Kabocha Squash: My Favorite Winter Veggie

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I just rediscovered my favorite winter squash variety, Kabocha Squash! The last time I was in San Francisco for a wedding we stumbled across a cute Thai restaurant by our hotel. Always up for trying something exotic and new, especially when on vacation, and I was intrigued after spotting a pumpkin curry dish on the menu.  As it turns out, it was sweet and spicy, delicious and top notch, definitely one of my favorite curry dishes to date (btw panang curry veggie is my fav). What I found interesting was they kept the fiber-rich skin ON.  I don’t recall ever eating pumpkin skin and it was indeed amazing, so it was filed in my memory under “recreate this dish!” Unfortunately I neglected to ask or perhaps did and don't remembered what kind of pumpkin they used and life when on. 

Unknowingly, I recently purchased a kabocha squash from one of my favorite local farms Rise 'N Shine in Calhoun, Georgia. Farmer Evan called it a Japanese pumpkin and I was intrigued by the knobby-speckled skin and his promise of a sweet, pumpkin-like texture that was reminiscent of chestnuts. SOLD! Apparently it is available year-round (who knew) but is best in late summer/early fall. 

Not only is it rich in nutrients like vitamin A and C, but also it is a good source of iron, copper, magnesium, B vitamins, fiber and a variety of antioxidants. Just like sweet potatoes or carrots, the orange flesh indicates vitamin A or beta carotene. Another bonus: only 30 calories per cup! Now I'm officially obsessed. But wait, there's more. You will want to add this special squash into your regular meal plans because all the good nutrients and antioxidants like lycopene, zeaxathin, flavonoids can help spruce up everything in the body from your eyes to your bones:

* Aids in eye health and decrease risk of macular degeneration 

* Lowers blood pressure and bad cholesterol (LDL levels)

* Reduces the risk of prostate cancer 

* Promotes collagen formation and joint health

* Boosts your immune system and fight nasty free radicals in the body

* Works in conjunction with calcium and magnesium to help build healthy bones 

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Below see what it looks like chopped up with skin on ready for baking. And yes, the skin is edible and quite delicious.  According to the University of California Berkley, most people peel off the skin of fruits and veggies but that is where a high concentration of nutrients are found.  I'm a big fan of maximizing food nutrition and eating digestible, fiber-rich veggie skins and recommend purchasing organic if you want to go that route. I also am a proud supporter of organic farming because it decreases my exposure to pesticides and is sustainable for the planet. Big love to Mother Earth!  Our body is only as healthy as our food is only as healthy as soil. So we have to make soil health a priority.

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Fast forward to last weekend... and the realization that this mystery Japanese pumpkin/squash had been sitting on my kitchen island for at least four weeks. Okay perhaps six is more accurate. I'm no stranger to purchasing foods that intimidate me but it was high time to do something with it. And once I roasted and nibbled on this succulent squash, I realized that this was the "ONE" I’ve been on the hunt for almost a decade. Shamefully I could Hnat stop myself from eating it piping hot, right out of the oven. It was so sweet, like a dessert. I must have eaten close to half of it, ok a mild exaggeration, but I would have if I let myself. And then I spoiled dinner. Certainly wouldn't be the first time I've done that.  It was that good.

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Next goal to tackle: recreate the SF veggie pumpkin curry dish but with the ingredients I had on hand.  Let’s see: Asian spicy greens, bok choy, broccoli, celery, sugar snap peas, onions, garlic and fresh ginger (YES!).  How shocking, mostly green foods (kidding I feel like that's all I ever purchase).  That will work.

So looping back around, I washed and then chopped the pumpkin in half and scooped out the seeds and membrane as best I could. You need a big knife to do this. Then chopped it into smaller pieces and added to a large baking sheet. TIP: I placed it in the oven at 300 degrees before I added 1-2 cups of clean water, until it was about ¼-ish covered in water and baked for 45-60 minutes.

In the past I’ve made the mistake of adding water to a shallow baking dish, trying with all my might to not spill a drop as I placed the dish into the oven. Never successful. This time I decided to beat the system and add the water to the baking dish AFTER it was secure on the oven shelf then patted myself on the back for being so clever. I know full well this is likely the solution-oriented instructions on some popular cooking show, however, I came up with this kitchen wisdom on my own while in prep mode so I was feelin’ some pride!  Below is what it looks like after being cooked, the water is soaked up and cooks the squash until it is fork-tender.  

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When the cooked pumpkin comes out it is ready to use for whatever recipe you desire, curry dishes, dips, muffins, breads, desserts or nibble on right outta the pan like I did. Or you can roast them and add to salads, a Buddah bowl or serve on a bed of grains like quinoa with roasted veggies.  Endless options!  I was in the mood for curry so my recipe is below - revise it according to what veggies you like or have available. I’ve enjoyed it over a bed of Jasmine rice or Beluga lentils (the black ones) but I don't think you can go wrong with pairing it with anything.  Purple rice might be nice too and an extra anti-oxidant boost.

KABOCHA SQUASH CURRY:

2-3 pounds kabocha squash aka Japanese pumpkin

2 Tablespoons oil (I love avocado, coconut, grapeseed and olive)

1 small/medium yellow onion, roughly chopped

3-4 fresh garlic cloves, minced

1” knob of fresh ginger, peeled and minced (about 1 Tablespoon)

Veggies of choice: arugula, asparagus, bok choy, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, carrots, cauliflower, celery, eggplant, green beans, peppers, spinach, sugar snap peas, tomatoes etc

½ can coconut cream (Trader Joe’s has an organic one I use) or 1 cup unsweetened almond milk

2-3 Tablespoons thai red curry, to taste

Thai basil or cilantro, chopped and optional

Fresh lime juice, optional

Directions:

Cook the pumpkin:

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Chop kabocha in half and remove seeds and squash spiderwebs (or you can do this after it has been cooked but I chopped into small pieces and that would be too time consuming - experiment and see what works for you).  You can remove the skin but since I purchased organic I washed the squash and left the skin on. Chop squash into 1-inch pieces.  

Place kabocha on a large baking sheet, place in heated oven and add 1-2 cups of water until ¼ - ⅓ of the baking sheet is covered in water. Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour or until fork tender.  Let it cool for 10 minutes (try not to eat it all).

Cook the curry:

In a wok or large frying pan over medium heat, warm 1 Tablespoon of oil then sweat the onions, stirring very often for 3 minutes.  Add the garlic and ginger, cook for 1 minute.  Now stir in the red curry paste and coconut cream or almond milk to form a red paste and bring to a boil. You have the option of blending this creamy paste with half of the cooked pumpkin or not. I did and created a creamy pumpkin curry that is thick and delicious! You might need to add more coconut cream or almond milk to create your desired thickness.  I think next time I will make more curry sauce.

Add another tablespoon of oil to the fry pan and add veggies of choice starting with heartier ones first like broccoli, Brussel sprouts or cauliflower and cooking for 5-7 minutes before adding softer ones like arugula, bok choy, or spinach that cooks quickly, last and cooking for 1-2 minutes.  Add the pumpkin curry mixture and simmer on low with the lid on until the veggies are tender, time depends on what veggies you use.  I like my veggies on the crunchy side so I don’t cook them too long.  

Transfer the curry to a serving bowl, garnish with Thai basil or chopped cilantro and serve with steamed jasmine or brown rice, quinoa or other grain.

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Hey Kingston, how did you get in here?  Thanks for indulging me... he was so color-coordinated with the post and wanted to show off his new hedgehog sweater I couldn't help myself! PS he LOVED the Kabocha squash too!!!  Skins and all. 

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Create Healthy Habits,

Jennifer

Jennifer Hnat