A few weeks ago, Valerie wrote a comment about her favorite winter squash—kabocha—and I responded saying I didn’t know anything about it. Days later, I went to pick up my winter Plowshares. Eureka, kabocha!
Kabocha (pronounced kah BOH chah) is a dark green winter squash with splashes of orange, round and squat with a flattened top. Inside, hunter’s orange flesh surrounds a small seed cavity.
Botanically known as Cucurbita maxima, it is one of a family of winter squash that originated in South America. Like all winter squash, it is a powerhouse of vitamins A and C, with calcium, iron, and some vitamin B as well.
Kabocha is drought tolerant and easy to grow in Pennsylvania. It is a warm season crop so it should be harvested before the first frost. To develop optimum flavor and texture after harvest, kabocha should be ripened for 13 days in a warm space, and then cured in cold storage for a month. Like all winter squash, it keeps for several weeks/months in cool, dry storage.
What I find fascinating is that the South American winter squash has a Japanese name. From what I’ve read, it was Portuguese sailors who introduced the squash to Japan in 1541. Centuries later, it is known throughout the Western World as Japanese pumpkin, and is intertwined in Asian foods and fable.
In Japan, they call it haku kabocha or “nutty pumpkin.” It is eaten around winter solstice (Dec. 21) with adzuki beans in a sweet soup believed to boost the immune system. The Japanese also serve it battered and fried with other tempura vegetables.
In the1980s, to keep up with the demand, the Japanese introduced kabocha to Tonga in an effort to create a cash crop. In the years since, kabocha has become Tonga’s primary export, the bulk of supply going to Japan and Korea. I must admit my ignorance, but I had no idea where Tonga was—I would have guessed somewhere in Africa. As I used to tease my kids, “I didn’t have Mr. Cottone for Geography,” so I had to look it up. Tonga is a Polynesian kingdom of 169 islands, east of Australia in the South Pacific.
OK, so back to the kabocha sitting in my Central Pennsylvania kitchen. Kabocha can be roasted, steamed, pan-fried, baked, braised, pureed. It has a sweet, buttery texture and holds its shape well, so it can be added in cubes to risotto, soup, stew, curry or pasta.
Some sources suggest microwaving kabocha for a few minutes before cutting to soften its hard shell, but with newly sharpened knives I had no problem cutting, peeling and chopping it uncooked.
After days of enjoying Thanksgiving leftovers, I was ready for a change in taste, so this Thai Red Curry with Kabocha Squash recipe on Chowhound caught my eye. As usual, I made a few adjustments. If red chili paste isn’t a staple in your kitchen, it should be, along with unsweetened coconut milk.
Thai Red Curry with Kabocha Squash
1 T. vegetable oil
1 medium yellow onion, diced
Salt to taste
2 red bell peppers, cut into strips
4 cloves garlic, minced
Peeled and chopped fresh ginger, 1”-2” piece
3 Tbsp. Thai red curry paste
1 can (13-14 oz.) unsweetened coconut milk
½ cup water
1 Tbsp. tamari
1 medium kabocha squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 1-inch cubes
2 tsp. lime juice
Heat oil in large frying pan over medium heat. Add onion and salt, cook and stir until onion softens. Add peppers, garlic and ginger, stir to combine and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.
Add curry paste, stir for another minute. Then, add coconut milk, water, tamari, and bring to a simmer. Stir in squash, return to simmer and reduce heat to low, stirring occasionally. Simmer until squash is fork-tender, about 20-25 minutes. Remove from heat, add fresh-squeezed lime juice, and salt to taste.
Serve over steamed rice.
As the winter solstice approaches, perhaps it’s time to chow down on kabocha. Laurie Lynch
Follow-Up: Watermelon radishes are fun for salads, but they’ve taken on a new role in our kitchen. They are nice for roasted vegetable dishes. The radishes slices retain their bright magenta color but don’t bleed like beets do. And, the taste is mild.
And S’More: In my last blog, I mentioned s’mores. I opened the mail this week and there was a birthday card from my sister Leslie for my mom and me (we share the same birthday). It is a photo of a Sandy-lookalike and two other dogs toasting marshmallows over a campfire. Open it up and out pops…