Stuffed Bitter Melons Soup (Hu Qua Ham)

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Bitter melon is definitely an acquired taste. Its bitterness is a deterrent for most people because of its strong medicinal taste. We grew up eating this stuff so we’re used to it and mom likes to make this at least once a week.

Now that I’ve been out of the nest for decades, I have to call her up whenever I’m craving an old family stable dish. This is one of them. I don’t recall mom growing bitter melons, but she did grow her own gourds, herbs and even sugar cane years ago. She recommended that I get the home grown version; they’re smaller and tastier than the gigantic ones. Ironic thing is, I got all excited about the big ones because they’re easier to stuff! Regardless, I couldn’t pass up .69 cents a lb. deal.

There are several different kinds of bitter melon but I won’t go into all of them. I’m comfortable with using the non lethal looking ones. They’re much brighter green and smoother. The ones I’ve seen but never used look like weapons of destruction. They’re much darker green with prickly rough edges. I can’t even fathom the kind of bitterness that would come out of these suckers. Yeeesh!

Today, I’m stuffing them with ground shrimps and chicken and other goodies in a seasoned broth of salt, sugar, fish sauce and water. The shrimps really bring out the sweetness. The salt and sugar will help calm the bitterness of the melon while the fish sauce gives it flava.

Black Fungus. Do not be intimidated by this black, smelly, stringy thing. Agreed, they do not give the best flavor but they give the best texture. After simmering for 45 min… it still holds that crunch.

Ingredients
1/2 cup black fungus (soaks in warm water for 10 min. rinsed and repeats this step until water comes out clean)
1 pack bean thread (soak in warm water for 10 min. using a scissor, start snipping the thread to half an inch. it’ll be easier to stuff)
1/2 lb. ground chicken
1/2 lb. ground shrimp
3 medium size bitter melon (washed, cut and gutted. pictures below)
2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. black pepper
a pinch of sugar
1 part white of green onions (chopped)
2 tbsp. ground garlic
2 tbsp. ground onion

Broth
(You can also use chicken stock). This seasoning is just a general idea of what to put in the broth. You’ll have to adjust it to your own taste.

2 tbsp. fish sauce
2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. sugar

Directions

In a medium pot, start your broth on medium heat.

Cut both ends of bitter melon and if possible and cut into 3 section. Using a spoon or a steak knife, scoop all the seeds and white membranes inside the melon. Be sure to scrape whatever you can because this induces the bitterness. Disgard the white membranes and seeds.

In a mixing bowl, add your ground chicken, shrimps, bean thread, black fungus, salt, pepper, sugar, ground garlic, ground onion, green onions and mix well.

You can use a narrow spoon or your bare hands to stuff the melons. Don’t worry if it overflows out of the melon, nothing can escape the wrath of boiling broth. Once it’s in the pot, the meat will cook instantly and everything will tighten up.

Before placing the stuffed melons in, be sure to turn the heat on high at boiling point. Then carefully drop each melon in one by one.

Let it boil for about 10-15 min. and reduce heat to medium, cover and let it simmer for about 30-40 min. The melon will lose that vibrant green once it’s been simmered for that long but it’s an indication that it’s cooked and ready to serve.

I like to garnish it with some roughly chopped green onions and a dash of black pepper. This is usually served with rice and possible a bowl of fish sauce with Thai chili peppers…

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