A few months into Autumn last year my brother commented, “what did we eat before squash?” And I have to admit, I hope to achieve the same feeling now that Autumn is here again (it is, right Bay Area? we’ve had some rain, the ginkgos are starting to turn, DON’T COME BACK INDIAN SUMMER).
Sune and I just got back from a 5 week Autumn adventure of climbing, paddling and friend visiting from Missouri to Alaska. So, we were shocked to return to the city by the bay and find it warmer than we left it! But I shouldn’t be surprised, we did have a gorgeous outdoor wedding in the Berkeley Hills in late November 3 years ago (3 years!).
But back to the squash. Oh, what’s that you say, what is my favorite squash? Kabocha, hands down.The addiction started when I was a student living in China (nan gua in Mandarin, or, southern gourd). Hot pumpkin cakes on the street were a favorite Fall snack. When we lived in Japan, my addiction to kabocha was summarily advanced. Grilled, broiled, boiled, pureed and stir-fried—we ate kabocha throughout the Fall and Winter without turning a disinterested eye towards the stuff. In Japan, people eat kabocha on Toji, the shortest day of the year. It’s believed that a bath of hot water infused with lovely yuzu (a Japanese citrus) and a meal of warming of kabocha will stave off the ill effects of a long, snowy winter. I think I agree.
Last year in the deep, wintry depths of rural Montana my friend Linda (my #1 partner in crime when it comes to cooking Japanese food at home) and I found a decent supply of kabocha at the local market. We spent long days out in the cold running teams of sled dogs and dreaming of our evening meal that would 99.9% of the time include at least a little kabocha. Fearful that the local market would not renew their ephemeral stock of Japanese pumpkin, we even started hoarding the stuff. So, that counts as an addiction, right? Who hoards pumpkins?
So, why is kabocha so great? The flesh is thick with creamy rather than stringy consistency, the skin is thin and delicious (that’s right, you can eat it!), and it’s a really versatile squash—great for everything from pumpkin pies to Thai curry.
Today’s recipe is miso soup with roasted kabocha. I had some leftover miso broth (made with dark, rich hatcho-miso) to which I added a handful of slivered red onion. My number one tip for cooking with kabocha is to steam the whole pumpkin before you even think about touching it with a knife. So, take the pumpkin, cut off the stem, then scrub the skin with an eco-friendly soap, a little water and a sponge. I’m not kidding about that. Because you eat the skin, you want it to be really clean! Rinse it well and place it over some simmering water and steam for 3 minutes. Turn off the heat, and let the pumpkin continue to soak in the steam while you prep everything else.
Recipe: Roasted Kabocha Miso Soup
1 kabocha, lightly steamed, de-seeded, and cubed into bite-size pieces
1 tablespoon of sesame oil
1 tablespoon of crushed garlic
1 tablespoon of grated ginger
salt and pepper to taste
Turn your oven onto broil. While the kabocha soaks in some extra steam (see above note), take a large non-plastic bowl and add the sesame oil, crushed garlic and grated ginger. Stir this around to combine. Take out your pumpkin and gently dry it with a kitchen towel. Cut the pumpkin in half (it should yield somewhat easily under the knife, if not, place it back in the steam basket for a few minutes). Discard the pulp and seeds in the middle. Cube into bite-size pieces and add it the oil/garlic/ginger bowl. Mix it well, spread evenly on a cooking sheet, sprinkle with salt and pepper and broil for 8 to 10 minutes. When it’s done, place half a cup of roasted kabocha at the bottom of each soup bowl and ladle hot soup over the pumpkin! Add some slivered red onion if you’re feeling fancy.