It's starting to feel like Summer! The weather is finally warming up. The birds are chirping. The kids are playing outside and the neighbors are walking around half-naked. More importantly, the garden is blooming. The other day, I harvested my first Opo Squash (Bầu). I'm so proud of it because it's the first ever Opo Squash that didn't die as soon as it got started. Opo Squash, also known as Calabash Gourd or White Gourd, grows on vines and can grow up to the size of a baseball bat if you let it. Not only can you use it as a lethal weapon, Opo Squash can be used in a traditional Vietnamese side dish, Opo Squash and Shrimp Soup (Canh Bau Tom).
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, wasn't much of a cook and Opo Squash Soup was 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.
In the below recipe, I used dried salted small shrimp. You can find those in many Asian grocery stores. In my Asian grocery store, they are in the freezer section. Other times, they are on the shelf with the other dried goods. If you can't the salted small shrimp, you can substitute with small fresh shrimp.
Vietnamese Opo & Shrimp Soup Recipe
- 1 Opo Squash (around 1 lb, peel, remove seeds if harden, and cut into thick matchsticks)
- 1/2 small salted dried shrimp (soak in warm water for at least 10 minutes, rinse then drain dry))
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 3 cloves garlic (mince)
- 4 cups water
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 teaspoon chicken, mushroom or pork stock powder
- 1/4 teaspoon MSG (optional)
- 1 teaspoon fish sauce
- 1 green onion (slice thinly)
- 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
- In a medium-size pot, heat up vegetable oil. Add shrimp and garlic. Pan-fry until fragrant (about 3 minutes).
- Add water and bring the pot to a boil.
- Once water starts boiling, add opo squash and cook until the squash turns translucent.
- Season pot with salt, sugar, seasoning stock powder, MSG (optional) and fish sauce.
- Garnish with green onions and black pepper before serving.