Kabocha squash is easy to love. Fluffy textured and nutty like chestnuts, rich like sweet potatoes, and bright-orange like turmeric – it is uniquely delicious, versatile, and nutritious. Kabocha has been a longstanding staple in Japanese cuisine, and while growing in popularity, we wonder what has taken North Americans so long to follow suit! Below we provide some tips for giving kabocha a try and maximizing its goodness.
Why we (and Japanese) love it
Kabocha, a.k.a. Japanese pumpkin, is a staple of Japanese cuisine. The squash is tempura battered and fried, slow simmered in curries, and even served in desserts. Kids in Japan are told to “eat up,” with their parents long recognizing its nutrition merits, including beta carotene, iron, and vitamin C. Today, cooks around the world are noticing the unique qualities of kabocha. It’s great for roasting and stuffing, and there is nothing like the velvety texture of pureed kabocha, perfect for soups and concoctions like gnocchi.
How to prepare it
We like to roast kabocha whole, which eliminates the need to cut this dense squash altogether. Cutting kabocha is absolutely possible – just be careful! Use a sharp knife to slice the squash in half, scoop out the pulp and seeds, and then slice into wedges. Like acorn and delicata squash, the skin is completely edible (and full of nutrients). In Japan, American-size ovens are less common, so steaming and microwaving is typical. In fact, steaming is great: it only requires 15 minutes of cooking time and helps to retain the flesh’s moisture.
How to buy and store
When picking out your squash, consider the weight and color. It should feel heavy for its size and the skin should be a rich, deep green color. Light-colored specks, streaks, or patches are normal – some squash get these as they ripen. Make sure the rind is firm with no soft spots. Kabocha can be stored for up to a month or longer in cool, dry conditions.
Cooking with kabocha
Here are five excellent ways to cook with kabocha, which showcase its incredible versatility. The squash can generally be substituted for most other hardshell squash. For an interesting take on your favorite pureed potato dishes, try swapping out potatoes for kabocha.