Kabocha Nimono: Simmered Squash
This is one of the most popular Japanese home cooked side-dishes. It’s not a complicated recipe, but you do need some tips and experience to make a really good one that blends the squash’s natural sweetness with just the right amount of salty soy sauce and umami dashi. In fact, this is one of those recipes where it really pays to measure things carefully before tossing them in!
Squash arrived in Japan in the middle of 16th century from Cambodia through the Portuguese. Originally, we got a kind of butternut squash, but today the green-on-the-outside variety, known as kabocha squash or Japanese pumpkin, is the most common in Japan.
Kabocha Nimono is the kind of old kitchen stand-by recipe most Japanese moms can make with their eyes closed. Cooked this way, you don’t even have to peel the squash: the skin becomes very soft through simmering. The big pitfall to watch out for here is using too much moisture and letting the pumpkin get all soggy. The goal is to get the squash soft and buttery, almost like a chestnut. You don’t want it waterlogged.
Ingredients: (for four)
- A half of Squash (use the type that’s green on the outside, not pumpkin!)
- Dashi stock – 400cc (mix hot water with half a teaspoon of dashi powder)
- Soy sauce – two tablespoons
- Sugar – one tablespoon
- Mirin – one tablespoon
- Sake – two tablespoons
- Dig out the seeds and cut the squash into chunks.
- If you like, partially peel the squash. Don’t peel all the skin off: it’s much prettier with some of the green skin still on.
- If you have enough time, cut off a little the corners to keep it from crumbling after cooking. This technique is called mentori (chamfer).
- Prepare hot water (400cc) and dissolve the dashi powder (half a teaspoon) in it.
- Place the squash and dashi stock in a big pan. The liquid should be just to cover the squash.
If it’s too much, pour off some of the liquid to keep it from becoming too watery later.
- Heat the pan. When it starts to boil, add soy sauce, sugar, mirin and sake.
- Make a paper towel dome to seal in the moisture, and cook over middle heat until the sauce reduces (about 5 minutes – depending on your pot).
- Check whether the squash is cooked by piercing with a chopstick.
As soon as you find it’s cooked, turn off the heat. Don’t overcook it.