Kabocha squash soup: Accidentally vegan, intentionally delicious!


Kabocha soup. Photo by Pauline Fujita

For as much kabocha squash as I’ve eaten, I’ve never thought to wonder about its origins. It is easily the most popular squash in Japanese cooking and is used in everything from savory dishes like tempura and stews, to sweet dishes like pastries and even ice cream. It is so popular in fact that, although this squash is grown in many places around the world, the majority of kabocha is exported to Japan, the world’s largest kabocha consumer.

Somewhat ironically, the “japanese pumpkin”, as kabocha is often called, is not native to Japan. Most sources seem to agree that the name kabocha is a Japanese abbreviation of the Portuguese, Cambodia abóbora (カンボジャ・アボボラ) introduced along with the squash itself in 1541. Kabocha, as it appears in Japanese cooking, comes in two main varieties. Nihon kabocha is the “Japanese” kabocha first introduced to Japan, and kuri kabocha (chestnut kabocha) is a variety developed by a California grower to address Japanese demand for kabocha. Some say the latter tastes a bit like chestnut, and it’s actually more popular in Japan than nihon kabocha.

Kabocha is available year round but is best in fall and winter, when it plays a special role in the Japanese winter solstice. On the shortest day of the year it is traditional to eat kabocha and take a yuzu infused bath, which is said to prevent colds and to make one flexible in the face of any challenges the new year may bring.

So, after all that background, I present you with an exceedingly simple recipe. Aside from baking the kabocha, this recipe is one of the quickest and easiest. If you can boil water, you can make this soup! The curry and smoked paprika are optional, but I find they complement the creamy, rich taste of the squash very nicely and are worth the extra effort at the grocery store. And the soup happens to be vegan — but the squash is so creamy, you’ll never notice.

Curry (accidentally vegan) kabocha soup

1 TBSP kombu dashi (can substitute other bouillon)
1 kabocha squash
1 small onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
5 cups water
1″x1″ block of Japanese curry mix* (Kokumaro and Java types are good and veg friendly at last check)
1/2 tsp smoked paprika*
salt and pepper to taste
2 to 3 TBSP sesame oil for brushing the squash and frying the onion

equipment: An oven? A spoon? Nothing you don’t already have, really.

patience level: preschool

Bake the squash:  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Cut the kabocha in half, and scoop out the seeds. Brush the insides with sesame oil, and place cut side up in a baking dish. Bake at 400 degrees for roughly an hour or until a fork can easily be pushed into the squash. Remove from the oven, and let the squash cool until it can be handled. Scoop out the pulp, and set aside. The pulp can be stored in a covered container in the fridge until you’re ready to make the soup, or even frozen if you want to do this far in advance.

Fry the onion and garlic in a pot until translucent, and then add the kabocha pulp, 5 cups water and dashi. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes. Add the curry (if using), and stir until dissolved. Blend soup until smooth, and add smoked paprika, if using, and salt and pepper to taste.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

One response to “Kabocha squash soup: Accidentally vegan, intentionally delicious!”

  1. Betsy Avatar

    This looks incredibly delicious, Pauline! Am surely going to try it posthaste.

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