Canh Kho Qua Bitter Melon Soup

bittermelon soup

 

You either love bitter melon (khổ qua) or you hate it and nothing in between. Growing up Kim loved it and ate bitter melon soup (canh khổ qua) and stir fries routinely while I, on the other hand, despised it’s bitterness so mom rarely made it.  But over the years I’ve come to love it. Don’t get me wrong, bitter melon is still as bitter as I remember it, but the latent and underutilized bitter tastes buds in me, over time, has come to appreciate the complexity of this bitterness and even crave it.

 

bittermelon soup

 

A member of the squash family, bitter melon is grown all over the tropics of both the western and eastern hemispheres. Indian, Chinese, Okinawan, Phillipines, Indonesia along with Vietnam are among many of the countries where bitter melon is a popular culinary vegetable.  In Vietnamese, bitter melon is known as mướp đắng with the term đắng meaning bitter. Although more appropriate and literal to the meaning of bitter melon, the term mướp đắng is not commonly heard among households and not what the supermarkets call this vegetable. Instead, it’s more commonly known as khổ qua which doesn’t mean either bitter or melon. Khổ roughly means hardship and qua in this context means the past.  We like to think that the Vietnamese language and people are quite creative and chose to call this vegetable khổ qua because of life’s tumultuousness. Clearly the history of the Vietnamese people have anything but smooth sailing.  Thus by eating khổ qua, you will be constantly reminded of life’s ups and down, and lest you forget and enjoy your meal too much, it’s bitterness will always be there as a reminder of life’s bitterness.  But honestly, it’s probably an example where language was lost in translation.  The Chinese mandarin term for bitter melon is ku gua and the Vietnamese term khổ qua may have been a just a literal translation with an accidental, albeit melancholic  meaning to this lovely gourd.

Aside from this cultural significance, bitter melons are re-known for their high nutrient content with many positive health claims ranging from treatment for diabetes, malaria, and even HIV. Extracts from bitter melon are used numerous products such as tea and supplements. You can read all about bitter melon from the National Bitter Melon Council and even become a member, ranging from “newbie” to “bitter melon ambassador.” If you’re very adventurous you can even be “Secretary of Bitterness.”

While the bitterest of vegetables, bitter melons aren’t uniformly bitter. Ripe ones are less green and more white to yellow/orange tend to be milder then the younger counterpart. Choose your melon base on your level of bitter tolerance and start off with ripe ones if you’re new to bitter melon.

But enough about entymology and background on bitter melons–you’re reading our blog for the recipes right?  This simple bitter melon soup (canh khổ qua) is a classic Vietnamese preparation often served at family dinners and is equally simple to make.  Use the same Vietnamese pork stuffing as in our stuff tomatoes, stuffed tofu, and stuffed squid.

bittermelon soup

Blanching is an optional technique to reduce a bit of the bitterness. Quickly blanch the entire bitter melon in boiling water for about 1 minute–the color will turn a dark green.  Remove and allow to cool.  When cool to the touch, slice melons cross wise into 1 to 1.5 inch pieces. Using a table spoon or knife, drive it between the green outer flesh and the center white pith. Hold the bitter melon in one hand and spoon/knife in other, and slowly core out the pith and seeds with a circular motion.

bittermelon soup

Add the peeled shallot to the water/stock and bring to boil. In the meantime, stuff the bitter melons with the pork stuffing. When water/stock is boiling add the stuffed bitter melons and cover reducing heat to low, cook for about 15 minutes or until the center of the pork is done. Season with some salt to taste. Transfer to soup bowl and garnish with chopped green onion and cilantro. Serve with jasmine rice.

Cooks note: Add a peppercorn on top of the pork stuffing for additional spiciness which will cut down on the bitterness. Skip the blanching if you love the unadulterated full bitterness. Also for additional bitterness you can save the liquid from the blanch for the soup. Discard if you’re using chicken stock.

bittermelon soup  

The simple broth is infused with sweet flavors of pork intermixed with the bitterness of the melon. We admit that bitter melon is not for everyone–at first.  It’s an acquired taste that once you enjoy it, you will  probably not only like it, you may even crave it.  Instead of being reminded by life’s bitterness, hopefully it is quickly forgotten with this homely yet comforting soup–at least until the last drop.

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bittermelonsoupweb

Bitter Melon Soup Canh Kho Qua

Ingredients:

Two medium length 8-12 inch bitter melons
6 cups of water or chicken broth
1 green onion, thinly chopped
sprigs of cilantro, thinly chopped
1 peeled shallot
salt

Pork Stuffing
1/2 lb ground pork
1 tsp fish sauce
1 tsp ground pepper
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 minced shallots or small onion, diced
1/2 cup bean thread noodles, soaked in warm water about 10 min, drain and cut in 2-3 inch length
1/4 cup wood ear mushrooms, soaked in warm water about 10 min, drain and cut thinly

Directions:

In a large mixing bowl, mix together the pork, fish sauce, sugar, pepper, salt, shallots, wood ear mushrooms, bean thread noodles and mix well. Cover and set aside.

Blanching is an optional technique to reduce a bit of the bitterness. Quickly blanch the entire bitter melon in boiling water for about 1 minute--the color will turn a dark green. Remove and allow to cool. When cool to the touch, slice melons cross wise into 1 to 1.5 inch pieces. Using a table spoon or knife, drive it between the green outer flesh and the center white pith. Hold the bitter melon in one hand and spoon/knife in other, and slowly core out the pith and seeds with a circular motion.

Add the peeled shallot to the water/stock and bring to boil. In the meantime, stuff the bitter melons with the pork stuffing. When water/stock is boiling add the stuffed bitter melons and cover reducing heat to low, cook for about 15 minutes or until the center of the pork is done. Season with some salt to taste. Transfer to soup bowl and garnish with chopped green onion and cilantro. Serve with jasmine rice.

Cooks note: Add a peppercorn on top of the pork stuffing for additional spiciness which will cut down on the bitterness. Skip the blanching if you love the unadulterated full bitterness. Also for additional bitterness you can save the liquid from the blanch for the soup. Discard if you're using chicken stock.

This is our entry to Delicious Vietnam,a monthly blogging event celebrating Vietnamese cuisine created by Anh of A Food Lovers Journey and yours truly! This month’s host is Dave of Javaholic blog. Submissions can be sent to him by October 10, 2010 at 7:00 pm pacific time via sijeleng[at]gmail[dot]com For instructions on how you can participate, visit Delicious Vietnam information page.
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36 Responses to “Canh Kho Qua Bitter Melon Soup”

  1. 1

    thang @ noodlies — October 9, 2010 @ 11:16 pm

    As a child I never liked bitter melon and mum used to get me to eat this soup because it wasn't as bitter. But I just couldn't.

    Now I love it, we call it hu qua/hoa not sure my Vietnamese is pretty bad.

    Thanks for the recipe.

  2. 2

    Fresh Local and Best — October 10, 2010 @ 5:39 am

    It has been years since I have had a bitter melon, and I have been thinking of giving it a try again recently. My mom did a very similar preparation growing up. This is definitely a dish that I would like to try again.

  3. 3

    deb (bearheadsoup) — October 10, 2010 @ 8:02 am

    My mouth was watering reading about your bitter melon soup. The soup is my next bitter melon project. I like the addition of vermicelli to the filling, I haven't seen it in the recipes I've looked at. Thanks for all the info too!

  4. 4

    Debi(Table Talk) — October 10, 2010 @ 3:03 pm

    I have never had bitter melon soup. I would think the savory filling would balance it out nicely. I am a broccoli rabe fan, which can be quite bitter, so maybe this is something I should try!

  5. 5

    Phuoc'n Delicious — October 11, 2010 @ 2:11 am

    HAHA Bittermelon, almost every Viet kid's worst nightmare… I didn't mind it as I was growing up. My parents would make this soup for us and I'd love the broth and stuffed bittermelon.

    Thanks for the tips about cooking it!

  6. 6

    Jenny @ Musings and Morsels — October 11, 2010 @ 10:45 am

    I suppose like most delicious things in life, bitter melon is simply something you grow to enjoy overtime. My mum, too, makes this particular dish; but to give the meat stuffing a little more bounce, she prefers to mix fish paste with the pork mince. Although I have to be honest, our version looks much less elegant than yours (more err…robust I guess?!).

    -Jenny

  7. 7

    tigerfish — October 11, 2010 @ 6:03 pm

    Bitter melon – like it like it like it :)

  8. 8

    Anonymous — October 11, 2010 @ 9:49 pm

    lol..my mom definitely made us eat this! i grown to really LOVE canh hua qua! ive been living on my own for a number of years and find myself making this soup or looking for it at the to-go places every now and then. love it

  9. 9

    James — October 12, 2010 @ 3:59 am

    I haven't had this in so long! Thanks for bringing back the memories. I definitely want to try it and see if it is as good as I remember.

  10. 10

    Bonnibella — October 13, 2010 @ 11:57 pm

    Personally I can't stand bittermelon but when prepare this way I will eat it!

  11. 11

    LimeCake — October 14, 2010 @ 5:45 am

    i used to really dislike bittermelon as a kid, but i'm growing to love it now, especially if it's cooked well. this looks delicious!

  12. 12

    Passionate Eater — October 14, 2010 @ 8:04 pm

    This is one of my all-time favorite comfort foods! I have never made it myself (just my grandma makes it) and I have never seen her blanch the bittermelon first. I think I just found a recipe that will give my grandma a run for her money!

  13. 13

    pigpigscorner — October 14, 2010 @ 8:16 pm

    Used to hate this but I like it now. I normally braise it with chicken and fermented bean sauce.

  14. 14

    Chef Mireille — October 14, 2010 @ 9:29 pm

    My Mom's family is from Suriname and this vegetable is common and she has been trying to get me to eat it since I was a child. Now I am older, she tries to tell me all the wonderful health benefits. I have never liked it, but I am willing to try this one. This recipe looks like it might kill some of the bitterness.

  15. 15

    Ninette — October 15, 2010 @ 9:32 pm

    Ah, this is called ampalaya in the Philippines. Pork and amopalaya — classic!

  16. 16

    Ravenous Couple — October 16, 2010 @ 2:27 pm

    Thank you all for your sharing your stores about bitter melon..it's so interesting to read everyone's comments!

  17. 17

    A. Rizzi — October 21, 2010 @ 3:22 pm

    I definitely didn't take to bitter melon at first. Now I'm a fan. The Vietnamese always watch you with hopeful anticipation as you dig in, like you're opening a birthday gift. I'd always tell them 'dắng!' to which they'd respond 'những mà mát!'. Oh, Vietnam.

  18. 18

    Anonymous — October 27, 2010 @ 3:57 am

    Yes… The memories of being forced to eat this as a kid. I still don't like bitter melon as an adult. However I will eat it as oppose to only eating the meat filling.

    I really like your authenticity to the Vietnamese cuisine. Great job. I hope you will post a recipe for my personal favorite- mi quan.

  19. 19

    Ravenous Couple — October 27, 2010 @ 4:53 pm

    @anonymous: thanks for enjoying our blog and leaving us the note..we also enjoy mi quang as well and posted it already!

  20. 20

    Kung Food Panda — December 30, 2010 @ 7:01 am

    Maybe one day, a few more years from now, I'll love bitter melon as much as you guys! Maybe this is the dish that get me liking bitter melon.

  21. 21

    Anonymous — June 25, 2011 @ 10:05 am

    LOVE your site. it’s all the dishes my mom used to make but just can’t seem to teach how to make! haha

    • The Ravenous Couple replied: — June 25th, 2011 @ 10:12 am

      thanks so much! that’s the most common compliment we get!

  22. 22

    YC — July 20, 2011 @ 10:01 am

    khổ qua is a Viet transliteration of the Chinese, whence the melon and stir-fry styles originate. Ku-gua, ku meaning bitter and gua, meaning melon 苦瓜. I can’t recall what the Cantonese pronunciation is. Several Viet and Thai veggies have Chinese names.

    i love the traditional Vietnamese soups with bitter melon,

  23. 23

    Lily — December 4, 2011 @ 6:30 pm

    Love the background on bitter melon!

  24. 24

    Tin — December 4, 2011 @ 6:49 pm

    I just made it today for dinner. Ran out of the thread noodles but it still came out yummy.

    On tip, once made, before cooking take some and freeze them in ziploc bags. You can then quickly make the soup in pinch.

  25. 25

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    [...] mom and ended up staying for dinner. I felt a bit guilty about the cookies, so all I had was some bitter melon soup and 4 pieces of the Thit Bo Nuong La Lot(Beef wrapped in Betel Leaf). I hated bitter melon soup [...]

  26. 26

    Herbs in Chinese Medicine : Herbs in Chinese Medicine: Bitter Melon | Holistic Alternative Medicines Blog — December 11, 2011 @ 3:17 am

    [...] over 6 years. Filmmaker: Christopher RokoszVideo Rating: 5 / 5 Bitter Melon is great for diabetics becaus&#101…7;nd traditional Chinese medicine from aregistered herbalist [...]

  27. 27

    Christine — December 11, 2011 @ 5:33 pm

    Do we need to have the bean thread noodles in it? Does it make a difference if we don’t have any on hand?

    • The Ravenous Couple replied: — December 12th, 2011 @ 5:53 pm

      absolutely, it’s nice to have but not a must

  28. 28

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  29. 29

    KN — January 6, 2012 @ 12:37 pm

    Just made this for my bf who loves this soup on a cold day. It turned out great. Thanks so much for the recipe!

  30. 30

    Bittermelon Soup | Eat. Play. Create. — June 8, 2012 @ 2:19 am

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  31. 31

    CT — October 30, 2012 @ 6:33 pm

    A childhood favorite! However, I am a vegetarian now, is there something to substitute with?

  32. 32

    Sam — January 27, 2013 @ 12:08 am

    Thank you! That’s the Viet stuffed bitter melon I know and LOVE :)

  33. 33

    Lisa — April 16, 2013 @ 5:04 am

    can i use ground beef instead?

    • The Ravenous Couple replied: — April 20th, 2013 @ 9:37 am

      Sure, why not? Let us know how it goes

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