Winter Melon Soup
1 (10 lb.) (approximately) winter melon (be sure you have a pot large enough for it)
2 teaspoons dry sherry
1/2 teaspoon sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
15 lotus seeds, soaked
4 lg. dried mushrooms, soaked
cut into ¼ inch squares
1 cup barley, soaked overnight
1 boned, skinless chicken breast, cut into ¼ inch cubes
Cut off enough of the stem end of melon for removal of contents or to fit melon to pot, and remove seeds and soft pulp. Put a piece of cheese cloth under melon to facilitate removal from pot after cooking, then put melon in pot. Put soup ingredients into cavity of melon. Steam melon with its soup ingredients for 1 hour, making sure there is enough water in pot for steaming. Add roast pork or duck meat and steam an additional 15 minutes. Add cubed chicken and pork mixture to the hot broth and stir so that the pieces do not stick together. Steam an additional 15 minutes.
Add shrimp mixture, straw mushrooms, abalone and turn off heat. Grasp corners of cheesecloth and lift out melon gently. Place on a large round serving platter. Remove cheesecloth and garnish with coriander. Serve hot, judiciously scooping out melon pulp to avoid puncturing the shell and not allow soup to leak out.
COMMENTARY: This dish has always been a major undertaking as you can see. However, family and guests who are served this soup always appreciate the effort involved. Basically the melon is used as a container for the soup and is sometimes carved with figures, Chinese characters or geometric patterns to make the melon look like a ceramic piece. Books on Chinese garnishings and vegetable carving can give more information on this matter. The cheesecloth method of handling the melon works, but can be replaced by using of a trivet or any flat metal piece which can be placed under the melon with strings
Of course, if the entire melon is simply steamed, the cooked melon will be homogeneous. However, it would take a longer time to cook.
VARIATION: If you do not want to use the whole melon, or want to use other kinds of melons, you may do so by simply peeling and slicing the melon, then adding all of the ingredients to the soup stock. Bring to boil, then simmer for an hour. Add the melon pieces, then simmer 30 minutes more. Sometimes the melon cavity will be too small to hold all of the ingredients and the soup stock. In these cases, enlarge the melon cavity by cutting out some of the pulp.