A comforting dish with natural umami taste, winter melon soup with meatballs is an easy dish that warms your body in a very tasty way. The addition of mung bean vermicelli makes it more substantial.
Winter Melon: A Versatile Vegetable
Winter melon (Dong Gua/冬瓜), also known as wax gourd, is a very large fruit eaten as a vegetable that’s widely used in Chinese cuisine. Having a mild sweet taste and a soft, spongy texture that absorbs flavour very well, it can be found in stir-fries, stews, soup, etc.
Usually, winter melon is sold in sections (instead of as whole). Trim off the dark green, hard skin and scoop out the seeds in the middle. Then cut it into bite-sized chunks. If you happen to get a whole winter melon, store it at room temperature away from direct sunlight. It will last for a good few months. Once opened, you can freeze peeled, sliced chunks for later use.
How to Make Great Meatballs
For me, there are two golden rules when it comes to making meatballs. First of all, the minced meat should stay in a ball shape while cooking. Secondly, the cooked meatballs should be moist, tender, a little springy and balanced in flavour. To achieve these two goals, I use the following formula to make the mixture.
- Minced meat. When shooting this recipe, I used shop-bought minced pork. Minced chicken is a good option too. For best taste and texture, choose minced meat that contains some fat.
- Scallions & ginger. They offer great aroma and help reduce the gamey flavour of the meat. Make sure you finely chop/mince them to combine well with the meat.
- Light soy sauce, salt & white pepper. These three simple ingredients contribute to the clean umami taste of this soup.
- Egg white & starch. They help the meat to become sticky thus stay in shape while cooking. Moreover, they create a tender and springy texture which I find pleasant on the palate. For every 250g/9oz of minced meat, you would need one egg white. If you have no other use for the egg yolk, simply cook it in the soup.
Now the mixture is ready to be shaped into balls. You have two options. One is to make all the balls before you start cooking the soup (Like what I did for my Chicken Meatball Noodle Soup). The other option, which is what I introduce for today’s recipe, is to shape and cook them at the same time. In the next section on cooking steps, I will write in detail about how to make them round and uniformly sized.
Four simple steps to cook winter melon soup
Step One: Fry the Aromatics
Set a pot (or a wok) over medium heat. Pour in oil then add finely chopped scallions and dried papery shrimps. Fry until their fragrance is released. Add about 1 litre of water to the pot.
Dried papery shrimp, which is called Xia Pi/ 虾皮 in Chinese, is my “secret weapon” when making Chinese soup (You can find it in my recipe for Egg Drop Soup with Tomato and Tofu & Veggie Soup). It adds great umami taste and is very versatile indeed (I use it in some stir-fries and dumpling fillings). I highly recommend you make it part of your Chinese pantry. For this dish, you may also use regular dried shrimp which is much bigger. In this case, soak it in water to soften then chop small before frying.
Step Two: Shape & Cook the Meatballs
When the soup comes to a very gentle boil, turn the heat down and start making meatballs. Here is how I shape them with hands.
- Place some meat mixture onto the palm of your hand (Wear a kitchen glove if you wish).
- Gently close your hand into a fist while squeezing some mixture out to form a ball through the opening between your thumb and index finger.
- Scoop it off with a spoon then gently slide into the soup. Repeat the procedure to finish all the meatballs.
Check out the tutorial video in the recipe card below if you’d like to have an even clearer idea. During this process, make sure you adjust the heat level if necessary to avoid excessive boiling.
Step Three: Cook the Winter Melon & Vermicelli
Once you’ve made all the meatballs, it’s time to add the winter melon chunks to the soup. Turn up the heat and leave to boil (cover with a lid to avoid too much evaporation). I like the winter melon cooked to a very soft texture. So it took me about 10 mins. Please feel free to reduce the time if you prefer it a little firmer.
Now add the pre-soaked mung bean vermicelli (Fen Si/粉丝) which will make this soup dish more substantial. Leave to cook a further minute uncovered. Try not to overcook it. The heat in the soup will continue to make it softer before you start eating the dish. The perfectly cooked mung bean vermicelli shouldn’t be mushy but a little springy. If you’re unfamiliar with this popular Chinese ingredient, check out my post on Spicy Vermicelli Stir-fry for more information.
Step Four: Season & Garnish
The last step is to season and garnish. You can turn off the heat at this point. A little salt, ground white pepper and a dash of sesame oil are what you need for flavour. Give everything a quick stir then taste a little soup to see if you need to add a little more salt or not.
If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you know how much I am obsessed with the look of my dishes. So before serving, I garnish the soup with a few sprigs of coriander (aka cilantro). Alternatively, add some baby spinach instead.
Other Warming Soup Recipes
Looking for more inspiration? Here are more soup recipes that will satisfy your craving for comforting and warming dishes:
- The classic Hot & Sour Soup tastes the best without compromise and adaptation. Try my recipe!
- Egg Drop Soup with Tomato is one of the most popular soups in Chinese households. You’ll be surprised by how easy it is to make it. But the flavour is a WOW!
- If you’re looking for something more substantial, check out my recipe for Easy Pork Wonton Soup.
- Vegan soup can be very tasty. My Tofu & Veggie Soup is a great example.
Winter Melon Soup with Meatballs (冬瓜丸子汤)
- 400 g winter melon, 14oz
- 50 g mung bean vermicelli (Fen Si/粉丝), see note 1
For the meatballs
- 250 g minced pork, or minced chicken, 9oz
- 1 stalk scallions, finely chopped
- 1 tsp minced ginger
- ½ tbsp light soy sauce
- ¼ tsp salt
- ¼ tsp ground white pepper
- 1 tbsp tapioca starch, or corn starch
- 1 egg white
For the soup
- 1 tsp neutral cooking oil
- ½ tbsp dried papery shrimp (Xia Pi/虾皮), see note 2
- 1 stalk scallions, finely chopped
- 1000 ml water, 4 cups
- ½ tsp salt, or to taste
- ⅛ tsp ground white pepper
- 1 tsp sesame oil
- Coriander, finely chopped, optional
Prepare the winter melon
- Trim off the hard, green skin of the winter melon and remove its seeds. Cut into bite-sized chunks. Set aside.
Soak the vermicelli
- Put dried mung bean vermicelli in a bowl. Pour in tap water to soak (enough to cover). Drain after 10 mins. Cut into shorter sections with scissors.
Make the meatball mixture
- Put minced meat into a mixing bowl. Add scallions, ginger, light soy sauce, salt, white pepper, starch, and egg white. Stir in the same direction to combine until no more liquid can be seen and the mixture becomes sticky.
Cook the soup
- Heat up oil in a pot over medium heat then add dried papery shrimp and scallions. Fry until fragrant.
- Add water. Bring it to a very gentle simmer then turn the heat to low.
- Place some meat mixture onto the palm of your hand (wear a kitchen glove if you wish). Gently close your hand into a fist while squeezing some mixture out to form a ball through the opening between your thumb and index finger. Scoop it off with a spoon then slide into the soup (Please refer to the tutorial video below). Repeat the procedure to finish all the meatballs.
- Add the winter melon to the soup. Cover the pot with a lid. Turn the heat to medium. Leave to cook until the winter melon becomes soft (about 8-10 mins).
- Put in mung bean vermicelli. Cook for a further minute.
- Finally, add salt, ground white pepper & sesame oil. Garnish with coriander (if using). Serve warm in a large soup dish or individual serving bowls.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this winter melon soup post and feel inspired to make some. Let me know if you have any questions by leaving a comment below or contact me @red.house.spice.