kake: The word "菜單" (Chinese for "menu") in various shades of purple. (菜單)
[personal profile] kake
Description follows.

[Image: Thick batons of peeled winter melon (a white/pale green vegetable) piled on a plate, coated with a light brown sauce in which a few tiny dried prawns are visible.]

Today I'm posting about a fairly simple but quite tasty vegetable dish — winter melon with dried prawns (海米冬瓜/hǎi mǐ dōng guā). As I mentioned on Wednesday, dried prawns are referred to in Chinese as both 海米 (hǎi mǐ) and 蝦米 (xiā mǐ), so you might also see this dish listed on menus as 蝦米冬瓜 (xiā mǐ dōng guā).

冬瓜 (dōng guā) is a type of gourd with a green skin and crisp white flesh. They tend to be very large. In the UK at least, you won't normally buy a whole one, but even the pieces on sale in supermarkets are quite big; when I went to buy some the other week, the smallest piece I could get weighed just over 1.2kg! Whole ones are sometimes used, hollowed out and carved on the outside with decorative designs, to hold soups at banquets (here's a photo).

The literal translation of 冬瓜 is "winter melon", and this is also a common name for it in English, though it's also known as white gourd or wax gourd. According to Wikipedia, although it requires very warm weather to grow, it can be stored for a year once it's grown, so the name may refer to its being available throughout the winter. Alternatively, according to a poster on eGullet, winter melons are usually harvested in winter, which may be another reason for the name.

There are a number of types of dried prawn available, with perhaps the most common being the curled-up pink type, around a centimetre or so across. However, I was intrigued by the ones in the dish pictured above (from Royal Palace) — tiny ones, with heads and shells still on — so when I saw a packet in Loon Fung I picked it up to give them a go in this dish. (Here's a side-by-side photo of the two types.)

I roughly followed the 海米冬瓜 recipe on Travel China Guide. The recipe as written is a bit confusing, since first it tells you to drain the soaked dried prawns and then a photo appears to show the soaking water being added into the wok as well. It's also not clear whether they intend you to add stock powder or actual stock at the end.

So here's what I did: heated oil in a wok, added chopped spring onion and ginger, stirfried them for 20 seconds, added the (soaked, drained) dried prawns and winter melon, stirfried for 2 minutes, added a pinch of salt and a fair bit of home-made chicken/pork stock, and then continued to cook it until the liquid had mostly evaporated and the winter melon had softened. It turned out pretty good!

If you have any questions or corrections, please leave a comment (here's how) and let me know (or email me at kake@earth.li). See my introductory post to the Chinese menu project for what these posts are all about.
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