Cooked in savory dashi broth seasoned with soy sauce and sake, this classic Japanese Simmered Kabocha Squash makes a great healthy side dish that is chock-full of nutrients.
Simmered Kabocha Squash, or what we call Kabocha no Nimono (かぼちゃの煮物), is one of the most classic and popular simmered dishes in Japan. If you are traveling in Japan, you will see this kabocha dish everywhere: in the bento box you pick up at the train station, as part of the side dishes of your teishoku (lunch meal set), or at the breakfast buffet in your ryokan (Japanese inn).
If you miss this hearty, comforting home-cooked dish, grab a kabocha squash at your local Japanese or Asian grocery store, and make this at home!
How to Cut a Kabocha Squash (Japanese Pumpkin)
A complete guide on how to cut, peel, and cook a kabocha squash (Japanese pumpkin) with helpful tutorial video and step by step pictures.
Simmered Kabocha – A Classic Home Cooked Dish
A typical Japanese home-cooked meal includes at least one simmered dish called Nimono (煮物). It can be fish or meat or different types of root vegetables all cooked and simmered in one pot. Wholesome, nutritious and easy to prepare, these simmered dishes are considered true home cooking of a Japanese kitchen. And they make up a fundamental part of washoku 和食.
It might be surprising to you, but most of the simmered dishes are seasoned similarly – with some kind of Japanese stock, dashi (see varieties here), sake, mirin, soy sauce (and sugar). What makes it different?
Based on the ingredients, we modify the ratio of the seasonings. For example, kabocha squash itself is already very sweet and flavorful, so we go easy on the sweetness (mirin or sugar) and cut down on soy sauce since we don’t want to the saltiness to overpower the dish.
3 Important Tips for No Failed Simmered Kabocha
1. Cut Kabocha Squash into Equal Size
Do not underestimate this simple tip. To make sure all the squash pieces are evenly cooked, you want to cut the kabocha squash in similar sizes. Smaller cubes will help speed up the cooking time as well.
2. Place kabocha in a single layer
Kabocha is very fragile once it’s cooked and it can break into pieces or mush easily. Therefore, you need to secure each kabocha piece, making sure they are laid in a single layer without overlapping in the pot. Then swirl the pot to mix the seasonings instead of using cooking utensils.
3. Cook Kabocha with just enough liquid and Otoshibuta
The amount of cooking liquid should be just enough to come to the top level of kabocha pieces in the pot. Overfilling with cooking liquid will only result in soupy kabocha, which we want to avoid.
Make sure to use an Otoshibuta (drop lid) so that cooking liquid is forced to circulate, allowing the kabocha to cook evenly and quickly as they absorb the flavor.
Truly simple and rustic, I hope you enjoy making this Simmered Kabocha Squash recipe, especially in fall and winter. To experience more Japanese home cooking, check out other Nimono recipes on my blog and leave a comment below and let me know the kind of simmered dishes you have in mind.
Other Kabocha Recipes:
Japanese Ingredient Substitution: If you want to look for substitutes for Japanese condiments and ingredients, click here.
Simmered Kabocha Squash (Japanese Pumpkin)
- 1 lb kabocha (squash/pumpkin) (½ of small kabocha)
- 1 knob ginger (optional; 1", 2.5 cm)
- 1 ¾ cups water
- 2 packs katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes) (1 package contains 3 grams katsuobushi)
- Gather all the ingredients.
- In a small pot, boil 1 ¾ (400 ml) cups water. Once boiling, add katsuobushi.
- Mix together and turn off the heat. Set aside for 15 minutes. Then strain the katsuobushi with a fine-mesh sieve. Set the katsuo dashi aside for now. You can discard the katsuobushi or make furikake (rice seasonings) with the leftover katsuobushi.
- Remove the seeds from the kabocha and microwave it for 2 minutes to soften the outer kabocha skin. You can skip microwaving if you have a sharp knife and the strength to cut through the skin.
- Cut the kabocha into wedges, then equal 2” (5 cm) pieces. Remember, kabocha skin is edible and nutritious.
- In a large pot, place the kabocha pieces in a single layer, skin side down.
- Add dashi, sake, and sugar. Tip: Swirl the pot to mix the seasonings so you won't break the kabocha.
- Cook on medium high heat and bring it to a boil.
- Add soy sauce and salt, and swirl the pot again to mix the seasonings. If the liquid does not cover ¾ of kabocha, you can add a little bit of water. Bring to a boil again.
- Once boiling turn down to medium-low heat to maintain the simmer. Cover with an otoshibuta (drop lid) and cook for 20-30 minutes (depends on size, and skin takes time to cook), or until the kabocha has a tiny thin crack near the skin (it’s a sign for doneness!). If you feel that liquid is evaporating too fast, you can cover the regular lid (and you still need to use otoshibuta).
- Remove from the heat and let kabocha sit covered (with a pot lid) until cool, about 30 minutes. This helps kabocha absorbs more flavor as it cools. You can serve at room temperature or reheat before serving.
- Cut the ginger into thin slabs and then thin julienne strips.
- Soak in cold water for 1 minute to remove bitterness and drain well. Serve with simmered kabocha.