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Khổ Qua (kohl-wa) in English is called bitter melon, bitter gourd, or bitter squash. It has long been used in Vietnamese recipes, often in stir-fry, soup, or added to the diet as a supplement.
Bitter melon is definitely an acquired taste. The really bitter ones can startle your taste buds if you didn't grow up with it. When I was a kid, my family often prepared bitter melon in our meals and I hated it. It's acrid and sharp on the tongue and I refused to eat it. When I became an adult, I realized how much health benefits is packed into this bitter melon, so I decided to acquire the taste. After a few tries, I am now fond of its unique bitterness. Served in a light, hearty broth with steamed rice, it's quite delicious, refreshing, and addicting. Once you warm up to it's unique bitterness, it opens up your repertoire as you can be creative with the stuffing.
This stuffed bitter melon soup recipe below is cooked with the mixture of crab meat and fresh shrimps paste. Bitter melon tastes wonderfully when stuffed with ground pork, turkey, chicken, or shrimps, or both meat and shrimps. It's a great meal on its own as a nourishing soup or can be served as a side dish to compliment your dinner.
RECIPE: Stuffed Bitter Melon Soup
4 bitter melons
1/2 lb crab meat
1/2 lb shrimps, peeled, deveined, finely minced
1/4 cup dried shredded wood ear mushrooms, also called black fungus slivers OR
4-5 fresh shiitake mushroms, thinly sliced
1 bunch vermicelli bean noodle
2 green onions, white parts only, finely minced
home made or canned chicken broth
4-6 garlic cloves
cilantro, finely chopped, for garnish
green onion, finely chopped, for garnish
Shredded Wood Ear Mushrooms - I prefer to use this type of mushroom in this dish as it adds a crunchy texture to the filling. Soak mushrooms in a bowl of warm water until soft. Rinse and chop into small pieces.
Shiitake Mushrooms - most of the mushrooms shouldn’t be soaked in water and wash as they absorb lots of water. You just need to wipe well with cloth or paper towel. If you want to wash them, make sure to dry well or lightly squeeze each one to extract the excess water before cooking.
Cut mushroom into slices and chop into small pieces.
Preparing Vermicelli Bean Noodle
Soak the noodle in a bowl of warm water until soft. Remove noodle from the water bowl. Drain. Cut noodle into shorter strings.
Preparing Shrimps and Crab Meat Stuffing
In a mixing bowl, combine shrimp paste, crab meat, noodle, mushrooms, white parts of green onion, black pepper, salt, a bit of fish sauce, sugar, garlic powder. Mix well. A very quick way to taste test the seafood mixture is taking a teaspoonful of the mixture and set in on a plate and nuke it for 20 seconds. Let it cool a bit and then taste what you have so far. Adjust the seasonings to taste.
Preparing Bitter Melon
Cut the tips of both ends off from the bitter melon, then cut each bitter melon into about 2-inch segments. Use a teaspoon to scoop out the seeds and the spongy center, and discard.
Stuffing the Bitter Melon
Stuff each round of the bitter melon with the seafood stuffing. Pack the meat inside the core, filling it completely.
Cooking Bitter Melon
Place stuffed bitter melons into the pot, then add the homemade chicken broth, submerging stuffed bitter melons in the chicken broth. If used canned chicken broth, you can use half chicken broth and half water. Add garlic cloves, slightly crushed to improve the flavor of the broth. My homemade chicken broth was cooked with garlic cloves, seasoned with salt, and rock sugar, therefore, I don't need to add more garlic nor too much seasoning in this broth.
Bring the pot to a boil on high heat. Turn the heat down to reach a low boil, simmering for about 20 minutes until the stuffing and bitter melon fortify the broth and release flavor into the broth.
If you have any leftover stuffing, make it into small balls like meatballs and drop them into the broth pot. Season with a bit of fish sauce, salt, and maybe a bit of sugar to your taste.
Cook for another 5 minutes until bitter melons turn a little yellowy green and fork-tender. The broth flavor should be subtle and the bitter melon has a bitter edge.
Remove bitter melons and cut into an inch rounds. In a serving bowl, serve bitter melons with broth. Garnish with freshly chopped cilantro and green onion. Sprinkle on some ground pepper. Serve hot with steamed rice. Enjoy!
Eat well. Stay healthy.