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Steamed kabocha squash is one of the most traditional and typical simmered dishes in Japan. It is easy to prepare and makes a great healthy side dish chock-full of nutrients. The sauce is a simple mix but has delicious and appetizing umami flavours.
I had dinner at my friends’ home. One of the dishes they prepared was this amazing kabocha. I’ve never had it before, and I loved it. I asked them how to make it, and they said it was just steaming the kabocha and then adding the sauce. I tried several times until I found the most similar delicious flavour I had there. Now I’ll share it with you because you don’t have to go to a Japanese restaurant to enjoy simmered kabocha. It is so easy and inexpensive to make at home.
It is a simple Japanese side dish eaten for breakfast, lunch or dinner in Japan.
This dish doesn’t use regular pumpkins. The most popular kind of pumpkin in Japan is called ‘Kabocha.’ Kabocha is a kind of winter squash; it’s a little similar to butternut squash, but the shape is different, and kabocha has a thick green skin.
Kabocha is also known as a Japanese pumpkin. It’s widely popular in Korea and Japan. The orange flesh inside is tender and with a wonderfully sweet, delicate flavour. It’s a little like buttercup squash, just less dense. It is such the perfect veggie for the Fall season! Furthermore, it is SO tasty! It is the sweetest winter squash variety, even sweeter than butternut squash, and has the perfect fluffy interior. The best part is that the skin is entirely edible, so you don’t have to peel it. How awesome is that? One less step for you to worry about.
It’s super simple to make. The skin keeps the pieces together after it’s boiled, and it’s good for you! Not to mention, it looks very colourful!
Kabocha’s thick and dense texture is like a mix between pumpkin and sweet potato. It’s fluffy and delicious, and it’s pretty versatile too! It can be used in several dishes, savoury or sweet!
Kabocha squash is best simmered to enhance its natural sweetness and nutty flavour. It doesn’t need to be roasted. They come out refreshed and hydrated when steamed, as if they’ve spent a day at the spa. They taste like their best selves, ready to be zhuzhed up with a punchy ginger-soy dressing. It all happens under the time it would take to heat the oven—and there’s no oily baking sheet to clean when you’re done.
When kabocha is cooked, the inside becomes bright orange. Plus, it contains beta-carotene, iron, fibre, and vitamin C.
Kabocha is available at many supermarkets in North America.
You’ll be amazed at how delicious and super easy; it is. Let’s give it a try. This steamed kabocha might be your new favourite way to enjoy kabocha. It’s definitely one of mine!
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- 1 Kabocha squash
- Water - enough to steam
- Salt - to taste
- Hondashi - dried bonito flakes - optional – 1 tbsp or to taste
- 2 Tbsp Sesame oil
- 2 Tbsp Soy sauce - light/low sodium or tamari
- Chives - optional to taste
- 1 tbsp Brown sugar - or Honey
- ½ tsp Ginger - powder or 2.5 cm/1" knob ginger – 1 tsp. finely chopped peeled ginger
- Sake - Optional – 1 tbsp or to taste
- Mirin - Optional or rice wine or rice wine vinegar – 1/2 tbsp or to taste
- Sesame seeds - toasted
Instacart is available in the US only at the moment.
Wash and cut the kabocha
- Wash the kabocha well by scrubbing the skin, scoop out the seeds and sticky stringiness from the squash and cut it into roughly large bite-sized (5 cm/2") pieces.
- Note: I leave the skin on because kabocha skin is edible and nutritious.
Steaming in the pressure cooker
- Bring a pot with 2.5 cm/1" of water, salt and hondashi to a boil.
- Add a metal steamer basket and place the squash in the basket, skin side down, without leaving any gaps and without overlapping.
- Put the lid on the pressure cooker and steam for 5 minutes until the squash is tender to knifepoint.
- Note: Do not overcook the kabocha, or it will become mushy. You can tell it's done when the orange flesh of the kabocha has tiny, thin cracks near the skin or a bamboo skewer pierces the kabocha easily.
Cooking on the stovetop pan
- If cooking on the stovetop, place a metal steamer basket into a large pot and add the squash to the basket, skin side down, without leaving any gaps and without overlapping.
- Cover with an Otoshibuta (see notes) and reduce the heat, so the liquid simmers. Leave for 15-30 minutes until the squash is tender to knifepoint. Use a chopstick to test for doneness. (If you can easily pierce through, it’s done.)
- While the squash is steaming, combine the ingredients for the sauce in a bowl and whisk until well combined.
- When tender, remove the squash from the pressure cooker to serving plates. Be careful as you take the pieces of squash from the pan as the flesh will be soft and delicate.
- Spoon the sauce over squash.
- You can serve it at room temperature or reheat it before serving.
- Sprinkle sesame seeds or oil or chopped ginger on top if desired.
Adjust the amount of sugar according to the kabochaKabocha squash is already very sweet and flavourful, so go easy on the sweetness (mirin or sugar) and soy sauce since we don’t want the saltiness to overpower the dish. If your kabocha is easy to cut, it might not be as sweet (it contains more water), which means adding some extra sugar will make up for the lack of sweetness. On the other hand, If your kabocha is hard and difficult to cut, it might be sweet enough, so you may not need much sugar.
Ginger garnish (optional)Cut the ginger into thin slabs and then thin julienne strips. Soak in cold water for 1 minute to remove some of the spicinesses and drain well.
Serve with the simmered kabocha.
DashYou can use almost any form of dashi for this, whether homemade, store-bought or instant dashi powder. I used hondashi. If you want to make this vegetarian, make or buy dashi that doesn't have bonito flakes in it, just kombu and/or wakame (seaweed)
What is kabocha?“Kabocha,” which means “pumpkin” in Japanese, is a variety of Japanese winter squash with sweet flesh and a starchy texture closer to sweet potatoes than the pumpkins we carve for Halloween. The creamy orange flesh is contrasted by a forest green skin, both of which get incredibly tender as they cook. It is also known as Japanese pumpkin in North America. Kabocha is probably a lesser-known squash than butternut or acorn, but it’s delicious, and if you haven’t tried this variety of winter squash, you should give kabocha a go! It is the sweetest squash out there, so you can treat this like a sweet & savoury side dish. Like any other squash, you can add chopped kabocha to stews or puree into soups, baked goods or breakfast items like pancakes! Or even a dessert. Kabocha is a hard squash, like most winter squash varieties are, and it has a hard knobbly, slightly bumpy dark green skin with uneven light green or white stripes outside and bright yellow-orange colour flesh inside. Average Kabocha squash weighs approximately 1kg/35oz.
What does it Taste Like?Kabocha taste like a mix between pumpkin, sweet potato and chestnuts. That’s the reason the Japanese pumpkin is my favourite pumpkin.
How to buyThe freshness does not always guarantee the deliciousness of this squash. Conversely, because the starch changes into sugar, an aged Kabocha will be sweet and have a starchy, dense texture. Choose the one in which:
- The skin is shiny dark green and feels hard. Choose one that is free of soft spots and is heavy for its size. There may be some hard, bumpy spots on the peel, but that’s perfectly normal and fine to buy. Kabocha squash should be round with a hard, dark green outer skin and may have a yellow spot where it ripened.
- Stem calyx is completely dry and looks like cork. Inspect the stem for any mould.
- It feels heavy when held in your hand.
- The inner flesh is a bright orange colour with medium-sized seeds.
How to wash itUsing a vegetable brush, scrub it all with soap. Rinse it under running water, and dry it. Inspect the outer skin for any hard, bumpy spots. You can use a sharp knife or peeler to remove these bumps or leave it on and remove them after it’s been cooked since the skin will have softened. Even if I don’t plan to eat the peel, I clean it so the dirt from the outside won’t be brought inside the squash when slicing it.
Can you eat kabocha squash skin?Yes, you can eat the skin of the kabocha once it’s roasted or steamed, so feel free to leave the skin on. Just make sure to clean it well before cooking it.
Ways to cut the kabocha into wedgesOne of the trickiest parts about Kabocha squash is cutting them. Kabocha is very hard to cut when raw, so please be careful. There are several ways to cut it, and here are different ways I recommend:
- Raw: The skin of the kabocha squash is tough to cut into, so start by cutting off the stem calyx of the kabocha to expose the orange flesh. The flesh is much easier to cut into than the hard outer skin. Make sure it is down on the flat surface. Using a heavy-duty knife or cleaver, pierce the pointy end of your knife into the flesh and cut into the kabocha down by using a rocking motion. Repeat for the other side of the kabocha so that you end up with 2 halves. I usually ask my husband to do it.
- Microwave: You can microwave the whole kabocha until it's soft enough to cut into. Start by microwaving it for about 2 minutes, flip and increase by 90 seconds at a time until you can cut it in half. The total time will depend on your microwave and the size of your kabocha. If my husband is not around, this is my backup option.
- Oven: Loosely cover with foil and place the whole kabocha squash into a preheated 190°C/375°F oven for 10-15 minutes or until soft to cut into. Cool it off, and then cut it in half. I never do this way, but it is up to you.
Tips to Simmer PerfectlySimmering the Kabocha squash is pretty simple, and it's easy. But the problem that often happens is that the kabocha squash loses its shape while being simmered. Follow these tips to avoid this happening.
- Cut the kabocha into equal pieces. This helps them all cook evenly at a similar pace. I'd suggest first cutting slices, then cutting these up. If you like, you can trim any rough edges of the skin. Smaller cubes will help speed up the cooking time as well.
- Place kabocha in a single layer - Kabocha is very fragile once cooked and can break into pieces or mush easily. Therefore, you need to secure each kabocha piece, ensuring they are laid in a single layer without overlapping in the pot.
- Lay the skin side face down to the pot without leaving any gaps and without overlapping.
- Cook kabocha with just enough liquid - The amount of cooking liquid should be just enough to come to the top level of kabocha pieces in the pot. Overfilling with cooking liquid will only result in a soupy kabocha, which we want to avoid.
- Take care to remove the kabocha from the pot as it is very delicate. I find it best to scoop under the skin.
- You can serve it hot or cold, as you prefer - I like it warm.
Roast the seedsYou can save the seeds and roast them in the oven, as they’re edible.
Nutritional valuekabocha squash is packed with fibre and beta-carotene, with small amounts of iron, calcium, and protein. It is a good source of vitamin A, B and C and has fewer calories and carbs than butternut squash and sweet potatoes. Most of the carbs come from the natural sugars in kabocha.
Health benefits of kabocha
- It's excellent for vision because it's rich in beta-carotene;
- It regulates blood pressure by containing potassium;
- It helps in the correct maintenance of cholesterol (lower bad cholesterol (LDL) and raise good (HDL)) due to fibres;
- It helps protect the cardiovascular system, thanks to the vitamins and nutrients it contains;
- It strengthens the immune system due to the richness in vitamin C and beta-carotene;
- It has antioxidant action, few calories and lots of water, helping with weight loss;
- It contributes to the production of serotonin, fighting insomnia, irritability, and depression;
- For men's health, it aids in fertility and the fight against prostate cancer.
VariationWhile kabocha usually starts showing up this time of year at farmer’s markets and upscale supermarkets, if you can’t find them near you, try this with sweet potatoes or acorn squash.
NimonoI’ve cooked the kabocha and then added the sauce; however, in Japan, vegetable dishes are boiled or simmered in a seasoned broth called Nimono. If you prefer, make a broth, add the sauce ingredients to the water and cook the kabocha in this seasoned broth. Once cooked, leave the kabocha to cool in the liquid. This lets the kabocha absorb as much flavour as possible from the broth. You can store it in the refrigerator for 2-3 days after letting it cool. Put some broth in the container too!
What is Nimono?Nimono is usually seasoned with combinations of soy sauce, Sake or Mirin, and a small amount of sweetening that gives vegetables sweet and salty flavours. The shiru stock for a nimono is generally dashi. The base ingredients are fish, seafood, meat or different types of root vegetables or tofu, either singly or in combination. Once you've got your dashi, you season it with soy sauce, sugar and sake. Besides sake and soy sauce, the stock can be further flavoured by mirin, sugar, salt, vinegar, miso, or other condiments. All cooked and simmered in one pot. Combined, they add such a great flavour – believe me, you'll want to sip all the leftover cooking liquid after you've eaten the squash! However, the seasoned broth in Nimono is not soup to drink, only to give vegetable flavouring. It provides mild seasonings to vegetables and enhances the taste of the vegetables. When you serve this kabocha no nimono, ensure you don't throw away the cooking broth. It has such a wonderful flavour; it's worth putting some in the dish with the squash. Or drink it; there's no judgment here! These simmered dishes are authentic home cooking in a Japanese kitchen - wholesome, nutritious, and easy to prepare.
Japanese Cooking Secret: OtoshibutaIf you are not using a pressure cooker, you should use an otoshibuta. While an otoshibuta is not required, it’s often used for simmered dishes like this one.
What is otoshibuta?Otoshibuta is a lid used in Japanese cooking, which is a little smaller than the pot in its diameter. Traditionally, otoshibuta is made of wood, but nowadays, you can get steel and silicone otoshibuta.
Why otoshibuta?There are several reasons why you might want to consider using one. It is designed to circulate the aroma and flavour from the surface of the broth to the top of the otoshibuta and back down onto the food you’re cooking. Essentially, it creates an aroma and flavour-packed ‘rain’ that comes down from the surface of the otoshibuta and onto the food you’re simmering—soaking and infusing it during the cooking process. Otoshibuta holds the ingredients and prevents them from falling apart. It cooks ingredients evenly because the liquid underneath the Otoshibuta will be circulated. It forces the seasoning to penetrate well through the ingredients. I recommend you try this technique to compare the difference in flavour when using an Otoshibuta and when not using one for simmered dishes.
I don’t have an otoshibutaYou can make an otoshibuta from parchment paper. You can buy an air fryer parchment paper. Or make your own.
- Start with a large square piece (larger than your pot), cut a round shape slightly smaller than the diameter of your pot (so it fits inside), and then fold it in half.
- Cut 4-5 long slits evenly spaced across the surface. Once you’re ready to simmer your food, unfold it and place it on top of the food.
What is the difference between Tamari and Soy SauceTamari is a wider class of soy sauces and is made with no (or very little - always double-check if avoiding gluten) wheat, while traditional soy sauce does contain wheat. The differences in production give each sauce its own unique flavour. Tamari has a darker colour and richer flavour than the typical Chinese soy sauce you may be more familiar with. It also tastes more balanced and less salty than soy sauce's sometimes-harsh bite, making it great for dipping.
Make ahead:The recipe can easily be made ahead and served at room temperature or heated. You can easily make a larger batch of this for more people or to use it over a couple of days - just multiply up everything and use a larger pot. Store it in a container in the fridge until needed.
StoringCooked Kabocha squash will last 3-4 days in the fridge in an airtight container or 2-3 months in the freezer in a zip-lock bag or another airtight container. Store uncooked uncut Kabocha in a cool, dry, dark place. They can last for 3-4 months. Discard if it becomes soft, squishy, or mouldy.
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