Although winter melon is believed to be quite plain, I love to cook with it because it can absorb the flavors much better than other common vegetables. Also, winter melon is such a great choice to balance the oily texture of a soup.
What's Winter Melon
Winter melon, 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.
A misleading the name
The name winter melon (We call it "Dong Gua" in Chinese ) is quite misleading because it is not grown or harvested in winter. It usually is either seeded in later Spring or Fall.
Most of the plants are grown in spring and the winter melons are harvested in late summer or early fall. But after removing from the vine, winter melon has a long storage time until winter (up to 4 months). In winter when vegetables are not insufficient, winter melon becomes a popular ingredient. Another popular reason might be it is super great with soups. But winter is a great season for soup. Young winter melon has hair; however, it starts to lose them after maturing. Also, the hair becomes a waxy coating.
How large can a winter melon be
Mature winter melon can weigh up to 40 pounds and a foot in length. At this size, the winter melon is round and dark green with waxy skin. You can simply look for a nice package of sliced winter melon at a nearby store for your convenience.
Winter Melon and Its Benefits
Winter melon or ash gourd white pumpkin or wax gourd is very popular in many Southern Asia countries. In China, we believe it is a super healthy ingredient because of its wide range of benefits.
- 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.
Can winter melon be eaten raw?
Winter melon is not for raw eating. Besides, it requires careful cooking techniques, such as simmering, braising, or stir-frying.
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. Therefore, if winter melons are unavailable, watermelon with white rind skin is occasionally might used as a replacement.
How long should you cook winter melon?
In general, winter melon is super easy to cook and needs a short time. Winter melon slices only need 4-5 minutes of simmering. For larger pieces used in braised dishes and soups, 20 minutes is long enough. You have to be careful while cooking because the fruit could get squishy if overcooked.
How to store winter melon
If you bought a whole one, the perfect storing method is to keep it in a cool and dry place as a whole and unwashed. Once it is cut, winter melon can last up to one week when stored in the refrigerator, wrapped with plastic film.
How to select and buy winter melon
When you go shopping, try to select a winter melon that is dense and firm. Avoid those with bruises, cuts, or moldy spots on the surface.
Prepare winter melon for cooking
In most cases, you will get winter melon already cut into 10cm thickness pieces. You need to remove the hard skin and the seeds completely. Then you can either cut it into slices for stir-frying, large cubes for braising, or super large pieces for soups.
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.
A braised winter melon recipe
I love to introduce a braised winter melon with minced pork recipe. With a small portion of minced pork, the winter melon chunks taste as good as meat.
Remove the hard skin but keep some tender green parts. Then further cut into 5cm wide chunks.
Heat the wok and add oil 1 tablespoon of oil, and place the winter melon chunks in. Cook for 5 to 6 minutes until the winter melon chunks are slightly seared on the surface. Transfer out.
Add another 1 tablespoon of cooking oil, and fry minced pork until crispy. Move them to one side of the wok, and continue fry garlic, ginger and scallion until aromatic.
Return the winter melon. Mix well. then pour in 2 cups of warm water. Cover to simmer for 5 minutes.
Return the winter melon and then pour in 2 cups of warm water. Cover to simmer for 5 minutes.
Take the lid, and add light soy sauce, dark soy sauce, white pepper and salt. Mix 1 tablespoon of cornstarch with 1 tablespoon of water. And pour the water starch in. Mix to thicken the sauce.
At last, drizzle some sesame oil, add chili pepper and scallion sections. Mix well.
Serve with steamed rice. The sauce is so good to describe and more importantly, healthy!
Winter Melon Braised with Minced Pork
- 500 g winter melon
- 100 g minced pork
- 2 tbsp. vegetable cooking oil
- 2 fresh chili peppers
- 2 garlic cloves
- 2 green onion or scallion , cut into sections
- 1 tbsp. light soy sauce
- ½ tbsp. dark soy sauce
- white pepper
- ¼ tsp. salt
- 1 tsp. sesame oil
Prepare the winter melon
- Remove the hard skin but keep some tender green parts. Then further cut into 5cm wide chunks.
Fry the chunks
- Heat the wok and add oil 1 tablespoon of oil, and place the winter melon chunks in. Cook for 5 to 6 minutes until the winter melon chunks are slightly seared on the surface. Transfer out.
Make pork crispy and aromatic
- Add another 1 tablespoon of cooking oil, and fry minced pork until crispy. Move them to one side of the wok, and continue fry garlic, ginger and scallion until aromatic.
Simmering and Thicken the sauce
- Return the winter melon and then pour in 2 cups of warm water. Cover to simmer for 5 minutes.
- Take the lid, add light soy sauce, dark soy sauce, white pepper, salt. Mix 1 tablespoon of cornstarch with 1 tablespoon of water. And pour the water starch in. Mix to thicken the sauce.
- Add scallion and fresh chili peppers. Add sesame oil. Serve hot!