Khổ qua nhưn tàu hũ, tofu stuffed bitter melon is similar to dishes you might have seen at Chinese or Vietnamese restaurants. The difference is that it’s usually shrimp paste instead of tofu (tàu hũ) and eggplant or button mushrooms in place of the bittermelon, called cà tím nhưn tôm (”eggplants with shrimp paste” in Vietnamese). I made my own blend of ground tofu paste with fried tofu and vegetarian ham to resemble the color of shrimp paste. I then stuffed the mixture into the bittermelon rounds and steamed the vegetables. For more flavor, I pan-fried the tofu filling then braised the dumplings in sweet pineapple hoisin sauce.
I love this dish because it’s so flavorful and the texture of the tofu is very similar to meat. My husband Lulu, who’s a vegetarian, really likes it even though he isn’t into meat substitutes. It just proves that there’s more to vegetarian and vegan cooking than just silken and firm tofu!
1. Info for Tofu Stuffed Bitter Melon (Kho Qua Nhun Tau Hu)
- Cook Time: 40 mins
- Total Time: 1 hr 20 mins
- Servings: 8
- Calories: 248kcal
2. Ingredients for Tofu Stuffed Bitter Melon (Kho Qua Nhun Tau Hu)
- 4 fresh bitter melons
- juice of half a lemon
- 2 cups vegetarian ham, diced
- 1 drop red food coloring (optional)
- 1 tomato
- 2 ounces dried bean thread noodles
- 1 teaspoon ginger garlic paste
- ½ teaspoon red chili powder, to taste
- 1 shallot, finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon mushroom seasoning salt (or regular salt)
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 6 ounces firm tofu (½ package)
- 2 tablespoons canola oil (or any neutral oil)
- 1 (8-ounce) can crushed pineapple
- 3 tablespoons hoisin sauce
- 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon green onions, thinly chopped
- 1 tablespoon fresh cilantro
- 1 teaspoon light sesame oil (optional)
- Prepping the bitter melons: Cut the bittermelons in half. Using a melon ball scoop, remove and discard the spongy center and the seeds. Soak the bitter melons in lemon water.
- Prepping the tomato: This step is optional but I find tomato skin unpleasant to chew. Here’s a neat method to peel tomatoes. Make a small, shallow criss-cross cut at the bottom of the fresh tomato using a breadknife (I use a breadknife because the blade won’t bruise the fruit). Fill a small saucepan with cold water and bring to a boil. Place the tomato in the water and wait for at least 30 seconds. Remove the tomatoes quickly (I use a large strainer or a slotted spoon), then transfer to an ice cold bath to stop the cooking process. The skin of the tomatoes will come right off. Cut the tomato flesh into wedges, remove the seeds and liquid and chop into small pieces. Set aside.
- Prepping the tofu: Cut the tofu into ½-inch slices. In a wok, heat the canola oil. Pan-fry the slices on both sides until golden. The tofu should have a nice fried outer crust and still be moist inside. Transfer the tofu onto paper towels. Sprinkle with salt. Allow to cool a little. As soon as the tofu is not too hot to handle, cut each slice crosswise into shreds.
- Prepping the bean thread noodles: Place the dried bean thread noodles in a bowl. Don’t forget to cut the little cotton threads and discard them! Soak them in cold water for 20 minutes and drain. Cut into 1 inch lengths. Set aside.
- Preparing the ground tofu paste: In a food processor, blend the fried tofu, tomato flesh and the vegetarian ham together. Add the red food coloring (if used). Mix well. Add the shallot, ginger garlic paste, red chili powder, 1 teaspoon sugar, green onions, bean thread noodles, 1 teaspoon of oil and season with mushroom salt and pepper. Set aside.
- Remove and discard the liquid from the bitter melons. Cut each piece into 2-½” boats. Pat them dry and stuff them with the ground tofu mixture.
- Place the stuffed bittermelons in a steamer, bring the water to a boil and reduce the heat to medium-high. Cover and steam for about 15-20 minutes. Check doneness with a fork; the bittermelons should be still be al-dente as they will finish cooking in the hoisin sauce. Remove from the steamer. Let them cool a little.
- In a non-stick pan (I used a non-stick grill pan), heat the oil and pan fry the dumplings, tofu side down. Transfer onto a platter.
- In a blender, blend the crushed pineapple into a smooth texture.
- In the same pan, add the rest of the sugar, hoisin sauce and soy sauce. Stir constantly until all the soy sauce is absorbed. Add the pineapple purée. Once the liquid evaporates, add the dumplings, bittermelon side down. Drizzle with sesame oil (if used). Check seasoning (the saltiness from the soy sauce should be sufficient). Add black pepper. Cover with a lid. Let stand on high heat for a minute and turn off the heat. Keep on the stove for about 5 minutes. Transfer to a serving platter.
- Serve with jasmine brown rice (it’s healthier and as delicious as regular jasmine rice). Garnish with cilantro and serve immediately.
- Bon appétit!