In the last few weeks, a number of local friends and acquaintances have mentioned to me that they’d like to try making jack-o-lanterns, but don’t know where to find a western-style orange pumpkin. You can order them at Plant 3 (our local Wal-Mart type superstore), but why not try making them with the Japanese equivalent, kabocha? This suggestion was met with skepticism on more than one occasion, and I can see why. Kabocha flesh is thick and substantial, making it great to eat, but often a struggle to cut. Even so, I reasoned that if Halloween is going evolve beyond storefronts and into Japanese homes, it might be worth considering native alternatives to the exotic – and expensive – orange pumpkin. Hell, pumpkins were an innovation (one might argue an aesthetic improvement) on the original turnip lanterns, anyway. So I set off to my local co-op to procure a whole kabocha and prove that they could, in fact, be carved. The result?
My feelings: kabocha make fine, respectable jack-o-lanterns. In fact, the bright orange face set against the green exterior is quite striking. Top marks in the aesthetic category. As for carvability, the thick flesh does make it more of a challenge than the classic orange pumpkins – but then, some people still use turnips. For extra carving dexterity, folks living in Japan can pick up one of these trecherous-looking little handsaws at a 100 yen store. They’ll make you wonder why you ever carved a jack-o-lantern with anything else.
Albert was also very edible. Like pumpkin seeds, the seeds of kabocha are delicious roasted in the oven with olive oil and a little salt. I often put steamed kabocha in my bento, but my newest experiment was creamy, rich kabocha soup – not exactly super healthy, but delicious and beautiful, and perfect for cold autumn evening.
Creamy Kabocha Soup
- 1 medium-sized kabocha, seeds and skin removed
- 2 small onions, finely chopped
- 8 grams butter (vegetable oil would be fine, too)
- 200 ml milk or soymilk
- 200 ml broth (I used vegetable bullion from Kaldi)
- Salt and pepper (to taste)
- Cut kabocha into cubes and steam until very soft.
- Move steamed kabocha to a blender or food processor and blend until uniform in texture. You may have to do this in more than one batch. Adding some of the milk at this stage might make it easier to blend.
- In a large saucepan, melt butter over medium low heat. Add onions and sauté until soft and transparent.
- Add pureed kabocha, milk and broth. Heat to a simmer, stirring regularly to prevent burning.
- Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Serve with plain yogurt, fresh basil and paprika.