Fat: 0g Unsaturated Fat: 4g Cholesterol: 53mg Sodium: 3303mg Carbohydrates: 24g Net Carbohydrates: 0g Fiber: 3g Sugar: 12g Sugar Alcohols: 0g Protein: 18g