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Authentic Vietnamese recipes from the Motherland

Vietnamese Opo Squash & Shrimp Soup (Canh Bau Tom)

I recently harvested my first Opo Squash (Bầu). I'm so proud of it because it's the first ever Opo Squash that didn't die on me halfway. Opo Squash, also known as Calabash Gourd or White Gourd, grows on vines and can grow up to the size of a baseball bat. Not only can Opo Squash be used as a lethal weapon, they are delicious in many Vietnamese dishes.

Edison, 9, shows off mommy's first successfully grown Opo Squash

Edison, 9, shows off mommy's first successfully grown Opo Squash

Opo Squash is very versatile. You can fry them with eggs, stew them in a curry, or cook them in a soup. The most common use for Opo Squash in my house is Opo Squash and Shrimp Soup (Canh Bầu Tôm). I grew up eating Canh Bau Tom almost every other day because Dad, who did most of the cooking back then, wasn't much of a cook and Opo Squash Soup is one of the easiest dishes to cook. 

Opo Squash is commonly confused for Winter Melon (Bí Đao), another gourd that is physically similar. If you look closely, you can tell the difference between the two. Opo Squash has a smooth, light green skin. Whereas, Winter Melon has somewhat of a fuzzy, dark green skin. Winter Melon also commonly has noticeable white and green specks. Both are used similarly so if you can't find Opo Squash, feel free to use Winter Melon. And if you can't find Winter Melon, substitute with Chayote (Su Su). Opo Squash, Winter Melon and Chayote can be used interchangeably in Vietnamese dishes.

Canh Bầu Tôm

Canh Bầu Tôm

Vietnamese Opo & Shrimp Soup Recipe (Canh Bau Tom)

Ingredients

  • 1 Opo Squash (around 1 lb, peel, remove seeds if harden, and cut into thin half-circles or small cubes)

Shrimp Marinade

  • 5 large head-on prawns (preferably one with head fat for that extra flavor and beautiful orange color; peel, devein, and remove head but try to keep the head fat intact)
  • 1 shallot (finely minced)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Stock

  • 2 teaspoons vegetable oil
  • 4 cups water
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon chicken, mushroom or pork stock seasoning powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon MSG (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon fish sauce
  • 1 green onion (thinly sliced)

Instructions

  1. Finely mince up the shrimp into a paste.
  2. Transfer the shrimp to a small bowl. Add shallot, salt and pepper. Stir until combined and set aside.
  3. In a medium-sized pot, heat up vegetable oil. Add shrimp to the bottom of the pot and stir to break up the shrimp into small clumps. Once shrimp turns opaque (cooked), add water and bring pot to a boil.
  4. Season pot with salt, sugar, seasoning stock powder, MSG (optional) and fish sauce.
  5. Add squash and crank up heat. When pot comes to a boil, turn off heat. Let the squash cook on the residual heat for about five minutes or until translucent. 
  6. Garnish with green onions before serving.

Stir-Fried Clams in Black Bean Sauce (Oc Xao Gung Dau Den)

When it comes to clams, nothing is worst than biting down hard sand. No matter how much I purge them with salt water and corn meal, there's always a little bit of sand in the dish. To avoid this problem, I have learned to cook the clams in a different pot than the sauce. I cook/steam the clams in a pot, then transfer them with a slotted spoon onto a serving platter as soon as they open. Tilt the pot over to pour out the clam liquor to use in a sauce, leaving the sand behind in the bottom of the pot. Use the liquor, along with other ingredients, to make a sauce in a small sauce pan. Once finished, pour the sauce over the clams. This method not only makes my dish completely sand-free, but also prevents overcooking the clams, keeping the clam meat intact in their shells and making them more aesthetically pleasing.

Stir-Fried Clams in Black Bean Sauce (Oc Xao Gung Dau Den)

Stir-Fried Clams in Black Bean Sauce (Oc Xao Gung Dau Den)

Stir-fried clams with ginger is a classic Vietnamese clam dish. Add a bit of black bean sauce and you'll get a classic Chinese Dim Sum dish. The fermented black bean sauce is incredibly salty so a little goes a long way. Because both the clams liquor and fermented black bean sauce are both salty, we have to balance out the flavors with quite a bit of sugar and/or hoisin sauce (a sweet sauce). Once you establish the perfect balance between sweet and salty in the dish, the result is amazingly delicious. Serve it by itself as an appetizer or with steamed rice as a complete entree. 

Stir-Fried Clams in Black Bean Sauce (Oc Xao Gung Dau Den) Ingredients: Cherrystone Clams, black bean garlic sauce, ginger, sugar and corn starch slurry

Stir-Fried Clams in Black Bean Sauce (Oc Xao Gung Dau Den) Ingredients: Cherrystone Clams, black bean garlic sauce, ginger, sugar and corn starch slurry

Stir-Fried Clams in Black Bean Sauce Recipe (Oc Xao Gung Dau Den)

Ingredients

  • 3 lbs live Manila, Cherrystone, or Littleneck clams
  • 3 tablespoons white sugar
  • 2 tablespoons fermented black bean garlic sauce
  • 1 tablespoon Chinese rice wine
  • Corn starch slurry (2 tablespoons corn starch or tapioca starch dissolved in 3 tablespoons water)
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons grated or finely minced ginger
  • 1 scallion (thinly slice the green part only)

Instructions

  1. Clean the clams thoroughly. Scrub the clams individually with a brush then rinse under cold running water. Soak the clams in salted water to remove sand and grit (10 cups water with 2 tablespoons salt). You may also add a tablespoon of cornmeal to help purge the clams clean. After two hours, drain the clams and give them a final rinse.
  2. In a small pot with a lid, add about 1 inch of water and bring it to a boil. No need to add too much water because the clam will render out its own juice. Add clams and cover the pot with a lid. Cook for 2-3 minutes until clams just opened up (make sure not to overcook). Use a slotted spoon to transfer the clams to a serving platter. Tilt the pot and pour out about 1 cup clam liquor (make sure not to get the sand at the bottom of the pot). Set aside the clam liquor for the sauce.
  3. In a small bowl, mix together the reserved clam liquor, sugar, fermented garlic and black bean sauce, rice wine and corn starch slurry.
  4. In a small sauce pan, heat up vegetable oil. Add ginger and saute until fragrant (about 1 minute).  Give the sauce mixture a quick whisk in case the corn starch has settled to the bottom. Add the sauce mixture to the pan and cook until it reduces and thickens. Ladle sauce onto clams. Garnish with green onions and serve immediately.
Stir-Fried Clams in Black Bean Sauce (Oc Xao Gung Dau Den)

Stir-Fried Clams in Black Bean Sauce (Oc Xao Gung Dau Den)

Large Cherrystone Clams

Large Cherrystone Clams

Stir-Fried Clams in Black Bean Sauce (Oc Xao Gung Dau Den)

Stir-Fried Clams in Black Bean Sauce (Oc Xao Gung Dau Den)