Gourds and Squashes

Frequently used in Vietnamese cooking, gourds and squashes are often stuffed or added to stirfries.
Bitter melon
This gourd. Kho qua, looks like a fat,knobbly cucumber and is, in fact, a bitter relative. It is considered nutritious and medicinal, as it contains high levels of quinine. It has a rather sweet and fragrant smell. Before cooking, the gourd needs to be slit lengthways to remove the seeds and inner membrane. The outer shell is then sliced into half moons and stirfried, blanched or pickled to retain the crunchy texture. In some parts of Vietnam and Cambodia, the gourd is kept whole, hollowed out from one end and stuffed with a minced (ground) pork and mushroom filling.Bitter melons are sold fresh in most Asian stores. A firm, green bitter melon should be allowed to ripen a little before use and will keep for 3-4 days, but a soft yellowish one should be used within a day or two.

 Luffa squash
Dark green with ridges running lengthways. luffa squash (muop) has sweet and spongy flesh and is usually harvested when it's about 30cm/1ft long. Generally, it is sliced and used in stir-fries and soups, much the same way as you would cook a courgette (zucchini). Luffa squash is available in Asian markets.If the luffa is young, all you need to do is wash and slice it. Luffas seldom need peeling, but sometimes the ridges toughen as the vegetable ripens, in which case remove the ridges but leave the skin between, so that the luffa is striped green and white. If the skin is very tough, it is best to peel it completely. Unlike cucumber or young, tender courgettes, luffa is never eaten raw. Keep fresh luffa in the refrigerator, but do not store it for too long as within 2-3 days of purchase it will start to go limp.

Kahocha squash
This is a stout, pumpkin shaped vegetable with a beautiful dark-green skin patterned with yellow spots and green lines.The flesh is pale orange fragrant, sweet and creamy,lending itself to a variety of dishes, including curries and desserts. An average kabocha (bi ro) weighs about 1-1.5kg/2-31b and has edible skin. They are available in Asian markets and supermarkets.

Winter melon
Large, mild-flavoured gourds,winter melons (bi dao) can weigh 5.4kg/121b or more and grow up to 25cm/10in in diameter. Egg- or pear-shaped and dark green, they are harvested in the summer (but traditionally stored for winter) and sold  whole or cut into wedges. The white flesh tastes like marrow or courgette (zucchini) and is believed to cool fevers. Prepared and cooked in the same way as a pumpkin, winter melon is added to soups,stews and stir-fries, as the flesh absorbs the flavours of the dish.The rind must be cut off and the seeds and coarse fibres at the centre scooped out before the flesh is cut into strips or wedges. Winter melons and fuzzy melons can be used interchangeably, as theyare similar in flavour. Both come in various shapes and sizes and are available in  Asian markets and supermarkets.

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