Making your own frozen kabocha squash, plus a simple recipe for simmered kabocha squash

kabocha_frozen1.jpg

In Japan, kabocha squash are in season from summer to fall, but in North America and Europe fall (autumn) is the big winter squash season. Frozen kabocha squash is a great freezer stock item for bento making, and it’s very cheap and ubiquitous in Japan. Since it’s not so ubiquitous where I live, I try to freeze some of my own around this time of year, when fresh ones are abundant and inexpensive.

The type of squash I usually use is the bright orange colored one sold as red kuri squash, hokkaido squash, and so on, since it’s the one that is most widely available here. (Kuri is Japanese for chestnut - I’m not sure if the name refers to the shape or the flavor. Hokkaido is the northernmost main island of Japan, where a lot of squash are grown.) Here in Switzerland it’s called Knirps. See more about different kinds of winter squash here. The standard kabocha squash is about 10 inches / 25 cm or so in diameter and a dark green; a well known variety is delica. In any case, make sure you have the right type of squash - it should have a dense, sweet flesh. Pumpkin is too watery and stringy for most Japanese kabocha dishes.

How to freeze kabocha squash

Cut the squash up into chunks. Optionally, randomly peel the skin (hack off pieces of the skin with a vegetable peeler or knife) so that the squash will cook a bit faster. (I find that kuri squash skin is thin enough that I don’t need to do this.) Put into a large pot with enough water to completly cover the cut up squash pieces. Bring to a boil, and then lower the heat and simmer for a few minutes until you can just about poke a chopstick or skewer through a piece. In other words, it should be cooked through but still firm and not mushy.

Drain, then spread out onto a baking sheet or other large, flat surface to cool. Once cooled, divide into single-use portions, wrap each in cling film/plastic wrap, and then put the bundles into a freezer bag or box. Try to use up plain frozen kabocha squash within 3 months.

Frozen kabocha squash is very handy for making brownish-orange colored rice.

Recipe: Simmered kabocha squash (Kabocha no nitsuke)

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This is a classic Japanese ‘Mom’s cooking’ dish, that cooks up in no time with frozen kabocha. It’s a very popular bento side dish; the sweet-salty flavor is a nice contrast to meat or fish. I’ve simplified the ingredient quantities to make the recipe easy to remember.

  • 10 to 12 pieces of frozen red kuri (Knirps) or kabocha squash, or 1/4 of a whole fresh squash
  • 1 cup (250ml) traditional dashi stock or vegan dashi stock, or 1 cup water with 1/2 tsp. of dashi powder
  • 2 Tbs. sake
  • 2 Tbs. mirin
  • 2 Tbs. sugar
  • 1 Tbs. soy sauce
  • Pinch of salt

Put all the ingredients into a pan and bring up to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer, turning the kabocha pieces from time to time, until the liquid has reduced to half - about 15 minutes. Leave to cool in the liquid - the kabocha will absorb flavor from it as it cools. Drain off lightly to pack into a bento box. This will keep in the refrigerator for 3-4 days.

If you are making this from fresh uncooked squash, increase the water by 1/4 cup and simmer a bit longer.

You can freeze the simmered squash itself, in single portions. Put 1 or 2 pieces each into cupcake liners, and freeze them lined up on a tray. Once frozen, the single portions can be packed into a freezer bag. Defrost the single portions in the microwave on the HIGH setting for a couple of minutes, and cool off before packing into a bento box.

See also

For more bento recipes, ideas and tips, subscribe to Just Bento via your newsreader or by email (more about subscriptions).

And visit our sister site, Just Hungry for great Japanese home recipes and more.

12 comments

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Re: Making your own frozen kabocha squash, plus a simple ...

One of my all-time favorite dishes-- I look forward to fall for the squashes. Thanks for sharing this.

Re: Making your own frozen kabocha squash, plus a simple ...

Well, thanks for sharing! At least, I can do something new with the squash I bought from the market. My kids are tired of those soups!

Re: Making your own frozen kabocha squash, plus a simple ...

Your timing is impeccable! I've been staring at this beautiful little kabocha for a week and am delighted to know that I can cook and freeze it for future dishes. The Kabocha no Nitsuke is definitely going to appear in this week's bento. Ah, the colors of autumn.

Re: Making your own frozen kabocha squash, plus a simple ...

Thanks for this recipe ! I love Kabocha no nitsuke and have been looking for the recipe. Shall definitely try this out soon...though the squash season is over in Japan, I think.

I have, however one question. Obento recipes call for a lot of freezing and defrosting of food. I was of the opinion that this may cause nutrients to be lost in the process......I would really like to hear your thoughts on that.....

Keep writing :)

Re: Making your own frozen kabocha squash, plus a simple ...

Well it is a tradeoff between convenience and time/money saving vs. perhaps losing a little bit of flavor/nutrition (though I have never really seen any studies that show that freezing food results in a significant loss of nutrition). In an ideal world we would all have farm-fresh, or garden-fresh, produce and only fresh foods...reality doesn't work that way for most people. I would rather freeze my own vegetables so I can save a few minutes in the morning putting together my own bento, rather than grabbing an expensive and usually not very good sandwich or something on the road.

It reminds me of what Julia Child wrote in The Way To Cook, about getting letters from people who complained about losing some of the nutrition in beans if they prepped them the way she recommended (bringing to a boil, soaking for an hour, discarding the water and putting in fresh water to cook further). She said that to make up for the minimal loss in nutrition, eat minimally more beans. Makes sense to me. :)

Re: Making your own frozen kabocha squash, plus a simple ...

Hope your writting work isn't too hard! I miss your bentos! take care

Re: rozen kabocha squash

Sounds like good stuff, doesn't it? I'll freeze some now for the fall and winter and use it wisely. Thanks for the recipes. casino online

Re: Making your own frozen kabocha squash, plus a simple ...

I sort of followed this recipe. Since I couldn't find any kabocha, I just found a regular, US yellow pumpkin. Then, because I'm lazy and don't like to measure, I just chopped it into chunks, and simmered it in water, mirin, sake, and soy sauce. As an added bonus, I got pumpkin seeds.

This was the first addition to my slightly starting to grow bento stash. Next was cocktail wieners (because they'll go bad before I use them up). Who knows that'll go into third place?

p.s. thanks for all the recipes and hard work Maki!

Re: Making your own frozen kabocha squash, plus a simple ...

I 've noticed the sake-mirin-sugar-shoyu combo in a lot of Japanese dishes. Is the 2-2-2-1 ratio pretty much the same? And I'm a little confused as to why we use mirin at all, since it contains both sake and sugar. Why not use more of those two, or only mirin?

After years of only using mirin in Japanese dishes when specified, *boing* last night I splashed some into an Italian dish which needed a little sweetness. It mellowed out the tomatoes which were a bit too acidic.

Re: Making your own frozen kabocha squash, plus a simple ...

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Michael

Re: Making your own frozen kabocha squash, plus a simple ...

do you have to cook the squash before freezing or can you freeze it raw?

Re: Making your own frozen kabocha squash, plus a simple ...

Cooking them and then freezing is much better.Raw squash is very mushy and watery when defrosted, since the freezing destroys the structure. But cooked vegetables are have already had their structure broken down to an extent, to a state that's palatable, so freezing them doesn't affect their structure adversely as much. (That's why all commercially sold frozen vegetables have been pre-cooked).

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