Canh Kho Qua
Comfort soup 
by Nguyen Khoi Nguyen
When Ba Ngoai (grandma on our mom’s side) came to America in 1990, she brought along with her bitter melon seeds. Mom planted these seeds in our backyard and soon after, the vines began to crawl up our screen porch. Yellow flowers bloomed on the vines and then bumpy, jade green squash formed. That’s when Mom started making Canh Kho Qua, a stuffed bitter melon soup. Whenever we visit, Mom makes us this soup that irresistibly combines bitter with sweet. We happily eat the leftovers for days.
Mom double boils the drumsticks and the bitter melon. The first time, the bitter melon and drumsticks boil in separate pots. The resulting liquids are discarded. Then, the drumsticks and the stuffed squash are boiled together. Why go to all this trouble? Once this process is complete, the sweetness of the bitter melon is drawn out and the consommé is clear.
From the pot, I scoop one or two stuffed melons along with the broth and drown my bowl of white rice with the contents. When only broth remains, I raise the bowl to my mouth and slurp it dry! When I lived in Saigon in 2005, I would often buy this soup from vendors that lined my street, but it was never quite as good as Mom’s.
Cutting and removing the insides
Cutting and removing the insides
First boil of melons
First boil of melons
Cutting mushrooms
Cutting mushrooms
The stuffing is ready to mix.
The stuffing is ready to mix.
Stuffing the melons
Stuffing the melons
5 bitter melons
1.5 ground pork
1 mini bag clear noodles
4 pieces dried cat ear mushrooms 
4 pieces scallions
4 cloves garlic
8 sprigs cilantro
1 tsp salt

Cut bitter melons into 5-6 inch pieces length-wise. 
Make one continuous cut down the length of each piece.
Remove the seeds and insides with a knife or spoon.
Boil melons for 15 minutes.
Drain and let cool off.
Use the same pot to boil chicken drumsticks.
Drain and let cool off.
Dice noodles, mushrooms, scallions, and garlic.
Mix ground pork with all ingredients except for melon and chicken.
Stuff your mixture into each melon.
Put chicken back into pot of water (enough so the melon and drumsticks are submerged).
Once boiling put in stuffed melon.
Do not use lid. Let cook on low for one 30 minutes. 
Add sugar and salt to taste.
At the end, add cilantro and scallions.

A drawing of grandma in front of our bitter melon vines

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