What is Kabocha squash?

ImageYou've seen it at the market. You've picked it up and wondered, What is this? An odd shaped acorn squash? Then you saw the sign: Kabocha squash, and thought, How the heck do you pronounce that?

What is Kabocha squash? A relative newcomer to the US squash scene, Kabocha squash (pronounced kuh-boh-cha) is a hard winter squash available from late fall to late spring. Its hard, dull, bumpy dark green shell is marked with pale celery green striations. It's rather heavy for its size (usually 2-3 pounds) and has a stumpy grayish colored stalk. Kabocha squash has a brilliant yellow-orange flesh, like a pumpkin's. Both the texture and flavor of Kabocha squash is similar to a sweet potato: the soft, moist, fluffy flesh is surprisingly sweet and slightly nutty.

Kabocha squash is a centuries-old variety of Japanese squash that in Japan is often referred to as a Japanese pumpkin. Apparently it was brought to Japan from Cambodia by the Spanish in the 1500s and is used in dishes ranging from soup to sushi.

ImageAs its rich orange flesh indicates, Kabocha squash is high in beta carotene, a powerful health-promoting antioxidant. One 3/4's cup serving of cooked Kabocha squash is only 30 calories yet provides 30% of your daily recommended vitamin C and a whopping 70% of vitamin A. It's also high in dietary fiber, especially if you eat the skin, which turns soft when cooked.

Kabocha squash is so naturally delicious, that you could eat it simply roasted and unadorned. But why not have a little more fun? I created this recipe for Roasted Kabocha Squash with Orange-Honey Glaze a few weeks ago and can't stop making it. Roasting the Kabocha squash renders it irresistibly tender, while the sweet and spicy orange honey glaze enhances its inherent sugary goodness. The sprinkling of sunflower seeds adds just the right amount of crunch with a hint of smoky nuttiness.

Roasted Kabocha Squash with an Orange Honey Glaze
Serves 4

1 Kabocha squash, cut in half, seeded, and sliced into 1-inch thick slices
2-3 teaspoons olive oil for brushing squash

2 teaspoons olive oil
1 shallot, diced
3 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons water
2 teaspoons lime juice
1/4 teaspoon rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons orange juice
2 teaspoons orange zest
2 teaspoons fresh minced ginger
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
salt, to taste
1/4 cup store-bought roasted, salted sunflower seeds

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line a baking pan with tinfoil (for easy clean up). Brush the flesh of the squash with olive oil, and roast flesh side down for 30-35 minutes, or until tender.

In a small skillet over medium heat, add 2 teaspoons olive oil. Add shallots and saute until lightly golden, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat. In a small bowl, combine remaining ingredients EXCEPT sunflower seeds. Whisk until smooth.

Just before you're ready to serve the squash, add the sauce to the pan of sauteed shallots. Heat on medium until the sauce begins to bubble and becomes lightly syrupy, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and drizzle over the cooked squash. Sprinkle with sunflower seeds. Serve immediately.

Note: Kabocha squash is available in organic markets such as Whole Foods as well as many traditional supermarkets. If you can't find Kabocha squash, then acorn, butternut, or buttercup squash make good substitutes.


Susan Russo is a free lance food writer in San Diego, California. She publishes stories, recipes, and photos on her cooking blog, <Food Blogga and is a regular contributor to NPR’s <Kitchen Window. She is also the author of two upcoming books that will be published in the Spring of 2011.