Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Winter melon (dong gua)

Winter melon is that giant squash-looking thing usually sold in grocery stores not whole, but in thick slices wrapped in cellophane.  It looks so harmless, I ask myself how I've lived so long without ever trying it before.

To start with, it really is, in texture and taste, much more a melon, like watermelon or honeydew, than a squash, like zucchini or butternut.  The rind is dark green and too hard to eat, but inside the melon is juicy and fresh-tasting, with little other taste; it will take on the flavours of what it's cooked with.

It's called winter melon because apparently the whole squash will keep for a long time (i.e., through the winter) after being harvested.  It's so moist I doubt you could brown it in a stir fry, though there are stir fry recipes for it (in which it does not look brown, just cooked to a pretty light green translucency).

How it comes from the store - amazingly difficult to photograph because it's so big and white.
I made winter melon soup, a hugely popular dish throughout Asia, which takes many forms but mostly seems to involve cubes of winter melon steeped in meat broth along with different kinds of meat and seafood.  I ended up making my own version of the dish, with vegetable broth and a little shredded ginger, salt, a bit of soy sauce, the winter melon, some lotus root, some of the Buddha's chicken from a few days back, tofu, and one lion's head meatball from the freezer:

Very tasty!  The "chicken" shows off to better effect in the soup than by itself, in my opinion, and the meatball was a superb addition.  Nothing about this soup necessarily screams "oriental", taste-wise, though it looks quite exotic.  Anyway, loved it.

And then I got up here writing this post about how melon-y winter melon is and how refreshing, and how good it would be raw a smoothie perhaps...

It was a hunch of genius.  This is a winter melon, mango, orange, and soda water smoothie flavoured with Silver Sage Winery's Flame, essentially a sweet ice wine with a hot chili marinating in it, so hot that if you drink it plain it practically brings on anaphylactic shock.  My brother and SIL, who rode their bikes for miles and miles up and down the winding hilly roads of British Columbia to Silver Sage to get this for me, like it drizzled on ice cream.  I haven't tried that yet, but this was pretty good.  Am I the only one for whom a smoothie just isn't right unless there's some kind of alcoholic content to it? 


  1. Oh man, I haven't had winter melon soup in ages, probably since I became vegan. Your version looks delicious! I've only seen winter melon at one local farmers market, I'm going to have to get some so I can make your soup. :-)

  2. Yes! Just last week, I scored an enormous whole Winter Melon at the Farmers' Market and had been wondering what on earth to do with it. On the outside, it's very similar in appearance to a big 'ol watermelon. I was beginning to wonder if it was called a Winter Melon because it would take the entire winter to eat it! Thanks so much for such an informative post!

  3. I dont recall ever seeing Winter Melon at the Asian market. I'll keep an eye out for it. Do you eat those soups with chopsticks?

  4. I've always wondered about winter melon, but have never purchased it. Now, of course, I want some so I can make winter melon soup. Yours looks top notch.

    I can't speak for others, but I have never thought to add an alcoholic edge to my smoothie. For me, a smoothie for breakfast has fruit, almond butter, maca, non-dairy milk, water, maybe vanilla. Perhaps if I were having it in the evening, as a dessert, a touch of spirits might be nice, but I doubt it. But maybe ...

  5. This post is totally amazing!

    I've never seen that melon before, but I so want to try some now. Your soup is gorgeous and I agree the Buddha's chicken looks especially delicious in there.

    I totally want one of those smoothies too; it sounds like a perfect combo, and what beautiful color...the spicy ice wine is intriguing...sounds fabulous. I have never heard of anything like it...

    Your theme is continually fascinating, and has made me want to be more adventurous about trying new foods/ingredients. I bought a chayote the other day, but haven't used it yet.

  6. Chow, thanks. I'm surprised you haven't seen winter melon around--it's certainly in Superstore and my local oriental grocery, T&T, most of the time, all through the year. And it must be really popular, because every time I see it in either place, it's totally fresh, and I don't know that it would have lasted more than two days in my fridge.

    Cv, a whole one. Good luck to you! I hope you're cooking for a crowd!

    Shenandoah, I think the idea of cutting the ingredients into large pieces is just for that purpose, so they can be eaten with chopsticks. That said, I admit I ate my soup with a spoon and a fork...

    Andrea, I buy stuff like peach schnapps just for smoothies, and generally drink them in the heat of the day like a fancy drink you'd get at a bar. Only it's better because there's, like, as much as I want because I'm in control. Mind you, I don't know if any kind of alcohol would go with almond butter (yes, I do make one non-alcoholic peanut butter-and-banana smoothie from time to time), and also remember, the northern Canadian summer last about two weeks, and what is maca?

    Rose, thanks. We are rapt in admiration of each other's themes! Enjoy your chayote!

  7. A fork?! That's a shocker. Didn't peg you for a fork user.