Nov 27, 2013

Japanese Kabocha Squash

Japanese Kabocha Squash
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Portuguese sailors introduced the kabocha squash to Japan in 1541, bringing it with them from Cambodia. Today it is eaten all over the world, and is very common here in Hawaii. 

It is a very hard squash, has knobbly-looking skin, is shaped like a squat pumpkin, and has a dull-finished, deep green skin with some celadon-to-white stripes and an intense yellow-orange color on the inside. In many respects it is similar to the Buttercup squash, but without the characteristic cup on the blossom end. It is a member of the species Cucurbita maxima, along with the Hubbard and Buttercup squashes. 

An average kabocha weighs 2-3 pounds but can weigh as much as 8 pounds. It has an exceptional naturally sweet flavor, even sweeter than butternut squash. It is similar in texture and flavor to a pumpkin and a sweet potato combined.

Kabocha squash is an excellent source of beta-carotene, which can be converted to vitamin A in the body. Vitamin A is important for healthy white blood cells, good immunity and for vibrant eyes, skin and hair. A single serving of kabocha squash provides 70% of the day’s recommended requirement! Kabocha is also a good source of iron, vitamin C and some B vitamins and fiber.

Kabocha Squash Recipes:
Kabocha Squash Rice with Edamame
The sweet squash flavors the rice, and the edamame (soy beans) not only tastes wonderful, but add a nice contrast to the dish. Serve with chicken, pork, or fish.

Japanese Kabocha Squash Rice with Edamame
1 1/2 cups short grain rice
3 cups water
1 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons sake (Japanese rice wine)
2 1/2 cups kabocha squash (peel and cut into 1 inch cubes)
1 1/2 cups cooked & shelled edamame (soy beans)
pumpkin seeds for garnish, optional

Put rice in a bowl. Wash and pour water out, then repeat 2 more times (this gets rid of some of the milky white starch on the rice which makes it sticky). Place rice and 3 cups of water in a heavy medium sized pot. Let it soak for 30 minutes. Meanwhile peel and cut the squash (I like to use a serrated bread knife because the tough to peel, so be careful). Set the squash aside. Just before cooking the rice, add salt and sake to the water and stir. Then add the cut kabocha squash to the rice and bring everything to a boil on high heat without a lid. When it reaches the rapid boil, put the lid on and reduce the heat to simmer for 15 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the pot stand for 10 minutes (don't open the lid.) Fluff the rice, and cooked squash, with a spatula (the squash will be so soft that it will be mashed a little bit with the rice.) Serve and garnish with the cooked edamame, or perhaps pumpkin seeds, or both. Makes
4-6 servings.

Kabocha Squash, long Beans, and Shrimp
in Coconut Milk
This is a multi-layered soup recipe that my Filipino friend Estella told me about while she was cutting my hair. Coconut milk combined with sweet kabocha squash, shrimp and long beans make for a delicious main course or as an opener to a tropical meal. Be sure and suck the shrimp heads, sooo ono!

2 cups kabocha squash, pared, seeded and cut into 2-inch chunks
2 cups long beans, ends trimmed and cut into 3-inch lengths
1/2 pound large white shrimp (8 pieces), tendrils trimmed, leaving the heads on for sucking later
3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 small onion, peeled and thinly sliced
2 cups coconut milk
1 pinch dried chili pepper
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
salt to taste

In a pot, heat oil over medium heat. Saute onions and garlic just until the onion gets transparent, but don't burn the garlic. Add fish sauce and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, for about 1 to 2 minutes.

Pour in coconut milk and add a pinch of dried chili pepper. Bring to a simmer then lower heat and continue for about 5 to 6 minutes or until slightly reduced.

Add squash and cook for about 3 to 5 minutes. Add long beans and continue to cook for another 5 to 6 minutes. Add shrimp and continue to cook for about 4 to 5 minutes or until squash is softened, long beans are tender yet crisp and shrimps have changed color. Season with salt to taste. Makes 4 servings.

Kabocha Squash & Coconut Cream Bisque
This soup recipe is very popular in the Caribbean. They make their soup with "calabaza" pumpkins, which is similar to the Kabocha here in Hawaii. Normally they like their soup a little spicy, so they add scotch bonnet peppers to this recipe. Personally I would rather taste the squash and coconut rather than all that heat, so I only add a pinch of chili pepper to this recipe.

4 cups of kabocha squash, pared, seeded and cut into 2-inch chunks
1 quart chicken broth
1 can coconut milk
1 pinch dried chili pepper (optional)
1 small onion, roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic
2 teaspoons fresh grated ginger
2 bay leaves
3 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves removed and added to pot
salt & pepper to taste
sour cream for garnish

Add all ingredients, except the sour cream, to a medium sized pot. Bring to a simmer and cook, covered, for about 20 to 25 minutes, or until the squash is very tender, then remove the 2 bay leaves and blend the soup with an immersion blender, or regular blender until smooth. Taste and add additional seasoning if necessary. Serve garnished with a dollop of sour cream. Makes 6 servings.

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