Meet Kabocha, the Japanese Pumpkin ~ The Garden of Eating - a sinfully good blog about food

Friday, April 25, 2008

Meet Kabocha, the Japanese Pumpkin

Ever since, I went to the wonderful Thai temple brunch at Wat Mongkolratanaram a few weeks ago, I've been lusting after a delicious curried pumpkin that I sampled there. I was especially curious to find out what kind of pumpkin it was as it had a unique flavor and consistency and a delicate green skin.

Although my google search did not yield any great curried pumpkin recipes, I did find several references to Kabocha, a type of winter squash commonly known as "Japanese pumpkin." The squash is prized for its sweet, mild flesh and its pleasing consistency which is both dense and fluffy, similar to a chestnut or sweet potato. As you can see from my photo below, kabocha are charmingly squat in shape and sport a dark green skin with light green stripes and spots.

Kabocha squash
I also learned that there are tons of kabochas grown here in California although the vast majority are exported to Japan where they are a popular ingredient in vegetable tempura and other dishes. But once I knew what to look for, it was no problem to find one (organic, no less.)

Although I could not find the highly addictive curried pumpkin recipe, I did find a simple recipe for simmered sweet kabocha that sounded very tasty. Apparently, this is a popular snack food in Japan where it is eaten both warm and cold. I gave it a shot last night and found it very tasty. The squash has a lovely, rich flavor, pleasing texture, and cheerful color.

The only downside to these kabochas is that they are really HARD! Both the skin and the flesh are quite tough and it took quite a while and a good deal of effort (not to mention a huge cleaver) to get it peeled and cut into one-inch cubes. But the end result was definitely worth it. Try it and see what you think.

Simmered Sweet Kabocha
Serves 4-6


* 1 kabocha squash (2-3 lbs, should make roughly 6 cups of cubed squash)
* 1/2 - 1 cup water
* 3 Tbsp brown sugar
* 2 Tbsp soy sauce
* Pinch of salt


1. Cut the squash into four pieces and peel (it's normal for this to be quite challenging). If the skin looks good, you can leave some of it intact.

Ready To Be Cubed
2. Scoop out the seeds and remove any stringy pulp that is left inside the pumpkin. Cut the squash into 1-inch cubes (I had to use a huge, heavy cleaver and bring it down with all my might to do this.)

A Hard-won Bowl of Cubed Kabocha
3. Combine the water, soy, sugar and salt in a wide, shallow saucepan and add the cubed squash. Bring to a boil, then cover and reduce heat to a low simmer.

Simmering Kabocha
4. Cook for about 15 minutes or until done (you should be able to easily stick a fork or chopstick into the flesh without it falling apart). The kabocha should have a chestnut-like texture. If there is too much liquid left in the bottom of the pan, remove the squash and reduce it until it's thickened, then pour it over the cubes of cooked Kabocha.

This is good as a snack food but it also goes well with a more complete meal. For dinner last night, I made the sweet simmered kabocha with basmati rice and a stir-fry of red cabbage, spinach, grassfed organic beef, scallions, garlic and ginger, and sprinkling of cilantro. Very tasty!

Dinner: Kabocha With Stir-Fry and Rice

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chefjp said...

I've never worked with Kobacha before but after reading your post I plan on tracking some down at my local Farmer's Market--- thanks!

terry said...

I just cooked this wonderful organic kabocha .I cut it up which a little challenging as it wants to be cut in a circular patern.Afterwards I place it in a large flat stainless steele pan and covered with water.I let it simmer and steam with the lid 90% on.When it was tender I let it cool a bit and drizzled butter over it and served it next to asparagus and freshly cooked baked salmon with herbs.It is delicious.Taste like sweet potato,pumpkin mixed.I try to only shop at local growers produce.I have recently joined a co-op and am learning to find "all " my local growers which is where my Kabocha was perchased:)

Marney said...

Love this veg very much. The skin is edible, don't bother to peel it unless it's in poor shape! Its very soft to eat once cooked and shows a nice contrast in your presentation.

kind regards

Anonymous said...

Try using the microwave on the squash before you try to cut it up. The skin will soften, and you'll be spared the risk to your knuckles. 5 mins should do it.

Anonymous said...

I found it easy to cut in half, scoop seeds then place both halves in a pressure cooker with a little water. Soft, easy, and done in no time!

Anonymous said...

I know this post is old, but I watched a Japanese chef make kabocha online and decided to try it tonight. I simply sliced the pumpkin into cubes (left skin on) after scooping out the seeds and stringy flesh around the seeds, and then deep fried it until it turned golden and started floating to the top. I then drained it on some paper towels and drizzled it while still warm with some honey. It was so good, and was eaten up by my guests, who continued to rave about it all evening! The chef I saw also sprinkled black sesame seeds on it after she drizzled the honey, but I didn't have any black sesame on hand, so skipped that. It was delicious and the green skin became soft and made a nice flavor contrast to the sweet pumpkin flesh.

Eve Fox said...

That sounds delicious! I have since learned that the skin is fine to leave on, making it a little bit easier to cook.

Anonymous said...

Great article, Eve! I'm a fan of the Japanese pumpkin and often see it in the Little Tokyo market here in Los Angeles. However, I had no idea how to cook it. Now I do -- thanks for your piece. I'm trying this recipe this week.


Eve Fox said...

@Roger, it is one of my very favorite squashes - I think you will like it. And it's very versatile - check out this quick coconut curry for another tasty way to prepare it:

susang said...

a friend who has spent a lot of time in Thailand came home raving about "pumpkins filled with custard". Did a little research and found a very dessert-like recipe for a sweet egg custard that cooks in the squash halves while it is roasting in the oven. My friend had watched a local cook make the dish and she had notes on the process. It sounded more difficult than it was and was delish!
Madhur Jaffrey also has some more savory custards which I will try next time...