Happy New Year! I had started writing this post last week but didn’t get the chance to finish it. My kids came back for Christmas this year. It was so wonderful to have everyone home again! So much catching up to do, making excursions to various places all over the city to indulge in their favorite local foods – hainanese chicken rice, satay, roti prata, xiao long bao dumplings, la mian noodles, dim sum, butter chicken with naan bread, hokkien fried noodles, teppanyaki, laksa, kueh tutu, muah chee, ice kacang and tea tarik etc, making childhood treats that they missed and baking for Christmas.
As if that wasn’t enough to cause food coma, we took time off to celebrate Dongzhi Festival … by another round of eating! To people from Hong Kong or China, Dongzhi or the Winter Solstice Festival (冬至 which means the Arrival of Winter) is one of the most important festivals in the year. It is almost as important as Chinese New Year which is a very big deal. Dongzhi is sort of like Thanksgiving. Traditionally, family members would travel for miles to get together for a reunion dinner. When we lived in Hong Kong where we have a large extended family, everybody from uncles, aunts, cousins and their children – would gather in my in-laws’ home for dinner. Imagine a table heaving with dishes like steamed fish, giant tiger prawns, chicken with fragrant ginger and spring onion dipping sauce, roast pork with golden, crispy skin, braised mushrooms in oyster sauce and jade green pea shoots (dou miao) stir fried with garlic. There were so many people in the tiny apartment that sometimes we had to eat in shifts!
For our own Dongzhi celebration that just passed, I made a much simpler meal and a classic Chinese soup – Winter Melon Soup. Winter melon itself is quite mild in taste, so to make this soup flavorful, I added ingredients like dried scallops and ham. I like to use Yunnan ham (available in some Chinese groceries) and renowned for its rich flavor and the taste is truly outstanding. If you don’t have any Yunnam ham, you may omit it or substitute it with ordinary ham.
1 and 1/2 lbs winter melon
4 oz lean pork (cut into thick slices)
2 oz ham (cut into cubes, optional)
4 black shiitake mushrooms (soaked overnight and cut into small cubes)
2 dried scallops (soaked overnight)
2 honey dates
3 red dates
2 slices ginger
2 tsp salt
1/2 tbsp Chinese cooking wine
2 oz small shelled shrimp or crab meat (optional)
1. Wash the dried shiitake mushrooms. Soak them overnight, then cut into small cubes.
2. Wash the dried scallops and soak them overnight. Save the liquid they are soaked in. This liquid can be added to the soup.
3. Remove and discard the skin from the winter melon. Remove and discard the center part (soft pulp with seeds). Then cut the rest of the winter melon into small cubes
4. Place the pork in a pot with just enough water to cover it. Parboil the pork for a few minutes to remove the blood and scum. Pour away the water that is used for parboiling.
5. Put all the ingredients in the pot. Fill the pot with 8 cups of water and boil on high for 20 minutes until it comes to a rolling boil. Then reduce the heat and simmer for an hour. If too much liquid had evaporated during the boiling process, add in an extra cup of water and bring it to a boil again.
6. Remove the ginger slices before serving.