Winter Melon, Enoki & Mu-Err Mushroom Soup
Food shopping in an Asian supermarket is such fun! it is when you know what you are looking at... it is when you don't! Which is exactly what happened to me today!
After picking up my usual ingredients- noodles, spices and so on, I got to the refrigerated food aisles and was immediately drawn to the tiny, delicate Enoki mushrooms that I know and love. And then I saw a stack of large slices of some vegetable I was not familiar with at all...
... but the dark green skin and the white inside reminded me of a zucchini- and so thinking it MUST be something similar, I decided to buy it and look up what it was on line. Fortunately it was labeled, "Tong Gua", so being as the store assistant wasn't able to explain to me what it was, I was pretty sure the internet would be able to!
The English name for Tong Gua is Winter melon- and the flavor does slightly resemble that of a melon, although this is a firm-fleshed vegetable and not a soft, juicy fruit. Basically, it tastes like a very mild radish or kohlrabi maybe... hard to describe directly, but in any case a mild, fresh flavor. It is used in soups throughout Asia and is supposedly good for helping to clear the skin... how cool! I looked up a few recipes, saw that it was indeed often prepared with Enoki mushrooms... and the fate of these 2 items on todays shopping list were sealed!
I decided to prepare a soup that was as simple as most of those I saw online- especially as it was supposed to have "cleansing" qualities that I was interested in testing, and so I kept the ingredients simple too.
To make 2 bowls of soup I used 1 thick slice of Winter melon, about a 2" piece of ginger, a couple of dried Mu-Err mushrooms, 1 packet of Enoki mushrooms and a Spring onion. I used chicken broth for the base of the soup and later, to give it a little "oomph!", some shrimp-flavored chili flakes and a little fresh parsley for a touch of fresh herb. Cilantro would normally have been my choice in an Asian dish, but I just prefer the flavor of parsley with mushrooms- and being as this was MY soup- that is what I used! Simple as that!
And as usual... I have to say that considering that I am not Asian and this is not an "authentic" recipe... the result was pretty delicious looking and tasting!
The first thing I did in preparation to make this soup- which I strangely enough did not take a picture of, was to pour boiling water over the dried Mu-Err mushrooms for them to soften and soak with whilst I prepared the Winter Melon.
I began by cutting away the peel of the melon and then chopped it into bite-sized pieces- nice and chunky as it does tend to cook and soften fairly quickly.
One of the main flavor-givers in this soup was ginger- which was the next thing I prepared by slicing and cutting into a fine "julienne"... and this was the first ingredient to go into the saucepan!
I sautéed the shredded ginger in just a few drops of sesame oil for 2-3 minutes until it began to turn brown and crispy- a great base for the flavor of the soup right there!
Once the ginger was nice and brown, I added the Winter melon to the pan along with the now-softened Mu-Err mushrooms, which I quickly rinsed-off and then finely sliced.
I deglazed the saucepan using chicken stock, adding just enough to cover the ingredients by about an inch or so, brought it to the boil and then reduced to a low simmer and allowed it to cook for 5-6 minutes.
And in the meantime, I cut the root ends off of the enoki mushrooms and finely chopped most of the parsley, which I would soon be adding before serving... not long to go now!
After 5-6 minutes of boiling the Winter melon, I added the enoki mushrooms, swiftly followed by a good sprinkle of parsley and seasoned with just a small splash of Thai fish sauce and a little squeeze of lime juice.
After just 10 minutes total cooking time, the soup was ready to be eaten... but not before a good pinch of those delicious shrimp-flavored chili flakes... sooo delicious! A few more leaves of parsley were the finishing touch and light drizzle of sesame oil sealed the deal!
Without the chili flakes- a simple, mild and delicious light soup... and with the chili-flakes... pretty out of this world!
My kinda food!