the appetizer:

Explore authentic Vietnamese family cuisine in Secrets of the Red Lantern: Stories and Vietnamese Recipes from the Heart by Pauline Nguyen, with recipes by Luke Nguyen and Mark Jensen, including Steamed Cockles or Periwinkles (Oc Luoc); Bitter Melon Stuffed with Pork and Black Fungus (Canh Hu Qua); and Wok-tossed Water Spinach with Fermented Bean Curd Sauce (Rau Muong Xao Chao).

Cookbook Profile

Bitter Melon Stuffed
with Pork and Black Fungus
(Canh Hu Qua)

Serves 4

Bitter Melon Stuffed


Luke Nguyen: In Vietnamese culture and medicine, food is referred to as having "hot" or "cold" effects on the body. This doesn't refer to the temperature of the body but rather the state of well-being. Fried food, for example, is "hot" so you need to eat "cooling" foods to balance the body. As you can imagine, the "cooling" foods are all the ones that kids hate to eat. Bitter melon, winter melon, and pennywort leaves are all cooling foods and are often used in soups that are particularly nourishing for the body. I always despised these dishes as a child, but now these foods are comforting for me.

Soak the bean thread noodles and black fungus strips separately in boiling water for 10 minutes. Strain, then pat dry with a cloth. Roughly cut the bean thread noodles into 1-1/2-inch pieces and place in a bowl with the pork, black fungus, white part of the scallions, 1 tablespoon of the fish sauce, sugar, 1/2 teaspoon of the salt, half the pepper, and the egg. Mix well and set aside.

Cut the ends off the bitter melons, then cut into 3/4-inch-wide disks.

Remove the soft white flesh and seeds from the melon, using a teaspoon, and discard. Wash in cold water, drain, and pat dry with a paper towel. Lay the bitter melon disks flat and fill each one firmly with the pork mixture.

Put the chicken stock in a large saucepan with the remaining fish sauce and salt and bring to a boil. Add the stuffed melon to the soup, return to a simmer, and cook for 15 minutes. Ladle into bowls and garnish with the scallion greens, cilantro, and remaining black pepper.


Chicken Stock (Nuoc Leo Ga)

Makes 5 Quarts

Mark Jensen: Stocks in Vietnamese cooking are simple and concise.

Essentially, they consist of just the basic meat and water. Different vegetables and aromatics are added to create the desired effect. The strong flavor of grilled dried squid and fish sauce, for example, are added to make the soup for mi sui cao (shrimp and pork dumplings in pork broth with egg noodles). Grilled ginger and star anise are key ingredients for pho (page 210 of the book).

The making of basic stocks is the only part of Vietnamese cooking that requires any long period at the stove. Chicken, pork, beef, fish, or vegetable stock need some babysitting but it is worth it, especia1ly if you were to cook a big batch and freeze it into smaller portions. It takes but a few minutes to defrost a little stock to use instead of water. The difference in flavor is as clear as day. The process of caring for the stock, checking up on it, and skimming it of impurities can be a nurturing and meditative experience.

Crush the garlic and scallions into a paste in a mortar. Wash the chicken thoroughly under cold running water, making sure to remove all traces of blood, guts, and fat from the cavity. Place the chicken in a large saucepan with 6 quarts of water and bring to a boil. Decrease the heat of the stock to a slow simmer and skim the surface. Continue to skim for 10 minutes until you have removed most of the fat, then add the ginger, garlic, and scallions. Cook for a further 2 hours, then strain and allow the stock to cool. Refrigerate for up to 3 days or freeze until needed.


Buy Secrets of the Red Lantern


Secrets of the Red Lantern
Stories and Vietnamese Recipes from the Heart


Cookbook Profile Archive


This page created November 2008