During the last BBW booksale, I bought this lovely book, "The Songs of Sapa" by Luke Nguyen. Sapa is a town in northwest Vietnam. Luke Nguyen, owner and chef of his restaurant in Sydney, Red Lantern, travels back to his country of heritage, Vietnam, on a culinary journey to the northern regions of Vietnam. From Hanoi to Quy Nhon, Saigon to Sapa, and a few other places in between, he tells the stories of his travels and recipes of each region that he visited. It is a beautiful book and I've finished reading it in two days, enjoying the beautiful photos of Vietnam and its people, and the delicious photos of Vietnamese cuisine.
When I came upon this recipe, Hairy Melon With Dried Shrimp Soup, from the book, it brings back fond memories, as it is similar to the one my beloved late mom used to cook. I have almost forgotten about this simple soup. My mom used to add in some tung fun (bean thread vermicelli). I've decided to cook this simple soup for one of our weeknight dinner, to serve with other dishes, minus the tung fun, since I'm following Luke Nyugen's recipe, and also I have none in my pantry.
Even with the difference in culture and cuisines, sometimes you would come across a dish or two which is really very similar. I was pleasantly surprised to find this soup which uses similar ingredients like the one my mother used. At home I have cooked hairy melon in soups, but always with some pork ribs or chicken bones, and some other ingredients along with it. I have really forgotten about this simple way of cooking with dried shrimps and bean thread vermicelli.
Hairy Melon, which is also called by another name, Fuzzy Melon.
Dried prawns (shrimps)
A very simple soup to make, firstly the dried shrimps is soaked till softened, then pound until finely crushed. Water from the soaked dried shrimp are mixed with some water in a pot and bring that to boil. Add in some ground black pepper, though the recipe calls for quite a large amount of 1/2 teaspoon. I would advise to add in little amount and add more if you prefer. I've used 1/4 teaspoon and find it a little peppery hot. Salt, fish sauce and the pounded shrimp are added in, leave to boil for about 10 minutes. Then the hairy melon are added in, and boil for 10 minutes longer until the melons are soft and translucent.
This is, really, a simple soup. You would not expect any "Wow" from it, but it is a comforting, simple soup, that reminds me of my fond memories from my childhood days. Best describes it as such, according to Luke Nguyen, "Vietnamese soups, or broths, are simple to prepare and are usually very light and clear. These soups are not eaten as a meal on their own but are designed to be served with other dishes, to balance out the salty flavours of other foods, and to cleanse the palate."
** note my remarks in blue
(adapted from "The Songs of Sapa", Luke Nguyen)
50gm (1-3/4 oz / 1/2 cup) dried shrimp
1 tablespoon fish sauce
600gm (1lb 5oz) hairy melon, peeled and cut into batons
1 tablespoon sliced spring onion (scallion)
2 coriander (cilantro) sprigs
1 bird's eye chilli, thinly sliced
fish sauce, for dipping
Soak the dried shrimp in 125ml (4 fl oz/1/2 cup) of water for 30 minutes. Drain the shrimp, reserving the soaking water. Using a mortar and pestle, pound the shrimp until finely crushed.
Put 1.5 litres (52 fl oz/6 cups) of water and the reserved soaking water in a large saucepan. Add 1 teaspoon salt (adjust to taste as the fish sauce is already salty), 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (go easy on the black pepper, adjust to taste), the fish sauce and pounded shrimp to the pan. Bring to the boil, skimming any impurities off the surface, then reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the hairy melon, then increase the heat to high and cook for about 10 minutes, or until the melon becomes softened and slightly translucent.
Serve in large soup bowls and garnish with the spring onion and coriander sprigs. Serve with jasmine rice, and a small bowl of sliced chilli and fish sauce for dipping.
Serves 4-6 as part of a shared meal.
I'm linking this post to :
Little Thumbs Up, ingredient for this month is PRAWNS, organized by Zoe of Bake For Happy Kids, Doreen of My Little Favourite D.I.Y. and hosted by Food Playground.