We all have a magical tonic that seem to cure all ailment. One such super soup is the Bitter Melon Soup, said to heal cold, lower blood pressure and energize the body. Whether these claims are true or not is beyond the scope of this blog. What we can agree on is that it is delicious and a great soup to enjoy during a cold winter storm. Funny thing is my parents (Steve), coerced me into eating this soup growing up and I absolutely abhor it. Now, as an adult, I’ve come to appreciate bitter melon and this dish has become one of my favorite soup to make. Best of all, the ingredients to make this dish for two costs less than $10.00 as of this writing and the ingredients are readily available. Bitter melons are available year round at any Asian supermarket. If you do not have access to an Asian supermarket, order some bitter melon seeds and grow the melons yourself! They are quick growing and easy to cultivate.
Easy Chinese Bitter Melon Soup (Kǔguā tāng)
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- 1 large Chinese bitter melon (not Thai bitter melon)
- 4 cups low sodium chicken broth
- 1 shallot, finely chopped
- 1 white onion, quartered
- 1 lb ground pork
- ½ tsp kosher salt
- 1 tsp fish sauce
- 1 tsp brown sugar
- ¼ tsp coarsely ground black pepper
- ¼ cup bean thread noodle, soaked in warm water for 10 minutes
- ¼ cup Jew's ear fungus (aka wood ear or black fungus), soaked in warm water for 10 minutes. If you can, buy the fungus pre-shredded.
- Start by soaking the bean thread noodles and wood ear fungus in warm water for 10 minutes. Drain and allow to dry for 5 minutes. Cut the bean thread noodles into 1" strips. Dice the wood ear fungus. Set aside.
- Remove ends from the bitter melon and cut into 0.75" discs. A large 12" bitter melon will yield about 10 discs.
- Remove the seed and white pith from the center of the bitter melon discs. You can scoop it out with a metal spoon, but it is easier to just use a pairing knife and simply carve it out. Discard seeds and pith and set aside melon discs.
- Place ground pork in a non reactive bowl. A glass or Pyrex bowl works well for this step. Place the rest of the ingredients on top of the pork (fish sauce, brown sugar, black pepper, salt and chopped shallot). Add the diced bean thread noodle and wood ear fungus into the bowl and hand mix the ingredients together for 3 minutes. The combined ingredient should resemble a paste.
- Add quartered onion and 4 cups of low sodium chicken broth into a pot or a high-walled skillet and heat until boil. Lower heat to simmer.
- Stuff the bitter melon discs with the ground pork paste using a spoon, allowing extra meat mixture to rise beyond the surface of the bitter melon disc. If you end up with left over meat paste, form them into meat balls and cook them with the rest of the stuffed bitter melon discs.
- Carefully place the stuffed bitter melon discs into the simmering low sodium chicken broth, meat side up. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes. Dish is done when the meat has turned grayish white and bitter melon is tender and color changed from bright green to dark or olive green. Enjoy by itself or serve with Jasmine rice. A chilled glass of Pinot Grigio goes well with this dish as the crisp and citrus aroma of the wine cuts through the bitterness of the soup, balancing the overall flavor.