Kabocha is a bright, sweet squash and this classic Japanese way of preparing it, kabocha no nimono, really brings out the best in it. Tender, flavorful and with such a great rounded flavor. A delicious side.
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Kabocha squash is commonly called pumpkin in Japan and it feels like it's probably almost as popular as it's orange equivalent in the US. Well, apart from the pumpkin spice thing that goes alongside, somehow.
Kabocha, though, I have to say wins in the flavor department for me. Yes, the skin is annoyingly hard, but the orange flesh inside is tender and with a wonderful sweet, delicate flavor. It's a little like butternut or buttercup squash, just less dense.
Japanese cooking has various ways of preparing kabocha, with this simmered squash, kabocha no nimono being one of the most popular.
What is Japanese simmered squash?
Japanese cooking might be most known for things like raw fish like sushi and fried dishes like tempura and katsu, but you'll also find plenty vegetables. One of the most popular ways of preparing them is simmered in a lightly flavored broth.
That's exactly the case with this kabocha recipe, and you'll be amazed at how delicious, and easy, it is. The base of the broth is dashi, which you can either buy or make yourself. I used Just One Cookbook's recipe which is pretty classic and easy to follow. If you want to make this vegetarian, make or buy dashi that doesn't have bonito flakes in it, just seaweed.
Once you've got your dashi, you season it with soy, sugar and sake. Combined, they add such a great flavor - believe me you'll be wanting to sip all the leftover cooking liquid after you've eaten the squash itself!
Tips for preparing kabocha no nimono
This is a very easy dish to make, but a couple tips to get it to work at it's best:
- Take care cutting the squash - it is notorious for the tough skin. Your best bet is to stab into the squash, all the way through, with a sharp knife and then cut all the way down to the base.
- Cut the squash in equal pieces. This helps them all cook evenly at a similar pace. I'd suggest first cutting slices, then cut these up. If you like, you can trim any rough edges of the skin.
- Place the squash in a single layer, skin side down, in your pan.
- Once cooked, leave the squash to cool in the liquid. This lets the squash absorb as much flavor as possible from the broth.
- You can serve it hot or cold, as you prefer - personally, I really like it warm.
- Take care removing the squash from the pot as it is very delicate. I find it best to scoop under the skin.
When you serve this kabocha no nimono, make sure you don't throw away the cooking broth. It has such a wonderful flavor, it's worth putting some in the dish with the squash to mop up, as best you can. Or just drink it, there's no judgement here!
Typically, you'd serve this Japanese simmered squash as a side to other dishes. You might find it alongside rice, seaweed salad, yakitori (skewers) or a range of other mains. But it would be just as good with say roast chicken, pork chops or even as a snack on it's own. I had it with chawanmushi (savory custard) which made a tasty light lunch.
Kabocha no nimono is such an easy and tasty way to bring out the natural sweetness in this wonderful squash. The broth is a simple mix, but has such great umami flavors. Perfect with Japanese mains, or really any excuse you like.
Try these other tasty squash recipes:
- Maple roasted buttercup squash
- Delicata squash soup with curried chickpeas and onions
- Acorn squash gnocchi
- Plus get more fall recipes and Japanese recipes in the archives.
Kabocha no nimono (Japanese simmered squash)
- ½ lb kabocha squash (1 or two slices)
- ¾ cup dashi (homemade or from powder)
- 1 teaspoon soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon sake
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- Remove any seeds and sticky stringiness from the squash and cut it into roughly large bite-sized pieces. Try to make them as even as possible.
- Put the pieces of squash in a small pan in a single layer. You want the pan to be just big enough to hold the squash without too much extra space.
- Pour the dashi into the pan and cover. Place over a medium heat and bring to a boil.
- Add the soy, sake and sugar to the pan and swirl the pan gently to mix. Cover and reduce the heat so that the liquid simmers. Leave for around 20-30 minutes until the squash is tender to a knifepoint.
- Remove from the heat and leave to cool, covered, so that the squash continues to absorb the cooking liquid as it cools.
- Either serve at room temperature or re-heat in the liquid to serve. Be careful as you take the pieces of squash from the pan as the flesh will be soft and delicate.
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