Warm and comforting soup for autumn and winter— a light and refreshing winter melon pork soup. Unlike the soup in western cuisines, Chinese soups are much lighter.
What's Winter Melon
Winter melon or known as Ash Gourd, scientifically named Benincasa Hispida, is a melon that resembles a hybrid between a watermelon and a cucumber. It is a cucurbit family member, including melons, cucumbers, zucchini, squash, and pumpkins. This type of melon is easy to transport and store once harvested. Some people know winter melon as ash gourd, a mild-flavored melon often used as a vegetable in Asian cuisines, particularly Chinese and Indian cuisine. It is often used in soups, stir-frying, braised dishes, and even in drinks.
Winter melons, despite their name, grow in warm temperatures. These gourds are native to the warm regions of Southeast Asia. However, they are widely available in other parts of the world too. We grow several winter melon vines almost every year when I was still young. Our winter melons usually were in large size and we might have them on the dining table for several days. Now we also have a smaller type which is much denser in texture.
The benefits of winter melon
In China, we believe it is a super healthy ingredient because of its wide range of benefits. That's why I love to add it to stews and soups.
- Winter melon can help lower inflammation, the main cause of chronic diseases.
- It improves the digestive system because the fruit is broken down well in the stomach.
- It contains high water and fiber, yet carries low calories, making it the best diet food. Research shows that winter melon carries 96% water, which is great for filling your thirst and helpful for watching your weight.
- Winter melon may lower the risk of type 2 diabetes by lowering blood sugar levels and insulin levels.
What does winter melon taste like
Although the ripe winter melon is somewhat bland, the unripe winter melon has a delicate sweetness. It has a pleasant, slightly grassy flavor that has been likened to that of cucumber, although much fainter. Matured winter melons are quite firm and dense and lost their flavor to some degree. But it still has freshness.
If you tried the watermelon white rind, it tastes quite similar to winter melon. The melon itself is quite plain and has nothing unique to taste. But my mind changes a lot after cooking the winter melon chunks with meat, including meatballs, hams, and ribs, etc. The fat can stimulate the freshness of the winter melon. In contrast, winter melon makes the meat brighter and less greasy.
Pork bones- you can choose either large pork bones or ribs. Rib winter melon soup is much lighter while the large pork bones can be richer in flavor.
Ginger-sliced, helps to enhance the flavor and remove any possible raw tastes.
Salt to taste
Green onion for garnishing and blanching the ribs.
Shaoxing wine - for blanching the pork ribs
Sichuan peppercorn - if you have Sichuan peppercorn on hand, adding 5-6 whole seeds can enhance the flavor. It will not create any numbing feeling.
Dipping sauce for the ribs -- you can make a lovely savory and hot dipping sauce for the ribs.
Place ribs in clean water, and add ginger, green onion, and Shaoxing wine. Bring to a boil and continue cooking for 1-2 minutes. Transfer out and rinse under running warm water.
Cut the rind of winter melon and then cut it into large chunks. I recommend keeping some of the green skin in order to keep the shape after cooking. By the way, this can also enhance the flavor and increase the fiber content.
Heat a large pot of water to boiling and then add ginger and Sichuan peppercorn (optional). Add the ribs after the water boils. Cover and simmer for 40 minutes.
Place the winter melon chunks and continue cooking for 20 minutes.
How to cook in an instant pot
You can also use an instant pot or rice cooker to make this soup. If you want to use it, add warm or hot water to the pot, and add ginger and Sichuan peppercorn. Press the soup button and cook for 10 to 12 minutes. Release the gas and then take the pork soup base out. Add winter melon chunks in and continue heating for 20 minutes without the lid. This is extremely important to enhance and richer the flavor.
What to serve with
This winter melon soup is quite light and refreshing and thus can be a good soup choice for all meals. But I still want to recommend some of the best partners.
- All types of pancakes and buns like Scallion pancakes, red bean pancakes, and beef pie.
- Savory stir-fries include pork and mushroom stir fry and pork with fermented black bean sauce.
- And it is also super great to match with mala dishes like Mala Xiangguo, Mala chicken, etc.
Can I reheat the soup?
Yes, you can reboil the soup next time before serving. But winter melon may go bad and taste sour quickly at room temperature. So if the room temperature is warm, you need to store this soup in fridge.
Winter Melon Soup
- 600 g winter melon , remove the skin and cut into cubes
- 500 g pork bones , large bones or ribs
- Green onion , chopped for garnishing
- 1 thumb ginger , smashed and slices
- pinch of salt as needed
- Sichuan peppercorn seeds , optional
- Place ribs in clean water, bring to boil and continue cooking for 1-2 minutes. Transfer out and rinse under running water.
- Cut the rind of winter melon and then cut it into large chunks. I recommend keeping some of the green skin in order to keep the shape after cooking. By the way, this can also enhance the flavor and increase the fiber content.
- Heat a large pot of water to boiling and then add ginger and Sichuan peppercorn (optional). Add the ribs after the water boils. Cover and simmer for 40 minutes.
- Place the winter melon chunks and continue cooking for 20 minutes.
- Add salt to taste before serving. Serve along with green onion.
Instant pot tip
- If you want to use a instant pot, add warm or hot water to the pot, and add ginger and Sichuan peppercorn. Press the soup and cook for 10 to 12 minutes. Release the gas and then take the pork soup base out. Add winter melon chunks in and continue heating for 20 minutes without the lid. This is extremely important to enhance and richer the flavor.
Winter melon needs to be matched with meat, bones or ham. There are several options:
Winter melon soup with fresh meatballs
Winter melon soup with ham, black mushrooms and dried shrimp
Love all your recipes! More soup recipes please!
Soups are planned in following months since it is quite cold now. Thanks for the suggestion. Happy cooking!
I have a few Chinese cookbooks, which are quite good and authentic. But none of them actually describe the everyday Chinese menu. So I became a bit wiser now as yours consists of soup, salad, vegetables and meat. With a bowl of rice, I guess?
The winter melon soup looks nice. It's not a common vegetable here and I'm thinking of possible substitutes. Maybe some sort of pumpkin with a less dark flesh, or even a regular squash. Possibly the squash will not keep its shape very well during cooking.
The instant pot seems to be a very useful device. Guess I could use one, too 🙂
I wish you and your family a Merry Christmas.
Thanks Susanne for your kind blessing. I am busy with the coming Christmas and New Year gifts. I understand because Chinese menu arrangement is quite different from Western cuisines. We do not have starters, main course etc. We describe our menu usually with vegetables stir-fries, soups, salads, meat and staple food (as the steamed rice you mentioned or steamed buns, congee and noodles). That's really a great inspiration. I will post more photos of my daily menu in the coming year.
Merry Christmas too!
Thank's a lot Elaine,
this is really a great recipe. I had some trouble identifying the winter melon, as it was labeled "Long Tong Kwa" in my local store, which seems to be a latin transliteration from cantonese if the internet is to be trusted. But anyhow, it's definitely delicious! Absolutely recommended.
By the way, I always wondered how to make this after I saw the movie "Eat Drink Man Woman" (饮食男女) a couple years ago.
It is a great movie! I love it too, especially the great skills of cutting and preparing the raw food.
It is the winter melon season now. We are eating it frequently in stir-fries and will use it in soup when it is cooled down on our side.
well, it's still summer here too (although the latitude of the place where I live is more that of northern Manchuria). But I'm a huge fan of "fighting fire with fire" so a hot soup is totally fine with me even if it's thirty degree Celsius outside 🙂 Anyways, you mentioned stir-fries. With what other ingredients would you use winter melon in those? My first thought was maybe to take the Moo Shu Pork recipe and substitute the cucumber with melon slices.
I have a question regarding the dried shrimp. I've always used the kind which was somewhat red/brownish in color and had the shell and head removed. Now recently in the freezer of the Chinese grocery store I found a bag which said "salted dried shrimp" on the label. But they where very tiny whole shrimps (similar in appearance to Korean "Saeujeot" but dried and without the brine).
So my question is, which kind of dried shrimps do you use?
Just wondering ,does it matter how much water we add into the instant pot? is it just enough to cover the ingredients?
If you plan to use instant pot, your water level should be around 2cm higher then the ingredient level.
Amy calahan, Boyaid jr.
Ok ! here's my question, which part of china eat winter melon soup? or is it Greater China ?
Almost every place in China.
Finnnally made this over the weekend after I got ahold of winter melon at my local Asian market, and omg it was sooo good! We had a snow storm, and it was the perfect winter treat! Thanks for sharing!
One of the best ways of winter melon is to make soups.
I just tried your recipe and it was great.
Thanks so much for sharing it.
My pleasure, Dan. Happy cooking!
Love this recipe, I've been making it for over a year now and it has become a staple.
Sometimes we replace the winter melon with daikon (white radish), which holds its firmness a little better and doesn't end up as soft as the winter melon.
I love daikon soup very much in winter season too!