Kabocha Squash: How to Cook and Enjoy The Seasonal Japanese Pumpkin

A humble and basic winter squash, kabocha squash may sound exotic, but it's really pretty similar to pumpkin or acorn squash. Learn how to cook kabocha squash along with some kabocha squash recipes to get you started.

When creating fall and winter menus, including seasonal squash varieties such as butternut squash, pumpkin, and acorn squash are a given. But an under-the-radar squash you might not have seen or heard about before is also worth adding to your next grocery list: kabocha squash. Also known as Japanese pumpkin, the kabocha (pronounced like kuh-bow-chuh) is a versatile fruit that can easily be prepared using many of the same methods of the more popular winter squash varieties. Read on to learn more about kabocha squash including how to cook kabocha squash and ways to use kabocha squash in your favorite seasonal recipes.

Kabocha Squash
Marty Baldwin

What Is Kabocha Squash?

Kabocha squash looks like a small round pumpkin with dark green skin and lighter-color stripes or bumps. Orange-skin varieties can also be found. The flesh is orange, similar to butternut squash. While it's often prepared as a vegetable, kabocha squash (along with other winter squashes) are fruits.

Selecting Kabocha Squash

This winter squash is available late summer to early fall. Look for kabocha squash with dull, unblemished skin and no soft spots. It should feel heavy for its size.

Storing Kabocha Squash

Kabocha squash will last several months stored in a cool, dry place between 50°F and 60°F. Don't store it near apples, pears, onions, or potatoes, which give off ethylene gas that may spoil the squash. Once cut, wrap squash in plastic wrap you can refrigerate it for several days.

Kabocha Squash Nutrition

Kabocha squash is rich in beta-carotene (an immune-boosting phytochemical that the body turns into vitamin A) and vitamin C as well as some B vitamins, potassium, and magnesium. It's also low in calories and considered a healthy complex carb.

How to Cut Kabocha Squash

Before you can cook kabocha, follow these tips for prepping kabocha.

  1. Start by thoroughly rinsing the kabocha squash under cool tap water and scrubbing with a clean produce brush. Pat dry with paper towels or a clean tea towel.
  2. Using a sharp knife ($40, Target), cut kabocha squash in half. Be careful here, they can be tough and if uneven can move around on you.
  3. Scoop out the seeds (roast them just like pumpkin seeds if you don't want to discard them) and cut as your recipe calls or cook using the methods below.

The skin of kabocha squash is entirely edible. Leave it on or peel, if desired.

Roasted Heirloom Squash with Sea Salt and Local Honey
Blaine Moats

How to Cook Kabocha Squash

Kabocha squash tastes like a cross between acorn squash and sweet potato but has a fluffier texture when cooked. It can be used in any recipe calling for fresh pumpkin or any hearty winter squash, such as buttercup, acorn, or butternut squash.

How to Roast Kabocha Squash

Bake kabocha in the oven when you want to serve it mashed, or enjoy it as an easy side. Prep and cut the kabocha squash, then follow these steps:

  1. Place squash cut sides down (if roasting halves), in a baking dish ($9, Walmart) or foil-lined pan. Bake in a 350°F oven 45 to 50 minutes or until tender. To check doneness, pierce the squash with the tip of a sharp knife. It should slide in easily.
  2. Carefully turn squash pieces over (a set of large tongs works well). Scoop out flesh into a bowl. Add seasonings as desired and mash to add to baked winter squash recipes or enjoy as is.

Cooking Kabocha Squash in the Microwave

Prepare kabocha squash using the directions above and use the following steps to cook it in the microwave:

  1. Place squash pieces, cut sides down, in a microwave-safe baking dish ($15, Bed Bath & Beyond) with 2 tablespoons water. Cover with plastic wrap, and make a few slits in the wrap to allow steam to escape. Microwave on 100% power (high) for 9 to 12 minutes or until tender, rearranging once. To check doneness, pierce the squash with the tip of a sharp knife. It should slide in easily. (You can test it through the plastic wrap.)
  2. Carefully turn squash pieces over. Scoop out flesh into a bowl. Season as desired and mash, or add to a recipe.

While kabocha squash recipes may be hard to find, you can use this squash variety in recipes calling for other winter squashes. Use an equal ratio of kabocha squash to butternut squash, acorn squash, or pumpkin. Though if you're substituting kabocha squash for delicata squash, you might want to decrease the cook time a bit, as delicata tends to cook a bit faster. Find a new cool-weather recipe to feature kabocha squash such as winter squash chili or a hearty holiday stuffing recipe.

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