Welcome Winter Squashes: Kabocha

By Sandy Hu
The latest from Inside Special Fork

Now’s the time to welcome hard-skinned winter squashes, including Hubbard, delicata, acorn, butternut and pumpkin. There are many easy ways to cook winter squash, such as roasting, steaming and sautéing.

But prepping them is another story.

The challenge is to get a knife to pierce the skin of your winter squash without piercing your own. You need a sharp, sturdy knife and good control, because the knife can slip on such a hard, smooth surface, with disastrous results. I go at it with a cleaver.

If you’re a novice at cutting squash, microwave it for several minutes to soften slightly. Once you can get the first cut into the squash, the rest goes a lot easier.

My favorite winter squash is kabocha, sometimes called Japanese pumpkin. It has a dull green skin with bumpy texture and bright orange, dense flesh that’s exceptionally sweet.

Kabocha has just 40 calories a cup, and, like other orange vegetables, is an excellent source of beta-carotene. It’s also a good source of iron, vitamin C and certain B vitamins, as well as fiber. You can up its fiber contribution by eating the skin.

Last month in Japan, we had kabocha in many delicious ways. It was wonderful sliced thinly and turned into tempura. It was surprisingly good served raw with other vegetables, accompanied by a miso dipping sauce. Simmered in soy sauce, kabocha made an excellent side dish as part of a bento box lunch.

The kabocha in bento lunches was a lot like the kind my mom used to make. Here’s as close as I can come to her recipe. While making dashi (Japanese fish-based soup stock) from scratch is preferred, mom often relied on instant dashi powder, which was quicker, more convenient and added umami to her cooking. If you make dashi from scratch, just use 1 cup of dashi instead of the water and omit the instant dashi.

Kabocha no Nimono (Simmered Kabocha)
1 cup water
1 tablespoon naturally brewed soy sauce
1 tablespoon mirin (Japanese sweet cooking sake)
1 tablespoon sugar
¾ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon instant dashi (see note below)
1 ½ to 1 ¾ pounds kabocha squash, halved, seeded and cut into 1 ½-inch squares

In broad skillet add water, soy sauce, mirin, sugar, salt and instant dashi. Bring to a boil. Add kabocha in a single layer. Return to boil, lower heat and simmer, covered, 5 minutes. Stir and continue to simmer about another 5 to 10 minutes or until kabocha is tender. Uncover and cool to room temperature. Kabocha will absorb liquid while standing. Serve at room temperature.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Note: Instant dashi is a granulated form of dashi, packaged in small packets that you dissolve in water to use, not unlike bouillon cubes. It’s the convenience food version of dashi made from scratch. It can be found in Asian markets.

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Posted: Nov 9th by Sandy_Hu