Stuffed Bitter Melon Soup (Vegan Recipe) - Earth to Veg
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Stuffed Bitter Melon Soup (Vegan Recipe)

Stuffed Bitter Melon Soup is a traditional dish in many Southeast Asian cuisines and can be cooked using bitter melon or cucumber as the main ingredient. In this vegan rendition, Beyond or Impossible meat takes the place of pork stuffing. The stuffed melon is then simmered in a flavorful broth. Try this special recipe for your next Lunar New Year dinner!

History & Origins

This savoury and refreshing soup is found in Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam.

The Thai name is แก้งจืดมะระยัดไส้ (kaeng jued mara yad sai) which translates to “stuffed bitter gourd soup.”

The Vietnamese name is canh khổ qua, which translates to “hardship passed soup.” During Tết, the Vietnamese New Year, people in South Vietnam traditionally eat canh khổ qua to symbolize the passing of hardship. The bitter taste of the gourd represents the hardships of the past year. Eating canh khổ qua during Tết is seen as a way of purging oneself of negative experiences and emotions, and starting the new year with a fresh perspective.

A secondary reason is for the health benefits, since bitter melon is believed to help detoxify and balance the “heat” in the body. I think Asian parents everywhere are united on the fact that the more bitter something tastes, the better it is for us. 😝🥒

Although bitter gourd is the most common choice of vegetable, you can also make stuffed cucumber soup for a milder alternative. In recent times it has become more common to use cucumber instead of bitter gourd. Stuffed cucumber soup has all the savoury-sweet goodness but with none of the bitterness. Also, they stay crisp for longer in the hot broth, giving the soup a better texture.

Stuffed Bitter Gourd Soup

Typically, the gourds are stuffed with pork or chicken, and sometimes even seafood. But thanks to the magic of vegan faux meats, this recipe can be made vegan.

This one is more of a Thai recipe; Vietnamese and Cambodian versions of the soup typically contain more ingredients in the filling, such as shiitake mushroom, wood ear mushroom, carrots, vermicelli noodles. Feel free to add some shredded veggies into your stuffing mixture, but don’t overcomplicate it.

The only thing to remember is that a geng jeut is a soup, not a stew, and such an accumulation of ingredients must not result in a thick clutter.

David Thompson, Thai Food
Any leftover filling can be shaped into “meatballs” and cooked with the soup for some extra meaty bites!

Try Kongnamul Guk or Stinky Tofu Soup for more unique Asian soup recipes.

What You’ll Need

You need just 10 ingredients to put this stuffed bitter melon soup together:

Beyond Beef or Impossible Beef

It is essential to use one of two specific brands for this soup: either Beyond Meat or Impossible Burger. They both sell their plant-based “meat” in a brick format, making it easy to weigh out the amount needed for the recipe. These two brands are the only vegan ground beef products that actually stay together without disintegrating into a boiling soup.

The Beyond meat has a more “beef burger” taste. Even while eating the Beyond meatballs in this soup, I was reminded of biting into a juicy hamburger. For that reason, if you had to pick one, I’d say Impossible takes the edge. But either one will work great for you.

Stuffing Seasoning

Next we are going to mix some seasoning into the meat. The spices and acceptable substitutes are:

  • Cilantro root: can substitute with double the amount of minced cilantro stems.
  • Garlic: can substitute with 1/4 tsp of granulated garlic or garlic powder.
  • White pepper: can substitute with equal amount of black pepper.

Cucumber vs Bitter Melon

While the soup is traditionally made with bitter melon, a popular and less polarizing alternative is cucumber.

The worst part about bitter melon is… bitterness. The flavour stands out pretty strongly in this soup. So if you’ve never tried bitter melon, or have traumatic childhood memories of it like me, I recommend using cucumber as that is a more palatable introduction to this tasty soup.

Although I’ve made canh khổ qua with both bitter melon and cucumber in the past, I prefer the cucumber if I’m being honest.

Herbs and Seasoning

Try to find these súp chay stock cubes in your local Asian grocery store. (Chay means “vegetarian” in Vietnamese.) They are vegan and add so much umami flavour to the broth. They’re probably not the healthiest option, but… they taste damn good. If you want, you can also use any homemade or storebought vegetable stock. Just add some extra sugar and msg.

Add a splash (no more than 1 tbsp) of vegan fish sauce or soy sauce to the broth. A little bit enhances the flavour, but too much will throw it off.

Also, add salt to taste. The amount to add depends on how salty your stock is. For example, the commercial súp chay cubes that I used contained plenty of sodium, so I didn’t need to add any extra.

Finally, fresh chopped scallions and cilantro bring this soup to the next level!


Step-by-Step Process

Start by peeling your bitter melon or cucumber. Slice them into segments, 2 to 3 inches long.
Use a small knife and cut around the core to hollow out each segment and remove the seeds. It’s easiest to do this by standing each piece up on the cutting board and stabbing downwards to cut through to the other side.
If using bitter melon, blanch the pieces in boiling water for 5 minutes, then drain and soak them in salted cold water. This reduces the bitterness. Make sure to thoroughly rinse and dry them before stuffing.
Meanwhile, add the veggie ground meat, cilantro root, garlic, and white pepper to a small bowl.
Mix together well to make the filling.
Pack each hollowed-out piece of melon as tightly as you can. There will be some filling leftover though. These can be shaped into meatballs and dropped into the soup together with the stuffed gourds.
Add the water, stock cubes, and soy sauce to a stockpot or Dutch oven. Bring to a boil, then drop in the stuffed cucumbers/melons. Turn the heat down to low and simmer (lid covered) for 15 minutes.
Taste for salt, adding salt if needed. Top with scallions and cilantro, and serve.

Make Ahead & Storage Tips

Store in the fridge for up to five days. When reheating, it’s best to take out the stuffed gourds first, then bring the stock back to a boil over the stove, and drop in the gourds at the end just to warm through. Otherwise, the melon pieces will get overly soft.

Variations

  • Steam the stuffed bitter melon pieces instead of boiling them, to serve as a side dish.
  • For Lao style, add chopped onions to the filling mixture and drop a few chili peppers into the soup.
  • For Vietnamese style, mix a small amount of cooked glass noodles (aka cellophane noodles) into the filling.


Recipe Card

spoon holding up a stuffed bitter gourd over a pot full of Thai bitter melon soup

Vegan Stuffed Bitter Melon Soup

5 from 1 vote
Course: Soup
Cuisine: Thai, Vietnamese
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 45 minutes
Servings: 4 side servings
Calories: 103kcal
Author: Jellie
Cost: $0.96 per serving
This unusual stuffed bitter melon soup from Thailand and Vietnam is traditionally eaten during the New Year. (Or make stuffed cucumber soup for a milder version.)
Print Recipe

Ingredients

  • 6 oz Beyond Beef or Impossible Beef 170g
  • 1 tbsp mashed cilantro root *can sub with 2 tbsp minced cilantro stems
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced 10g
  • ½ tsp ground white pepper *can sub with black pepper
  • 1 large bitter melon or English cucumber, peeled 400g
  • 1 qt water 960g
  • 1 Vietnamese soup stock cube see Note 1
  • 1 tbsp vegan fish sauce or soy sauce 15g
  • 2 tbsp chopped scallions for serving
  • 2 tbsp chopped cilantro for serving
  • salt to taste

Instructions

  • Slice cucumber or bitter melon into 2-inch long pieces and core them (using a small knife) to remove the seeds. If using bitter melon, blanch the pieces in boiling water for 5 minutes, then drain and soak in salted water while you prepare the other ingredients. This reduces the bitterness.
  • Mix together the Beyond or Impossible ground meat, cilantro root, garlic, and white pepper.
  • Pack the mixture tightly into each hollowed cucumber/melon. Any leftover filling can be shaped into meatballs and dropped into the soup.
  • Bring water, stock cube, and vegan fish sauce to a boil, then drop in the stuffed melons. Turn heat down to low and simmer for 15 minutes.
  • Taste for salt, adding as needed. Top with scallions and cilantro and serve.

Notes

  1. I used one Vietnamese vegetarian (súp chay) stock cube. If you are using water or homemade vegetable stock, you may want to add some sugar and msg, especially if you are using bitter melon, as they help to offset the bitter flavour.

Nutrition

Calories: 103kcal
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Nutrition, Cost, and Emissions Information

Each small bowl of stuffed bitter gourd soup costs $0.96, contains 103 cal, and releases 166 gCO2e of carbon emissions into the atmosphere.

To reach the global Paris Agreement emissions target, it’s recommended to limit daily carbon emissions from food to 3,050 kgCO2e/day per person.

Nutrition data is provided by Cronometer (click the link at the bottom of the nutrition label to learn more). Feel free to contact me for sources on the cost and carbon emissions information presented here. I am not a nutritionist and guidelines on this page are provided for informational purposes only.

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