Kabocha squash simmered in soy dashi broth
Sliced kabocha squash simmered in soy and dashi is a side dish as common in Japan as mashed potatoes are in America. My favorite version of kabocha squash was sold at a convenience store called Family Mart; sweet, savory and also low in calories, it was my chosen snack next to a bowl of soba noodles with tororo (mountain yams). I had little money and didn’t know much about cooking when I first arrived in Tokyo so I picked up most of my meals at convenience stores.
Before you say “ew gross, convenience store food?!” you should know this: I am not talking about Slim Jims, muffins and wilted lettuce sandwiches like we see here in gas stations off the highway.
I mean gourmet bento boxes, rice balls, salads, spaghetti, Chinese cuisine, tempura, sushi, even macaroni gratins! Walking into a Japanese convenience store is so exciting that no one ever walks away with just a pack of gum. Whenever I visit Japan, it’s game on with the conbini (Japanese term for convenience store). If there is a Seven Eleven located next to a Family Mart with a Lawson across the street, rest assure that I will stick my nose in every single one of them to make sure I am not missing out on some brand new chips or crazy Kit Kat flavor. You can also stock your fridge with sake, wine, beers and even buy some fancy whisky should the mood suddenly strike you.
I could go on and on about how lucky Japanese people are to have access to the most perfectly developed idea of what a proper convenience store should be, but I must get back to my kabocha squash recipe. What was I saying? Oh yeah, my favorite version is made with a broth that isn’t too sweet or savory. The flavor of kabocha squash is close to that of butternut squash -naturally sweet and creamy, it doesn’t need to be injected with strong flavors. It tastes best when cooked in a light broth that tones down the sweetness and cooks every piece until they are tender and buttery. The skin doesn’t need to be removed as it becomes soft enough to be eaten but I prefer peeling off one half of the squash to have a little of both.
In Japan, simmered kabocha squash is usually served with rice and other small sides such as seaweed salad, pickled daikon, beef yakitori or a quick dashi omelet. You can also eat it cold – it makes a healthy snack.