This Winter Melon Soup recipe (Dong Gua Tang) is light, healthy, quick and easy. It only has a few ingredients and a 10 minute cook time.
Winter Melon Soup, or Dong Gua Tang in Chinese, is one of those soups that warms you from the inside out. Whether it's a cold stormy day or you're feeling a bit under the weather, a bowl of Chinese Winter Melon Soup is the perfect remedy.
My mom has been making this soup since I was a child. The recipe I'm sharing with you is the most basic and simple version that can be altered in many different ways. My mom is vegetarian so she would often make a vegan Winter Melon Soup by omitting meat or seafood protein and using vegetable broth or simply just water. She would sometimes add shiitake mushrooms and for the rest of the family, she would occasionally include bits of ham, pork meatballs, or pork spare ribs to make it a heartier soup. It seemed as though no matter what she added or left out, it always hit the spot.
What is winter melon?
Winter melon is a gourd native to Asia that's been used in Chinese cuisine as well as traditional Chinese medicine for centuries. Winter melon, also known as ash gourd or wax gourd, gets its name from the white ashy or "snowy" layer that covers the melon. The name also comes from its natural ability to retain freshness from a summer or fall harvest through the winter months without refrigeration.
Winter melon is considered a "cooling" food and is high in antioxidants. Some of winter melon's many benefits are that it:
- lowers inflammation
- has a detoxifying effect
- aids in digestion
- lowers blood pressure
- promotes weight loss
- helps reduce blood sugar levels
Contrary to its name, winter melon is often eaten in the summer to combat the heat and humidity. A refreshing, ice cold winter melon tea is the perfect drink to enjoy on long summer days.
How to make Winter Melon Soup
Since winter melon is quite large, you'll often find them divided into smaller and more manageable portions at Asian grocery stores. Select one that's around 2 pounds with an ashy rind. Trim off the seeds and the surrounding fibers and cut off the rind. Cut the winter melon into 1 inch bite-sized pieces.
Once the winter melon is prepped, it's as easy as simmering the remaining ingredients. In this recipe, I used chicken broth as the base. You'll want to salt and pepper the soup to taste. I start with 1 teaspoon of salt and a couple dashes of white pepper then add more as needed. The dried shrimp will also add a bit of brininess to the Winter Melon Soup. I like to buy the smaller ones so I can keep them whole. If you have medium or large-sized dried shrimp, chop them up into smaller pieces.
In a medium-sized stock pot, combine the winter melon, dried shrimp, ginger, chicken broth and water. Bring the pot to a boil then reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook for about 10 minutes until the winter melon turns translucent and is tender. Season to taste with salt and white pepper.
What else can I add to Winter Melon Soup?
Pork bones or pork spare ribs make a wonderful addition to Winter Melon Soup. If you have some extra time, it's well worth the extra effort. Simply simmer pork spare ribs in plain water for a good 1-1.5 hours, until the meat and cartilage become fall-off-the-bone tender. Skim off any impurities from the surface with a fine mesh strainer. This fresh pork broth can be used in place of chicken broth.
Shiitake mushrooms (fresh or dried), pork meatballs and dried scallops all make great additions to Winter Melon Soup. Just keep in mind that it takes winter melon about 10 minutes to cook so add any additional ingredients according to the cook time. For instance, if you want to add ham, since it's already cooked you can add it right before the winter melon is finished cooking. If you want to add raw meatballs, you'll want to simmer them in the broth for a couple of minutes before adding winter melon. The idea is to time all the ingredients so that they finish cooking around the same time.
- 1.5-2 lbs winter melon, cut into 1 inch pieces
- 1 tablespoon dried shrimp, whole or chopped
- 1 inch knob ginger, julienned
- 2 cups chicken broth
- 2 cups water
- salt, to taste
- white pepper, to taste
- Prepare the winter melon by trimming off the seeds and surrounding fibers and cutting off the rind. Cut into 1 inch pieces.
- In a medium stock pot, combine the winter melon, dried shrimp, ginger, chicken broth and water.
- Bring the pot to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for about 10 minutes or until the winter melon is tender and translucent.
- Turn off the heat and season with salt and white pepper to taste.