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Sweet Kabocha Japanese Pumpkin Recipe

The Japanese might not celebrate Thanksgiving as it is a uniquely American holiday, but you'll still find plenty of pumpkin on fall tables in Japan. Kabocha is a Japanese winter squash that has a very hard, green rind with vibrantly orange flesh. It has seeds that look like those of any other pumpkin variety and they may be washed, seasoned, roasted and enjoyed as well.

There are several varieties of kabocha. All have a succulently sweet taste similar to that of a sweet potato. Rich in beta carotene, iron, potassium and vitamin C, kabocha has a long shelf-life. In fact, freshly picked kabocha has a bland flavor and requires ripening during a month of storage. There are many ways to cook the kabocha from sliced, battered and fried tempura-style to stewed with sliced meat.

The easiest and most loved way to prepare kabocha is to simmer it gently with a simple mixture of water, soy sauce and sugar. You can vary the amounts of each to suit your taste, but the natural flavor of the pumpkin should not be overwhelmed by a strong soy sauce taste. Despite the fact that the rind of raw kabocha is extremely hard, it cooks rather quickly so be sure not to overcook it or it will turn into mush! The tender shell may be eaten along with the pumpkin flesh, if desired. I love to savor this on a cold winter night with some steamed white or brown rice as a light vegetarian meal, but it makes a good side dish for fish or meat entrees, too.

Sweet Kabocha

1 small to medium kabocha (Japanese pumpkin)
1 cup water
1 Tbsp. soy sauce
3 Tbsp. white sugar

Wash the outside of the kabocha. Place it upright on a damp towel-covered cutting board. Using a sharp knife, carefully insert the tip into the top of the pumpkin rind and bring the knife downward to cut the kabocha in half. Use caution as the kabocha is very hard. Using a large metal spoon, scoop out the seeds and stringy fibers. Lay the kabocha half flat on the board and cut the pumpkin into 2h chunks.

Place the kabocha chunks in a medium skillet. In a small bowl, blend together the sugar, soy sauce and water and pour over the kabocha. Bring this to a boil over medium-high heat. Cover, lower heat and simmer for 15 minutes or until the kabocha is soft and tender but not mushy. Serve as a vegetarian main dish or a side dish.

*Although this is the traditional recipe, you can make it more healthful by substituting tamari sauce for the soy and use agave nectar, honey or a sugar replacement for a low-sodium/low sugar dish without compromising the final flavor.

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