Many Chinese believe winter melon, fuzzy melon, Chinese okra (also called angled luffa) and bitter gourd are “cooling”, which is why you’ll see these vegetables piled high in the market when the weather becomes hot and humid. Most of them have mild, subtly sweet flavours, except, of course, for bitter melon, which for most people is an acquired taste.
Fuzzy melon with dried shrimp, pork meatballs and glass noodles
Fuzzy melon (mo gwa in Cantonese) is also known as hairy melon or gourd. It’s delicious in this light, homey, soupy dish that is quick to prepare and cook. If you’re planning on making this dish after work, you’ll have to remember to soak the mushrooms before you leave the house in the morning. The dried shrimp and glass noodles need only about 10 minutes of soaking to become hydrated, but the mushrooms take much longer, depending on their thickness and age.
2-3 (about 20 grams) dried mushrooms
30 grams dried shrimp
1 pack (40 grams) glass noodles (fen si)
250 grams minced pork
10ml soy sauce
10ml rice wine
5ml sesame oil, plus extra for drizzling
¼ tsp fine sea salt
¼ tsp granulated sugar
A pinch of finely ground white pepper
1 tsp cornstarch
4 spring onions, divided
2 fuzzy melons, about 700 grams in total
About 300ml unsalted chicken stock, preferably home-made
Rinse the dried mushrooms under cool water, then put them in a bowl, cover with warm water and leave to soak until they’re fully hydrated. Put the dried shrimp and glass noodles in separate bowls, cover with warm water and soak for about 10 minutes.
Squeeze the excess water from the mushrooms and remove and discard the stems. Cut the caps into small dice and mix them with the minced pork, soy sauce, rice wine, sesame oil, salt, sugar, white pepper and cornstarch. Slice two of the spring onions about 2mm thick, add them into the pork mixture and stir to combine. Shape the mixture into small meatballs and refrigerate until needed.
Peel the fuzzy melons and cut them into discs about 3mm thick. Cut the discs into thick matchstick pieces. Drain the glass noodles. Slice the remaining spring onions about 5mm thick.
Pour the chicken stock into a pan or Chinese clay pot, season with about half a teaspoon of salt and bring to the boil over a medium flame. Add the fuzzy melon and dried shrimp (and the soaking liquid) and cook until the vegetable starts to soften, stirring occasionally. Stir in the meatballs and the glass noodles. Cover the pan with the lid and cook over a low flame to poach the meatballs. When the meatballs are ready, taste the cooking liquid and season with a little soy sauce, if needed. Scatter the spring onion on top and drizzle with sesame oil. Serve immediately.
Stuffed bitter melon
2-3 bitter melons
500 grams minced pork
20ml soy sauce
15ml rice wine
½ tsp granulated sugar
½ tsp fine sea salt
1/8 tsp finely ground white pepper
10ml sesame oil
2 tsp cornstarch
2 spring onions
For the sauce and to garnish:
About 20ml cooking oil
1 heaped tsp fermented black beans
1 garlic clove, halved
1 slice ginger
About 10ml soy sauce
5ml rice wine
¼ tsp granulated sugar
A pinch of white pepper
Cornstarch, as needed
Minced spring onion and sprigs of fresh coriander
Mix the pork with the soy sauce, rice wine, sugar, salt, white pepper, sesame oil and cornstarch. Mince the spring onions then add them to the mixture and stir to combine. Shape a heaped teaspoonful of the mixture into a meatball and pan-fry it in a lightly oiled pan. Taste to check the seasonings and, if needed, add a little more salt.
Trim off the ends from the bitter melons and scoop out the seeds and pith with a spoon. Slice the bitter melons into 1.5cm-thick rounds and stuff them with some of the pork mixture, packing it in firmly and mounding it slightly over the top. Lay the stuffed rounds on a plate and refrigerate for about 30 minutes. If there’s excess pork mixture, shape it into patties. Put the black beans into a small bowl and add 120ml of warm water.
Heat a large skillet over a medium flame, then pour in the cooking oil. When the oil is hot, pan-fry the bitter melon slices on both sides until the meat mixture is lightly browned. Put the slices on a plate. Brown the pork patties (if there are any) and put them on the plate. In the same skillet (no need to wash it), add the garlic and ginger and stir until fragrant. Mash the black beans with the back of a spoon and add them and their soaking liquid to the skillet. Stir in the soy sauce, rice wine, sugar and white pepper. Put the bitter melon slices (and pork patties) back into the pan. Cover the pan with the lid then lower the heat and simmer until the melon is tender and the stuffing is fully cooked.
Put the bitter melon slices (and pork patties) on a serving plate. Dissolve a teaspoon or two of cornstarch in some warm water and stir it into the liquid remaining in the skillet, adding as much as needed to turn the liquid into a light sauce consistency. Simmer briefly, then pour the sauce over the bitter melon. Garnish with spring onion and fresh coriander and serve immediately.