Before you reach for the ubiquitous butternut squash, consider the lesser known kabocha. This Japanese variety of squash tastes similar to the sweet butternut but looks more like a small green pumpkin. If you’ve eaten vegetable tempura in Japanese restaurants, chances are the squash was kabocha.
The nutritional benefits of kabocha are abundant. It’s lower in both carbs and calories than butternut squash and is high in beta-carotene, a powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant. Beta-carotene is also a great source of iron, vitamins A and C, and some B vitamins. Kabocha is also high in fiber, which many Americans lack, so cook it with the edible green skin on and you’ll boost the fiber amount even more.
My favorite way to enjoy kabocha is a simple and traditional preparation of simmering it in what I call the “Japanese Holy Trinity,” a sweet and savory combination of dashi (bonito fish stock), mirin (sweet rice vinegar) and soy sauce, all of which can be found in the Asian section of most supermarkets. I also add a bit of sake (rice wine) for extra flavor. Create your simmering broth based on my measurements below, then taste and adjust the seasoning according to your preference.
Japanese-Style Simmered Kabocha
~1 pound kabocha
1 1/2 cup dashi (bonito fish stock) - *see note below
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon mirin (sweet rice vinegar)
1 tablespoon sake (optional)
2 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
Toasted sesame seeds for garnish
Prepare the kabocha:
Wash pumpkin and carefully cut in half (you may place in the microwave for 2-3 minutes until it’s just soft enough to cut). Remove seeds and cut pumpkin into 2-3-inch cubes.
Place pumpkin in a medium saucepan with remaining ingredients except sesame seeds. Bring to a boil, then cover and reduce heat. Simmer on low for 10-15 minutes or until tender.
Remove from heat and let stand until ready to serve. Garnish with toasted sesame seeds.
*If using instant dashi, follow package instructions to create 1 1/2 liquid cups. You do not want to use 1 1/2 straight cups of the instant version as it is condensed!