Vietnamese Bitter Melon Soup (Canh Kho Qua)

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Vietnamese Bitter Melon Soup features stuffed bitter melon with pork in a clear and savory broth. This is a traditional dish of Southern Vietnamese cuisine. I will also share effective ways to reduce the bitterness of the gourd.

a bowl of Vietnamese bitter melon soup (canh kho qua)

What is Vietnamese Bitter Melon Soup

Bitter melon may also be called bitter gourd. The Vietnamese translation is either “mướp đắng“, which literally means bitter melon, or “khổ qua“, which means bitter living condition has gone away. “Muop dang” seems to be more common in the North while “kho qua” is used in all regions in Vietnam.

This stuffed bitter melon soup is especially popular in Southern Vietnam. We call it “canh khổ qua nhồi thịt” or “canh khổ qua dồn thịt“.

In the Southern part of the country, the soup is not only in the daily rotation of many families but also considered a must in the Lunar New Year (Tết) feast. I think the reason behind this is by eating it for Tet, people wish all hardships in life will go away and the new year will be full of happiness.

So is the soup bitter? Yes, it is not free of bitterness, but I will share some effective ways to reduce the bitterness to your liking.

Ingredients

Here are the main ingredients for this Vietnamese bitter melon soup:

plates containing ingredients for the bitter melon soup

Bitter melon: I have said this before in my bitter melon with eggs recipe. Not all bitter melons are the same, and some are definitely are more bitter than others. 

Try to find those with few and smooth and large ridges which tend to be slightly less bitter. I also like to find the short and chubby melons for this particular recipe because I can keep them whole, and they still fit perfectly inside my pot.

Meat filling: you will need ground pork, dried wood-ear mushroom, some minced garlic and shallot for the filling. It is quite similar to the filling in my pork stuffed cabbage soup recipe.

Stock/broth: you can still make the soup without stock. However, if you want it to be more delicious, and more importantly, less bitter, using stock is highly recommended. Chicken stock or pork bone broth will work great. We will also flavor the broth with fish sauce, salt and fresh herbs (scallion and cilantro).

Prepare Bitter Melon for the Soup

How you prepare the bitter melon will help reduce excessive bitterness. Here are two options: soaking it in salted water or blanching it in boiling water. You can also do both, of course.

a collage of two ways to make the gourd less bitter: soaking in salted water and blanching

First, slice the gourd length-wise but not all the way through. Scoop out all the white part inside, and then soak it in salted water.

a collage of steps to prepare bitter melon

You can utilize soaking time to prepare the meat filling. After that, stuff the melon with the filling. Some people like to secure the stuffed gourd by tying it with a strip of blanched scallion, but it is not a must.

stuffing bitter melon with the meat filling

Final Cooking Tip

The remaining cooking steps are really straightforward. You simply need to simmer the stuffed melon until it is very tender, about 30-40 minutes.

Here is my last optional tip to make the soup less bitter: simmer the stuffed gourd in plain water (just enough to barely cover it). Discard some of the cooking liquid and replace it with stock at the end of the cooking process. Feel free to replace most of the cooking liquid if you have a low tolerance for the veggie’s bitterness.

cooking stuffed bitter melon on the stove

So, in summary, I have suggested four tips to reduce the bitterness to your liking:

  • Choosing the bitter melon with few and smooth ridges
  • Soaking it in salted water
  • Blanching it
  • Replacing some of the bitter cooking liquid with stock of your choice

I myself have a low tolerance for its bitterness, but these tips have allowed me to enjoy this pork stuffed bitter melon soup much more than when I was a kid. I hope you will enjoy it too. Now, let’s get to the recipe card for detailed measurements and instructions.

a bowl of Vietnamese stuffed bitter melon soup (canh kho qua don thịt)

⭐️ I’d love to hear what you think about the dish, so please feel free to leave a comment and a rating if you have tried it. New recipes are added every week so let’s connect on FacebookYoutubePinterest and Instagram for the latest updates. You can find my collection of Vietnamese recipes here.

a bowl of Vietnamese bitter melon soup

Vietnamese Bitter Melon Soup

Vietnamese Bitter Melon Soup features bitter melon stuffed with ground pork mixture in a clear and savory broth. This is a traditional dish of Southern Vietnamese cuisine.
Author: Sophie
5 from 1 vote
Prep: 15 minutes
Cook: 40 minutes
Total: 55 minutes
Servings: 4 people

Ingredients
 

  • 1 lb bitter melons
  • 0.25 oz dried wood-ear mushrooms
  • 6 oz ground pork
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon minced shallot
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt, divided
  • 3/4 teaspoon fish sauce
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 3 cups water
  • a 1-inch piece of ginger, peeled and sliced
  • white part of 2 scallion stalks
  • 2 cups chicken stock (or pork bone broth)
  • green part of scallions, thinly sliced
  • cilantro, roughly chopped

Instructions
 

  • Slice the bitter melons length-wise but not all the way through. Scoop out all the white part inside, and then soak them in salted water for about 30 minutes to draw out some of the bitterness.
  • Cover the dried wood-ear mushrooms with hot water for several minutes until they are fully rehydrated. Cut off the stems, then julienne and finely mince. You will need about ¼ cup of minced wood-ear mushrooms.
  • Add ground pork to a mixing bowl, then add wood-ear mushrooms, minced garlic, shallot, ¼ teaspoon salt, teaspoon fish sauce and ¼ teaspoon black pepper. Mix to combine.
  • Remove bitter melons from the soaking liquids. If you want to reduce the bitterness even further, blanch them in boiling water for 2-3 minutes. Then rinse under cold water and pat dry. Stuff the bitter melons with the meat filling you have prepared in Step 3.

If you want the soup to be less bitter

  • Choose a pot that is large just enough to fit the bitter melons inside. Bring 2½ – 3 cups of water to a boil. Add the stuffed bitter melons, ginger, white part of scallions and ½ teaspoon salt. We want the water to be just about enough to cover the gourds.
  • Adjust the heat to just below medium heat and simmer with the lid slightly askew for 30-40 minutes until the bitter melons are tender. The heat should be enough to maintain something in between a gentle and rapid simmer. Skim off foam if needed.
  • Once the bitter melons are tender to your liking, discard about 1 cup of the cooking liquid (or more if you want the soup to be even less bitter), then add back about 2 cups of chicken stock.
  • Bring the soup back to a boil and adjust the taste to your liking. People traditionally add a bit of sugar to the soup, which may tone down the bitterness, but it is optional.

If you don't mind the bitterness

  • Simmer the stuffed bitter melon in 4-5 cups of chicken stock (or a combination of water and chicken stock) until tender. Then adjust the taste to your liking.
  • Transfer the soup to serving bowls and sprinkle with chopped green scallions, cilantro and more black pepper if desired. Serve hot.

Notes

Try to find bitter melons with few and smooth and large ridges which tend to be slightly less bitter. I also like to find the short and chubby ones for this recipe because I can keep them whole, and they still fit perfectly inside my pot. If your gourds are larger than your pot, you can slice them in half.
The ratio of meat to gourd is medium. If you want a higher ratio, you can increase the ground pork to about 8 oz and add an additional pinch of salt to the meat mixture.
Soaking the melons in salted water, blanching them and cooking them in plain water first and then replace with chicken stock later are ways to reduce the bitterness. If the bitterness doesn’t bother you at all, you can skip all these additional steps.
Some Viet families in the South like to serve this soup with a small bowl of fish sauce with several slices of bird’s eye chili on the side as a dipping sauce.

Nutrition

Calories: 182kcal | Carbohydrates: 10g | Protein: 12g | Fat: 11g | Saturated Fat: 4g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 5g | Cholesterol: 34mg | Sodium: 735mg | Potassium: 622mg | Fiber: 3g | Sugar: 2g | Vitamin A: 542IU | Vitamin C: 96mg | Calcium: 40mg | Iron: 1mg
Course: Soup
Cuisine: Vietnamese
Keyword: canh kho qua, stuffed bitter melon soup, Vietnamese bitter melon soup
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a bowl of Vietnamese stuffed bitter melon soup

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