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6 Kabocha Recipes That'll Turn You Into a Japanese Pumpkin Lover

By Jordan Green
November 4, 2020
Updated: November 25, 2020

The coming of autumn brings the arrival of kabocha, Japanese pumpkin, to our supermarket shelves. But how does one actually cook and prepare Japanese pumpkin?

This hard-skinned squash can be a tricky ingredient to work with but with an abundance of kabocha recipes from roasted kabocha squash to kabocha pie out there, we'd be foolish not to create a quick round up of some of our favorite kabocha dishes for autumn.

6 Kabocha Recipes That'll Turn You Into a Japanese Pumpkin Lover

Here are six recipes where the Japanese squash truly shines.

  1. Kabocha no Nimono
  2. Japanese Kabocha Salad 
  3. Kabocha Korokke
  4. Kabocha Dango
  5. Mabo Kabocha
  6. Pumpkin Pie

1. Kabocha no Nimono

Picture of Kabocha no Nimono

In Japanese cuisine, cooking food by boiling or stewing it is referred to as nimono. Although simple, this cooking method can create dishes overflowing with complex flavors and textures, and when pumpkin is prepared using this style, the full range of flavors can be uncovered.

To cook your own kabocha no nimono at home, you'll need the following ingredients:

  • Water 300ml
  • Pumpkin 300g
  • Granulated dashi 1 tbsp
  • Soy sauce 1 tbsp
  • Sugar 1 tbsp
  • Salt ¼ tsp
  • Sake 1 tbsp

Start by scooping the seeds and pulp out of your kabocha pumpkin and rinse it under warm water, making sure to clean the skin well, as it is edible and we will be using it in this dish. Slice your pumpkin into slightly larger than bitesize pieces and place it to one side.

Once you have cut your pumpkin into slices, start on your nimono broth, heating up 300ml of water in a medium size pot. After the water begins to heat up, add your dashi to the pot and allow it to dissolve completely before adding the rest of your seasonings.

Stir until all the seasonings have completely combined with the dashi mixture, and then add your pumpkin to the newly-formed broth. The pumpkin shouldn't be completely submerged in the water; as long as the pumpkin us at least 80% submerged, the nimono will turn out just fine.

Preparing the Kabocha for different dishes

With the heat set low, slowly simmer the pumpkin in the broth. This will give the pumpkin a chance to absorb all the flavors of the broth while it cooks. Allow the pumpkin to slowly simmer on a low to medium heat for 20-45 minutes depending on how large your pumpkin pieces are.

Once the pumpkin is tender enough to be easily pierced with a fork, it's ready. Remove from the heat and serve.

Sadly, the broth isn't really for drinking and can be thrown out once the pumpkin is ready.

Pro Tip: Leaving the skin on the pumpkin allows for the finished nimono to have an extra layer of texture.

2. Japanese Kabocha Salad

A classic Japanese Kabocha Salad

If you've ever made potato salad, pumpkin salad is a very simple task. For this recipe you'll need:

  • Pumpkin 300g
  • Bacon 30g
  • Half a cucumber 50g
  • Salt to taste
  • Pepper to taste
  • Mayonnaise 2-3 tbsp

Slice through the pumpkin and place it in a pot of boiling water on the stove until it's easily pierced with a fork.

As the pumpkin cooks, start prepping your other ingredients; kabocha salad requires thinly-sliced cucumber so grab your sharpest knife and slice half a cucumber into perfectly thin circles.

Once the pumpkin is soft, place it in a bowl to cool while you fry your bacon. If you want to add another texture to the dish, perhaps frying the bacon until crisp is best.

After the bacon is fried, place it in a bowl with the pumpkin and mix. You want to mix and slightly crush the pumpkin without smoothing it out into a fine paste, we're not making mashed potato here. Once combined, taste for seasoning and serve.

For those of you who are going down the list and cooking each item one at a time, it's at this stage I can offer you a tip. For the pumpkin salad, instead of using plain boiled pumpkin use your leftover nimono (if any) as a substitution and carefully mix with mayo, pepper, cucumber, and bacon, If you are using the nimono you won't require any extra salt as the pumpkin will already be perfectly seasoned.

Pro Tip: When making the potato salad with nimono instead of boiled pumpkin, be careful when mixing as the nimono pumpkin is a lot softer than you might think and over-mixing will lead to more of a, albeit delicious, pumpkin mash.

3. Kabocha Korokke

Completed Kabocha Korokke

These bitesize kabocha korokke (croquettes) are the perfect addition to the dinner table of any pumpkin lover. The crispy, fried outsides paired with the slightly sweet kabocha within create a sweet-salty balance that is very moreish.

For this simple kabocha korokke you'll need to prepare a few ingredients:

  • Kabocha 300g
  • Onion 1 small
  • Bacon 20g
  • Butter for frying
  • Oil for frying
  • Flour
  • 1 Egg
  • Salt and pepper
  • Panko crumbs

Prepare your kabocha by steaming or boiling it until the kabocha is soft and malleable. For those without a steamer, you can always opt for microwave steaming. Place the sliced kabocha into a bowl with a little water, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and microwave, checking every 35-40 seconds to make sure the kabocha isn't overcooking.

Chop the onions into small pieces and fry in a pan with some butter. After the onions start to get a little color, add your bacon to the mixture and fry until cooked. Once the onion-bacon mixture is complete, place it into a separate bowl with the cooked pumpkin. Bacon and kabocha pair very well in this korokke but the protein element of this dish is pretty flexible and thus customization is welcomed!

Add a little salt and pepper into the kabocha mixture and begin to mash and stir the kabocha until combined. The mixture should have the same consistency as mashed potato when complete.

Sprinkle a little flour onto your work surface and hands and begin to form small slightly larger than bitesize balls with the kabocha mixture. Flour is your best friend at this stage as the mixture will be very sticky and a little hard to work with.

Place your kabocha balls into the fridge to firm up for around 10-15 minutes.

Then, take the balls out of the fridge and coat them first with a beaten egg, and then into panko crumbs.

Fry the korokke in small batches so as to not overcrowd each other in the oil, and finish with a final sprinkle of salt.

Perfect kabocha korokke for any occasion.

Pro Tip: Keeping the kabocha skin on is perfectly fine; the final korokke will just have a darker color inside. For those who want a brighter orange color, consider peeling the kabocha before steaming or boiling it.

4. Kabocha Dango

Fried Kabocha Dango some containing chocolate, azuki and some plain

Kabocha dango is an easy way to introduce kabocha to a fussy eater. The kabocha's simple flavors shine through in this simple dish, and while it only contains two ingredients, the dish is infinitely customizable. With the ability to transform into a sweet or savory dish, the possibilities for kabocha are endless. For this dish you'll need:

  • Kabocha 140g
  • Potato starch 1 tbsp

Carefully slice the kabocha into manageable pieces and steam or boil them until they are easily pierced with a fork. If you don't have a steamer you can boil or microwave the kabocha; anything to get them soft.

Once soft, move the cooked kabocha into a bowl and allow it to cool for a few minutes. Take the cooled kabocha and mash it into a paste and then add the potato starch. The starch will firm up the kabocha, allowing it to be easily shaped.

Shape the kabocha into disks and place them to one side for frying (this is the perfect time to get little helpers involved).

If you want to place anything inside the dango, this is the stage to do it. Azuki paste goes surprisingly well with kabocha dango, while chocolate can be hit or miss. Try out a few different ingredients and see which one you enjoy the most.

Kabocha Dango Prep on a wooden board

Once the kabocha has been shaped into discs, place them into a hot pan with a little oil and fry them on both sides until the kabocha browns. Plate up and serve them to what I'm sure are hungry little helpers.

For more savory dango, add a little salt and pepper during the mixing process and instead of frying the dango, boil it in a little seasoned broth or add it to a vegetable soup of your choosing for a little extra texture. 

5. Mabo Kabocha

Delicious Mabo Kabocha served on top of udon

While the name is shared with its spicy Chinese counterpart, this pumpkin-infused dish has an entirely different flavor. For this recipe, you'll need these ingredients:

  • Minced beef 200g
  • Half an onion
  • Soy sauce 1½ tsp
  • Mirin ½ tsp
  • Kabocha - 200g
  • Dashi 1 tsp
  • Ginger 2 tsp
  • Finely-sliced chili (optional)

Cut your kabocha into large chunks and place them in a steamer or a pot of hot water to cook until soft.

While the kabocha softens, slice your onion into small pieces and place it into a hot pan with a little butter. Slowly cook the onions until they have softened, then add your minced beef.

Fry the minced beef until it has gained a little color and then add your spices. For those who are using fresh ginger, slice the ginger into thin shards and then add them to the mix. For those using a pre-crushed ginger, about a half a tablespoon will do. 

Mix well before adding in your steamed pumpkin to the pan. Fold the pumpkin into the mixture so as to not break apart the pumpkin into too small pieces.

Allow the mixture to simmer for a few minutes before serving on top of rice.

Pro Tip: For lovers of spicy food, a finely sliced chili will be a great addition (note that a little added spice goes a long way in this dish).

Pro Tip 2: This dish also works well with udon; just increase the water from 20ml to 30-40ml to create more of a soup for the udon noodles to cling to.

6. Pumpkin Pie

A Japanese take on an American classic, Kabocha Pie

An unmistakable American classic, the pumpkin pie is a delicious autumn treat. By using kabocha, we can adapt this American classic from an American pumpkin pie to a Japanese kabocha pie!

We will need the following ingredients:

  • Pie dough (ready-made or homemade)
  • Kabocha pumpkin 450g
  • Unsalted butter 30g
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 2 eggs
  • 72g brown sugar
  • 200ml whipping cream (double cream)
  • 2 tsp pumpkin pie spice (1 tbsp cinnamon, 2 tsp nutmeg, ½ tsp ginger, ½ tsp cloves and ½ tsp allspice)
  • Sugar 30g
  • ½ tsp salt
  • Splash of rum (optional)

Start by cutting your kabocha. For this dish, the skin is not needed. Kabocha skin is pretty tough, so consider peeling it after the kabocha has been cooked if you don't own a relatively sharp peeler.

Once sliced into manageable pieces, steam or boil the pumpkin until soft. Remove the kabocha skin, placing the cooked pumpkin into a separate bowl, and start on your pumpkin spice.

Those without pre-made pumpkin spice can easily recreate this classic with a few supermarket spices. In a small bowl mix together 1 tablespoon of cinnamon, 2 teaspoons of ground ginger, and half a teaspoon each of allspice, ground cloves and nutmeg. This should yield around 2 tablespoons of pumpkin spice.

Preparing the Kabocha Pie batter with a fork and spoon

For those who own a food processor, blitz the cooked pumpkin until smooth and silky. For those without a processor, the same result can be achieved with a potato masher, a fork, or even a spoon, but a little more effort might be required.

Find yourself a large bowl and mix together your unsalted butter and white sugar until combined. Once the mixture has fully combined, add your eggs and egg yolk to the butter-sugar mixture and whisk until fully incorporated.

This is when we want to add our smooth pumpkin paste to the party. Fold and whisk the pumpkin paste into the mixture until an orange-y batter is formed.

Next, we want to add our dry ingredients: brown sugar, a pinch of salt, and our homemade pumpkin spice.

Whisk together well before slowly adding our double cream to the mix bit by bit, whisking in between additions. For those who want to make a more adult version, add a splash of rum to the batter and stir it in alongside the double cream.

A shallow crust version of Kabocha Pie

While a shallow or deep pie crust will create a delicious pumpkin pie, for those looking for more traditional American style pumpkin pie, a deeper dish should be used.

Add your pumpkin pie filling to your chosen pie crust and place it into an oven preheated to 170-180 degrees Celsius (around 338-356F) for around 45-50 minutes. If you are using a shallower pie crust, lower the oven temperature to around 160 degrees Celsius (320F) and cook for around 35-45 minutes.

Allow the pie to cool for at least an hour before digging in. This classic is best served with a heaping helping of homemade whipped cream.

From sweet to savory and everything in between, kabocha, or Japanese pumpkin, is an amazingly flexible ingredient able to take the form of an afternoon snack, a full meal, or even a dessert.

Stuck at home? Check out these 10 fun online cooking classes and virtual experiences!

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Jordan Green
Traveling around Japan to find the tastiest Japanese foods and ingredients Jordan Green, known as AfroInJapan, is on a mission to visit and photograph every prefecture while trying all the regional foods along the way.
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