One of the most awe-inspiring moments of my childhood occurred when my father brought home a winter melon so large, it rivaled my own height and weight! Commonly used in Chinese cuisine, these impressively sized gourds are mild, slightly sweet, and the perfect ingredient for a clean, restorative soup.
Generally harvested in fall or early winter, a whole winter melon (dong gua in Chinese) can be stored for months. Many Asian markets also sell them in more manageable slices. There are a few different varieties, so if you aren't familiar with winter melon, take a look at the Evergreen Seeds site, which has a helpful collection of pictures. You can also substitute fuzzy melon (mo gua or moqua), which is much smaller in size but similar in texture and flavor.
Winter melon soup is traditionally made with pork but my father would make a vegetarian version for me and it was one of my favorite dishes, whether eaten alone or alongside dinner. This recipe is my own spin on it and consists of a warm, gingery broth and melon simmered until soft and velvety. I especially enjoy winter melon soup this time of year, when I'm craving something clean after the excess of the holidays.
Winter Melon Soup
serves 2 to 4
4 cups water 2 scallions, cut into 1-inch pieces Handful of cilantro (leaves and stems) 1-inch piece of ginger, peeled and thinly sliced 1 clove garlic, smashed with the side of a knife 6 white peppercorns, plus ground white pepper for garnish 1 1/2 pounds winter melon (can substitute fuzzy melon) 1/3 cup dried sliced shiitake mushrooms 1 teaspoon soy sauce 1/4 teaspoon salt
Set aside 4 of the green scallion pieces and a few cilantro leaves for garnish. (The scallion pieces should be thinly sliced before serving.)
Fill a saucepan with 4 cups of water and the remaining scallions and cilantro plus the ginger, garlic, and 6 white peppercorns. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, partially covered, for 30 minutes.
While the broth is simmering, peel the melon, remove the seeds and pulp, and cut into 1/2-inch chunks.
When the broth is ready, remove and discard the solids. Add the melon, mushrooms, soy sauce, and salt to the broth and simmer, partially covered, until melon is translucent and tender, about 20-30 minutes.
Taste and add more salt, if desired.
To serve, garnish with thinly sliced scallions, cilantro leaves, and ground white pepper.