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Melon variationsa duo of divergent tastes

Enlarge Font Size  Decrease Font Size Date: 2016-08-31  View: 21
Stuffed bitter melon

Stuffed bitter melon

Edible gourds are among summer's favorable vegetables in China because they are juicy, fresh and highly versatile in various cuisines.

Two of the popular and very inexpensive gourds in the market now are winter melon and bitter melon, both very rich in vitamin C. Don't be fooled by the name. These aren't melons in the watermelon sense of the word.

The gourds can be used in stir-fries, soups, stews and even beverages and desserts. Chinese tradition says the two vegetables are ideal for relieving internal body heat in the summer.

Also known as ash or wax gourd, winter melon is widely cultivated throughout Asia. Contrary to its name, it actually requires very warm weather to grow.

The mature fruit usually weighs from 10 to 20 kilos or more. The waxy, hard outer coating protects the white flesh inside and extends the storage life of this vegetable to many months after harvest.

The more common big winter melon is often sold by the slice since the whole vegetable is too large to be consumed at one time by one household.

Smaller varieties weighing between 2 and 5 kilos are available in places like Beijing, Chengdu and Nanjing.

Winter melon is one of the most versatile ingredients in Chinese cuisine because almost every part of the vegetable is edible. The flesh has little flavor and aroma of its own, so it works very well in combination with other ingredients.

Winter melon soup is a basic dish using this seasonal vegetable. The fresh winter melon is first skinned and sliced into thinner pieces, then sautéed lightly with a bit of oil until the flesh softens. Water, salt and dried small shrimp are then added and brought to the boil. When served, the flesh looks transparent in a bowl. Chopped green onion can be added for extra flavor.

Another version of this soup uses pork or beef bone stock instead of water. This vegetable can also be stewed with short ribs, meatballs, shrimp or aged ham to make soups.

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