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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.