Have you seen those small, greenish pumpkin-like squash in the grocery or farmer’s market? Like many strange, hard vegetables, you may be tempted to pass this by, but you would be missing one of the sweetest, creamiest squash there is.
The Japanese kabocha has gained popularity the last few years and for good reasons; it has an exceptional sweet flavor, even sweeter than butternut squash; it’s easy to prepare; it’s rich in beta carotene, iron, vitamin C and potassium; and contains a mere 50 calories per cup. This Thanksgiving, I’ll be bringing it as a side dish, tossed in olive oil, maple syrup, cinnamon and sea salt then roasted at 400°F for 30 minutes. Maybe even dust some with cayenne, for a kick. But isn’t this a better alternative to the traditional sweet potato casserole that has as much as 400 calories (or more) per cup?
A bit of warning before you try cutting into the hard, green rind of the kabocha and creating a kitchen crime scene, it helps to soften for ten minutes in the oven or 1-2 minutes in the microwave. Now, you want to let it cool slightly, cut from the stem down, and remove the seeds - like you would a pumpkin. In fact you can save the seeds for roasting and/or planting in next year’s garden, too. If you haven’t done so before, check out my video here.
Once you have your squash cut in half and cleaned, there are lots of yummy ways to cook and serve:
Roast each half, face-down to scoop out as a mash, then prepare as you would a casserole;
Slice up like a watermelon, brush with olive oil (and spices) then roast 30 minutes (parchment paper makes clean up easier);
Food process the mash and use as soup base – especially tasty with coconut milk;
Cut in half and add to a pressure cooker, steam under high pressure for 15-20 minutes.
(Believe it or not, the green skin will soften and can be eaten, if you choose. There are a few different varieties of kabocha, and the orange type has a softer shell that’s easier to work with.)
This is a great time of the year to try a kabocha. And there’s tons of recipes online.
Another benefit of this vegetable is that you don’t have to worry about picking a “ripe” fruit. The squash is still growing when it is picked and will become more flavorful as the starch converts to sugar. You should choose a firm flesh with no soft spots, and put it on the counter for a few weeks. Then it can be stored in a cool place for a month or so. When fully ripened, the kabocha will have reddish-yellow flesh, a hard skin, and a dry, corky stem.
Interestingly, it reaches the peak of ripeness about 1.5–3 months after harvest.
You may find kabocha’s available all year, but is best in late summer and early fall. They are grown primarily in Japan, South Korea, Thailand, California, Florida, Hawaii, Southwestern Colorado, Mexico, Tasmania, Tonga, New Zealand, Chile, Jamaica, and South Africa, but can be adapted for any climate that provides a growing season of 100 days or more. I’m eager to save the seeds and see if I can grow them in Virginia.
I’d love to hear if you are trying any new recipes or veggies this Thanksgiving. Feel free to leave me a comment, and have a flavorful holiday. I’m thankful for YOU!