Canh Kho Qua (Bitter Melon Soup Recipe)

Canh Kho Qua (Bitter Melon Soup Recipe) Recipe

Khổ qua ("bitter melon" in English) is a truly unique vegetable. Its warty, pale-green color could scare even a veteran foodie away. However, it’s actually a very forgiving and versatile veggie! In Vietnamese cuisine, it's often served with pork or shrimp; I filled it with soybean stuffing instead to imitate the meat and served the bitter melons in canh (Vietnamese broth).

I love this dish because it's so flavorful and the texture of the soybeans is dense and very similar to meat. I also flavored the filling with fresh wood ear mushrooms for a more meaty texture. If you're trying this dish for the first time, I have to warn you that bitter melon, as its name indicates is, well, bitter. But really, you have to try it at least once. It's a love-it or hate-it kind of vegetable, but who knows, my might get struck by Cupid's arrow!

Ingredients

Yields: 8 servings

4 fresh bitter melons
2 lemons, freshly squeezed
10 cups soybeans
1 cup vegetarian ham, diced
1 teaspoon palm sugar, freshly grated
¼ cup fresh wood ear mushrooms
1 drop red food coloring (optional)
½ teaspoon red chili powder, to taste
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 daikon, peeled and halved
1 carrot, peeled and halved
2 Fuji Apples, quartered
1 (2-inch) chunk rock sugar (about 2 ounces), depending on the sweetness of the apples
1 teaspoon mushroom seasoning salt (or regular salt)
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon fresh cilantro
1 teaspoon light sesame oil (optional)


Directions

One day ahead:

Soaking the soybeans: In a bowl, wash the soybeans thoroughly. Pick out and discard any badly-shaped beans, then soak them for at least 4 hours, preferably overnight. Set aside.

The following day:

Prepping the bitter melons: Cut the bittermelons in half. Using a melon ball scoop, remove and discard the spongy center and the seeds. Soak the bitter melons in lemon water.

How to make vegetarian broth: In a large pot, combine the daikon, apples and 4 quarts of water. Bring to a roaring boil for about 30 minutes and cook until the broth is reduced by 1/3. Regularly skim the impurities rising to the surface of the broth using a fine mesh strainer. Add the rock sugar and mushroom seasoning salt. Lower the heat to a bubbly simmer. Cook for about  15 more minutes. Remove and discard the apples and daikon (if you like the taste keep it; otherwise discard it).

Prepping the soybean filling:

Drain the liquid. In a blender, combine the soaked soybeans, vegetarian ham and some salt and pepper. Drizzle with a little water for a smooth flow. Process until you have a smooth yet thick consistency. Transfer to a bowl, add 2 tablespoons lemon juice, sugar, red food coloring (if used) and red chili powder. Stir well until the color is uniform. Add the wood ear mushrooms. Season with salt and pepper.


Stuffing the bitter melons:

Grease disposable gloves with oil, then form soybean cylinder-shaped patties. Remove and discard the liquid from the bitter melons. Pat them dry and stuff them with the soybean mixture. Place them on a greased platter. The stuffed bitter melons shouldn't look perfect.

The broth may cool a bit. Let it come back to a  boil one last time. Cover for 5-8 minutes, then remove the pot from the stove.

Assembly time:

Place the stuffed bitter melons in the vegetable broth, bring the liquid to a boil and reduce the heat to medium-high. Cover and cook for about 30-40 minutes. Check doneness with a fork; the bitter melons should be soft and tender but still firm (not falling apart).

Garnish with cilantro. Serve with nước chấm (to add saltiness to the broth) on the side.

Serve immediately.

Bon appétit!


Tips

You can find all the ingredients listed in most Asian stores.

If you're a vegetarian, infusing apples provides a natural sweetness that resembles chicken broth. You can substitute 2 tablespoons of frozen apple juice concentrate for the fresh apples. When I make vegetable broth, I tend to use Fuji apples or Golden Delicious, which are some of the sweetest varieties.

The acidity from the lemon juice will split the soybeans and form the curds. This method will help form and get the patties firm. You could also use tamarind concentrate instead of lemon juice.

You can find wood ear mushrooms in Asian stores. They're grown locally in Half Moon Bay (CA) and they're sold in 6-ounce packages. They're flavorless but they give an interesting, chewy texture to the soybean filling. A dried version is also available.

If you have vegetable broth left over, place the broth in containers and store in the freezer. It will keep for up to 6 months.

Published By: Jacqueline Pham on January 31, 2012.


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