“If you buy that,” Tomoko said, “I’ll tell you how to cook it.”
Sold! And suddenly I was the proud owner of a cute little kabocha squash, eagerly awaiting directions from my Asian food-guru.
It’s a toss-up really as to which “hyper-detailed” step was my favorite one from Tomoko. Either, “Okay. Dashi, soy, salt, sugar.” Or, “If it’s not yummy enough, add some mirin.”
No, wait . . . the winner for “clearest” and “most concise” instruction is: “I don’t know why, but we just kind of (insert miming the act of scraping squash skin here).”
But you know what? Sometimes that’s how you learn recipes and new cooking techniques. Some of the best cooks I know are instinctive cooks who rely on past experience, sounds, smells, and what they see to guide them more than a written recipe.
I don’t know if this is what Tomoko meant or intended for me to cook, but the result was unbelievably delicious. Probably the best thing that I have made in months. I actually loved it so much, I ate an entire pumpkin in one sitting by myself. And when there were only a few pieces left, I actually wished that I had another one. It was that good.
When I texted her later, she said, “Hee hee! Yeah, it’s one of those recipes that is so simple, no one ever explains it.”
That may be true, but I am going to try for you.
4 cups of water
1 largish piece of kombu
1/2 cup of dried bonito flakes
1 small kabocha squash
How to prepare:
1. First, you need to make your dashi. Dashi is incredibly easy to make and consists of basically 3 ingredients: kombu (dried kelp or seaweed), dried bonito flakes, and water. For more details, I defer to La Fuji Mama, who completely demystified the whole thing for me.
Basically you take a largish piece of kombu and rehydrate it in a medium sauce pan with 4 cups of water. Let the kombu soak for about 15 minutes. Bring the water to a boil, and right when it starts to boil, remove the pan from the heat and add about half a cup of dried bonito flakes. After 3 or 4 minutes, remove the kombu and strain the broth through a fine-mesh sieve, or a coffee filter.
Voilà! You have made dashi!
2. Cut your kabocha squash in half. Scoop out the seeds. Cut each half into quarters. Using a paring knife, scrape the skin of the squash. You don’t want to remove the skin, but just clean up the outer surface. That way, your squash will cook more evenly. Cut the squash into 1-inch pieces.
3. In a large Dutch oven or casserole, try to spread the squash pieces out in a single-layer skin-side down. If that isn’t possible (it wasn’t for me), just make sure that the squash isn’t too crowded in the pot.
4. Sprinkle the squash with salt, sugar, soy sauce, and mirin. Fill the pot with just enough dashi to barely cover. Bring the liquid to a simmer, and continue to cook the squash until the pieces are easily pierced with a knife.
5. Using a slotted spoon, gently remove the squash from the cooking liquid, and enjoy your delicious kabocha.