You had probably used a loofah sponge in your life, in the shower perhaps, but did you know it comes from the loofah gourd which is an edible vegetable? It doesn’t taste like much on its own but in Taiwan where it is called “shi gua” 絲瓜 , it is commonly found in the local markets and it is often made into delicious soups, like Loofah with Clams soup or Loofah with Carrots and Vermicelli soup. It is perfect for the hot summer weather as it is nourishing and replenishes fluids; and with the addition of vermicelli, it can be a meal in itself. Enjoy!
Loofah with Carrots and Vermicelli soup
Recipe for the Loofah with Carrots and Vermicelli Soup:
1 small piece of lean pork
3 dried scallops
3 dried figs
4 dried red dates
Rinse the dried scallops, then leave it to soak in a cup of hot water for 1 hour. Remember to keep the soaking water to add to the soup.
Cut the lean pork into thin slices.
Peel and cut the loofah and carrots into small chunks.
Rinse the dried figs and red dates.
Put all the above ingredients into a pot. Add 6 – 8 cups of water.
Boil on high heat for 10 mins, then lower the heat to boil for another 50 mins.
Add vermicelli and salt to taste.
Loofah with Clams soup: Omit the carrots, instead you add fresh clams to the pot towards the last 10 mins of the cooking process; and garnish with cut spring onions and thinly sliced ginger before serving.
Loofah with Shrimp soup: Fresh shrimp in shell may be used instead of clams.
Black Wood Ear is a specialty product of Puli, Taiwan. Fresh black wood ear is smooth and wonderfully crunchy. It is available in the traditional street markets in Taiwan but you can also find dried ones in Asian supermarkets.
Black wood ear is sometimes called black fungus. If you buy the dried kind, just soak it in water for an hour to reconstitute it. Then it can be used in a stir fry, add it to soups or even in salads. Its crunchy texture and dark, velvety color adds an unusual element to even the most basic dish. I like to use it in a stir fry with pork or steamed with chicken. You can also make a vegetarian stir fry with olive oil, garlic, black wood ear, mushrooms and broccoli (or with celery, sweet peas, zucchini, cucumber etc… works with whatever vegetables you have on hand!). By itself, it does not have any flavor but it takes on the fragrant flavor of garlic or the meat that you are cooking it with.
Black wood ear is actually very nutritious. According to traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), it is especially beneficial for blood, as it can nourish the blood and prevent blood coagulation and frequent consumption of black wood ear prevents coronary heart disease. In addition, black wood ear supposedly counteracts high cholesterol, increases body fluids, and adds moisture to the lung – especially great for autumn when our throats/lungs get very dry.
180g pork, cut into 1 inch strips
half a cup of black wood ear
2 small Japanese cucumbers, peeled and sliced
1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
2 tbsp cooking oil
2 tbsp oyster sauce
2-4 tbsp water
Marinade for pork:
1/2 tsp sugar
1 and 1/2 tbsps light soy sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp corn starch
1 tbsp water
pinch of salt
Marinate the pork for at least half an hour, with sugar, soy sauce, sesame oil, black pepper, corn starch, salt and water.
Prepare the black wood ear. If using fresh wood ear, just rinse it, then parboil it for 5 mins, drain the water and set aside. If using dried black wood ear, you need to soak it in water for an hour, rinse, then parboil for 5 mins, drain and set aside. (It expands when fully reconstituted, so I often cut it into smaller pieces before stir frying)
Heat the cooking oil, stir fry the garlic for a few seconds, then add in the pork and stir fry until light brown.
Add in the cucumber, black wood ear, oyster sauce and stir fry together with the pork. Add one or two tablespoons of water if it seems kind of dry. Stir fry for 5 mins or until the cucumber and pork are cooked. Serve hot with rice. Enjoy!
Why would anyone want to eat a bitter vegetable? Bitter gourd is very bitter but someone in my family likes it so I have researched ways to make it less bitter and I think I have finally acquired the taste for this nutritious and unique vegetable. It is very low in calories and an excellent source of vitamins, minerals, anti-oxidants and fiber. It is even good for getting rid of acne.
Bitter gourd is often used in a stir fry with pork or beef with black beans, steamed with pork spare ribs or cooked in soup. It can even be served as an appetizer – very thinly sliced raw bitter gourd on a bed of shaved ice and eaten with honey as a dipping sauce – the cool, sweet taste makes it very refreshing.
Here’s a tip to remove the bitter taste:
First, cut the bitter gourd into half (see photo) and slice each half lengthwise. Then, using a tablespoon scoop out all the seeds and as much of the white pulp as possible. Next, slice it horizontally. Place the slices in a bowl and sprinkle 1 tsp salt over them and mix thoroughly. Let the slices sit for half an hour in the bowl. Lastly, squeeze out and discard as much of the juice as possible. This takes out most of the bitter taste.
1 bitter gourd, sliced and bitter taste removed
200 g (1/2 lb) pork, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp of light soy sauce
1/2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp sesame oil
1/2 tsp corn starch
1 tsp water
1. Marinate the pork slices with light soy sauce, sugar, sesame oil, corn starch and water for half an hour.
2. Blanch the bitter gourd in boiling water for 2-3 minutes. Drain and put aside.
3. Heat the cooking oil in a frying pan, stir fry the minced garlic until fragrant (don’t let them turn brown), then add in the pork slices and stir fry until it is almost cooked.
4. Add in the blanched bitter gourd slices and stir fry together with the pork. Add in one tbsp of oyster sauce and 1-2 tbsp of water. If you find the bitter gourd is still too bitter for your taste buds, add in 1 tsp sugar. Stir fry until the water evaporates.
5. Serve with hot rice.
It has been raining practically every day. This month could be the wettest December here in several years. We don’t have a winter season, it is called the monsoon season. It is usually hot and sunny in the morning followed by mid-day thundery showers that last well into the evening rush hour. The weather report says that the amount of rain recorded for the four days of December alone is already half that seen for the entire month last year! I think my mint plant has become the latest casualty of this rainy season.
So, my thoughts have turned to making soup. It’s light and healthy and a perfect accompaniment to tonight’s meal of miso grilled codfish, stir fried vegetables and rice.
1 lb lean pork
1 lb green radish
1 lb carrots
2 honey dates
4 red dates
2 dried figs
1 Tbsp Chinese south almonds (optional)
1 Tbsp Chinese north almonds (optional)
10 cups of water
1. Cut the pork into slices of 1/2 inch thickness. Boil a small pot of water to blanch the pork slices. Drain and set the pork aside.
2. Peel the green radish and carrots. Wash and cut into chunks of 1 inch thickness.
3. Rinse the honey dates, red dates, figs, north and south almonds and set aside.
4. Put all the ingredients into a big pot and add 10 cups of water. Cook on high heat and bring to a boil.
5. Reduce the heat and let it simmer on low heat for one to one and half hours. Add salt to taste and serve hot.
Note: North and south almonds can be found in Chinese grocery shops. They are actually apricot kernels. They don’t add any discernible flavor to the soup but are common ingredients in traditional soups – they are supposed to relieve internal heat and soothe coughs.