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Squash soup is spectacular when cooked in gourd itself

By Betty Shimabukuro

LAST UPDATED: 01:45 a.m. HST, Dec 20, 2013

First, measure your pot. Circumference and depth. Then go squash hunting. Don't forget your tape measure.

The project is Chinese winter melon soup, cooked in a whole melon. Stan T. wrote for a recipe when he found himself in possession of a giant melon, which is actually a squash and also called tongan.

I found many, with the ingredients in common being dried seafood and mushrooms. Otherwise, the variations were many. Really, you can make almost any kind of soup that goes with squash. The point is to get the technique right. What you're doing is double-steaming: The melon steams until soft, and the soup inside steams to doneness, rather than simmering. This makes for a more subtle merging of flavors.

The real reason to do this, though, is for the spectacle, the wow factor you get by serving soup out of a huge squash. In truth you'd get a better yield from the squash and more soup if you'd just cut it up.

But if this is a project you wish to pursue, head to Chinatown with your tape measure. Many markets there sell large winter melons. You want one that's round and squat, just fat enough to fit in your pot with an inch or so clearance all around. It will probably be taller than your pot, but you can cut off the extra and use it in some other dish. On the day I went shopping, I could only find watermelon-shaped squash, so I ended up cutting mine in half and making the soup twice.


6- to 8-pound winter melon
1 ounce dried seafood (shrimp, scallops, oysters or a combination)
6 dried shiitake mushrooms
1 boneless, skinless chicken thigh, cut in cubes
2-inch piece ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
Salt element: 1 piece chung choi (Chinese salted turnip), 1 ounce salt pork 1/2 teaspoon salt or 1 tablespoon soy sauce, or a combination of salty items
2-4 cups stock (chicken, pork, vegetable or fish)
2 cups tatsoi or spinach leaves
»Optional add-ins: Small fresh shrimp, bamboo shoots, water chestnuts, lotus root, Chinese dates, diced roast pork or ham, pearl barley

Wash melon. Cut off top so that melon fits in your biggest pot. Cut 1/2 inch off bottom so melon rests on a flat surface. Scoop out seeds. Cut away flesh, leaving a wall of melon about 1 inch thick. Place a rack in bottom of large stock pot (or use a coiled piece of foil). Make a sling from a long strip of foil, folded over, that will extend under the melon and over the edges of the pot to help remove the cooked melon later. Place melon into pot in sling, on top of rack.

Soak dried seafood and mushrooms in hot water until soft. Cut mushrooms in quarters, place in melon with seafood and 2 tablespoons soaking liquid. Add chicken, ginger, salt element and any add-in ingredients. Fill with stock.

Add water just to bottom of melon, or if melon is extra large, about 1 inch up side. Bring to boil over high heat; reduce to simmer and cover pot. Cook 1-1/2 to 2 hours, until melon is soft. Replenish water in pot as it evaporates (use boiling water to keep temperature steady). Turn off heat. Stir in tatsoi and let sit until wilted. Carefully remove melon, using foil sling, and place in large serving bowl. Serve soup with melon scooped from sides. Serves 6-8.

Nutritional information unavailable.

Write "By Request," Honolulu Star-Advertiser, 7 Waterfront Plaza, Suite 210, Honolulu 96813; or email requests to bshimabukuro@staradvertiser.com.

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