If you love winter squashes but have never tried kabocha, you’re in a for a treat. Sometimes called Japanese pumpkin, Kabocha is sweeter than pumpkin and even than butternut squash. When gently simmered, it becomes incredibly tender and makes a perfect side for nearly any main dish. I love to make this Simmered Kabocha all winter long, it’s especially welcome at any holiday gathering. Kabocha’s natural sweetness makes this an ideal vegetable for even the pickiest of eaters and of course its gorgeous hue is just perfect for this time of year.
I’m going to be real. My daughter Emi and her girlfriend, who are graduating college seniors, use my website to deepen their culinary repertoire. And they often give me feedback, which is incredibly welcome, because I want to do my best for you guys and know that the recipe works as well for you as it does for me. One thing they mentioned this weekend is that my prep times are not accurate, since most people are not chopping at the same speed. So I will be working on that and trying to give you more accurate preparation times.
Which is all just a segue to the not so good news…pumpkins take some work to peel and cut. You want to work carefully and slowly because pumpkins are large, dense, roll around, and are not easy to cut. So some basic precautions: take your time and don’t rush the process, use a sharp knife, and put the pumpkin on the floor if you need more leverage to cut it open.
However, you can avoid this whole scenario if you wish, by leaving the pumpkin unpeeled. Japanese people peel all their produce. It enhances the look, giving that extra visual appeal, and makes your veggies shine. Moreover, since Japanese food focuses heavily on seasonality and aesthetics, it’s just part of normal food preparation. But you can absolutely eat the rind and it’s not necessary to remove it. I know you’re not daunted, so let’s get to it.
This is such a simple recipe, with just a few ingredients to really let the sweet, almost chestnut like flavors, of the kabocha shine. I start by cutting the squash in half. First, I put down a damp kitchen towel so the kabocha isn’t rolling all around while I’m trying to cut through it. (Since we’re only using half the squash, save the other half and make my Kabocha Soup!)
If the kabocha is particularly dense, it may be difficult for you to cut through the pumpkin. In that case, put it on the floor so you can put your weight behind the knife. Don’t attempt to cut through the kabocha in one shot. Cut into it from one side through the center and then flip the kabocha around and cut into it from the other side. You may need to do this a couple of times until you can cut down through the middle and split the pumpkin in half. Take your time.
If you’re a proud member of the Reduce Food Waste Club, you can save the seeds and roast them just like you would pumpkin seeds.
Try to make fairly consistent cuts so it all cooks through at the same time. Once the kabocha is prepped, it’s time to cook. I add a few flavor boosters to the simmering liquid like dashi powder and mirin which add a subtle bit of umami and sweetness.
Let it gently simmer for 15-20 minutes. Check every so often that there’s still a little liquid left in the pan. Once it’s done there will be very little left, but we don’t want it drying out and sticking to the pan before the Simmered Kabocha is completely cooked through and tender. When it’s done the squash will be easily pierced with a fork.
I hope this becomes part of your regular winter meal rotation. Let me know what you think; you can rate the recipe and comment. And of course tag us in your pics @funkyasiankitchen, we love hearing from you!
- 2 pounds kabocha pumpkin (about half a large one)
- 1 cup water
- 1 Tablespoon Sugar
- 3 Tablespoons Mirin
- ½ teaspoon dashi powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- Put the kabocha on a stable surface, either a cutting board with a damp towel under it to keep the board from moving, or just a damp towel, which is what I prefer. Use a sharp paring knife or any small knife and cut around the stem to remove it.
- Put your knife in the middle of the kabocha where you just removed the stem and cut down into the kabocha. (You can put the pumpkin on the floor and do it this way if you’re having trouble. You will have better leverage this way).
- Flip the kabocha around and cut into it the same way. Repeat this as needed until you can cut the kabocha in half. Save the other half for another recipe.
- Scoop out the seeds and discard (or roast them on a baking sheet with a little oil) .
- Carefully put the cut side down and peel off the green skin, using small shallow cuts with a sharp knife. (You can also skip this step if you prefer to leave your pumpkin unpeeled).
- Slice the kabocha into thick slices and then cut across the cut to yield 1 ½ inch chunks.
- Place the kabocha into a medium pot and add the water, sugar, mirin, dashi powder, and salt.
- Bring the kabocha to a simmer over medium high heat. Stir to mix the cooking liquid and distribute the kabocha evenly in the pot. Cover with a lid and lower the heat to medium.
- Cook for 15-20 minutes, checking occasionally that the liquid has not all cooked off. Add a little more water as needed to keep the pot from being dry.
- The kabocha should be very tender and easily pierced with a fork and there should be very little liquid remaining in the pot.
- Serve Simmered Kabocha immediately.
*This recipe still tastes good if you don’t have the mirin or dashi powder. Add a little more salt or sugar to taste as needed.
*You can of course use homemade dashi as well. Substitute 1/3 cup of homemade dashi for the water and continue with the recipe. I would not recommend using regular chicken or vegetable stock as it has too many other flavors. Use only water and adjust the seasonings instead.
*This kabocha tastes great hot, room temperature, or cold. Store any leftovers in the fridge and eat within several days.
Keywords: kabocha, pumpkin, japanese, quick,