Happy Thanksgiving! I never had a traditional Thanksgiving dinner growing up, so I can’t offer a tried-and-true turkey or stuffing recipe. The closest thing I have to offer is a classic Japanese pumpkin dish.
My grandmother is big on kabocha, saying it prevents cancer. She’s from Hiroshima, which means she calls kabocha “nankin” and says other endearing words in the Hiroshima dialect like “houjyaken no” and “sou desu waine.” She practically lived in the kitchen and made real down-home Japanese food. She cooked for us daily, but she always ate yesterday’s leftovers. My grandmother’s generation, having lived through the difficult post-war years, didn’t waste a thing. She’s the kind of person who put everyone else first as she scraped the cold rice to eat for herself.
I was young and not yet interested in cooking, but I wish I had stuck by her side to watch her work her magic. I still learned a lot from her by way of eating and this is one dish I cannot make without thinking of her.
Adapted from ぜひ覚えたいおかず
Makes 4 servings
21.25 oz. kabocha
1 cup dashi
2 Tbsp. oil
2 Tbsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. mirin
1 Tbsp. shoyu
Wash and seed the kabocha and cut into large bite-sized pieces. With a vegetable peeler, swipe the edge off the corners where the skin meets the flesh, on all 4 sides (if your kabocha is cut roughly into cubes). With a knife, peel off parts of the skin—not completely, just in some places so the skin isn’t too tough when cooked.
Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the kabocha and mix to coat with the oil. The kabocha will begin to change color, becoming a brighter orange. At this point, add the dashi, bring to a boil and carefully remove any impurities that rise to the surface. Since pot sizes vary, be sure there’s enough dashi so the kabocha barely peek out and adjust the other seasonings accordingly. Add the sugar and mirin and fit a plate inside the pot—upside down on top of the kabocha—and let cook for 4–5 minutes. Add shoyu, lower the heat, and cook for another 10 minutes. Occasionally swirl the pot around so the dashi mixture coats the kabocha. Taste the dashi and add more shoyu or mirin if necessary. Insert a toothpick into a piece of kabocha and if it slides easily, it’s done!
This will keep for a few of days and the flavors will meld nicely. The stewed kabocha is also delicious eaten cold.