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Praise for Braised Winter Melon

Juicy, cucumber-like chunks of winter melon get braised gently in this easy dish.
Juicy, cucumber-like chunks of winter melon get braised gently in this easy dish.

Some ingredients like caviar and truffles are unabashedly luxe.

Others like celery decidedly relegated — rightly or wrongly — to mundane.

Winter melon, though, is that rarity that falls equally into high- and low-brow camps.

Like tomatoes, these huge green-skinned melons, which can grow as large as 40 pounds, are actually a fruit that’s most often treated as a vegetable.

As a kid, I still have memories of many a Chinese restaurant Lunar New Year banquet at this time of year, where a waiter would gingerly carry a heaving half winter melon to the Lazy Susan on our table. Its skin would be intricately carved with Chinese characters for a grand presentation and its chasm filled to the brim with bubbling soup fortified with ginko nuts, shredded dried scallops, and the melon’s flesh. It was the epitome of special occasion.

In contrast, I also fondly remember my mom regularly making a much simpler version at home, cutting the melon into chunks to simmer in canned chicken broth with slivers of ginger, and sometimes a little bit of pork or chicken. It was not only an economical way to stretch a meal, but her way of trying to ward off colds and flus, as winter melon is high in Vitamin C.

Whether prepared fancifully or frugally, winter melon is a taste of home for me.

Even though it can be prepared many ways, including in candy and poached in a dessert soup, I’ve mostly had it in savory soups. That’s why this recipe for “Braised Winter Melon” immediately caught my eye as a novel method I just had to try.

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