This Japanese-style vegetable side dish is one of my favourite ways to use squash or pumpkin. If you’ve hacked apart these giant baubles in the past but only ever roasted or made soup from the flesh, you absolutely have to try this alternative recipe! I’m going to show you how to get the ultimate dense, soft texture and rich sweet/salty/umami flavour out of your chosen squash using nothing but a saucepan and a piece of foil or baking paper.
before we get started
This recipe includes instructions for making your own drop lid or otoshibuta, a trick Japanese cooks often use for simmered dishes (nimono). The drop lid helps heat and flavour to penetrate the food more evenly, while stopping softer ingredients like nearly-cooked squash from rolling around and turning to mush.
You can use any kind of squash or pumpkin, including Japanese kabocha; however you may wish to adjust the seasoning according to the sweetness of the variety you use.
This dish is perfect for autumn menus as an addition to any Japanese-style meal. You will need a piece of foil or baking paper.
- 1/2 squash or as much as will fit, in large chunks, in a single layer in your saucepan
- 600 ml dashi or other light stock*
- salt to taste
- 2-3 tbsp soy sauce
- pinch brown sugar
- handful chestnuts (cut an X into the skins)
- handful chives (chopped)
Peel, deseed and chop your squash into large, irregular pieces. Think 3-5 pieces per serving. Start boiling the chestnuts.
Place the squash in a separate, large saucepan. Barely cover with water and bring gently to the boil. Reduce the heat and keep at a low simmer for 10 minutes or until the squash is about half cooked.
Drain the saucepan carefully and replace the water with the same amount of your dashi or stock, salted to taste. Add the sugar and soy sauce. The simmering stock should be quite savoury to compensate for the squash’s natural sweetness.
Take your piece of foil or baking paper and fashion a circle with the same diameter as your saucepan. Cut a small slit in the centre to act as a vent. Place this makeshift drop lid (Japanese: otoshibuta) on top of your squash and bring it back to a gentle simmer for a further 20 minutes. Meanwhile, drain, peel and chop the chestnuts.
Carefully lift your drop lid and check that the squash is fully cooked; it should yield evenly to a knife point all the way through. When done, spoon the pieces into a serving bowl or bowls. Drizzle with a little of the remaining stock and scatter with the chestnuts and chives.
*Most types of Japanese dashi are merely fragrant rather than heavily salted like classical Western stocks, so bear this in mind when making substitutions. For this recipe, you may try a light chicken, fish or mushroom stock, or the water reserved from rehydrating dried mushrooms.