If you are a person who plans and preps every meal for a week in advance… we are not the same. I applaud planners and meal preppers, but for the most part, that’s not me. It’s not that I don’t want to be organized! I just prefer letting my cravings guide my breakfast, lunch, and dinner choices. (As someone who works from home, for the most part I have the luxury of time to make that happen.) However, there is one meal prep task I do without fail every week in the winter. It’s an almost entirely hands-off chore, and produces a versatile, delicious ingredient I can use all week long: I roast a whole kabocha squash in the oven and use it in a variety of meals.
Let’s back up: What is kabocha squash? Kabocha is a lesser-known (but increasingly common) variety of winter squash. It has thick, dark green skin, and dense, creamy, sweet flesh. Compared with a more popular winter squash—butternut—it has a dryer texture. Most kabocha squash weigh around 3-5 pounds, so yes: They are big! That size combined with their thick skin can make them intimidating, but I have found the best way to roast one is slowly in a low oven.
The Easiest Way to Roast Kabocha Squash? Slow and Low.
The easiest way to cook kabocha squash is by roasting it whole in the oven. By setting the temperature low, the squash cooks slowly, which results in very creamy, tender flesh. To do this, you’ll need to have a few hours at home—which is why I always prepare a kabocha on Sunday morning or afternoon. Here’s my very unofficial recipe:
- Prep your squash: First, preheat the oven to 300 F with a rack set in the middle. After rinsing the squash, prick it all over with a sharp knife. This allows steam to escape as the squash roasts (and avoids a squash-plosion in your oven). Then set the squash in an 8x8-inch casserole dish, or any oven-safe pan with at least 1-inch sides, like a brownie pan.
- Roast your squash: Once the squash is in the oven, pour in ½-inch to 1-inch of water. This creates a steamy, moist environment for the squash to cook in. Roast the squash, adding more water as needed, for 2-3 hours—depending on the size and weight. You can test the squash for doneness by carefully removing the pan and pricking the squash with the tip of a paring knife. If the knife easily slides in and out, the squash is done. The good news here is that you don’t have to be precise. With the water bath, it’s really hard to overcook kabocha squash.
- Store your squash: After removing the squash from the oven, carefully transfer it to a cutting board and let it cool for 30 minutes. Then slice it open and cut it into halves or quarters. Using a large spoon, scoop out the seeds, being mindful not to take too much of the cooked squash along with it. You can then use the spoon to scoop out the edible squash and transfer it to a large food storage container. If the flesh is stuck to the skin, run a paring knife in between to dislodge any stubborn bits. Store your squash covered in the refrigerator, where it will keep for up to a week.
A quick note on the skin: Once cooked, kabocha squash skin is edible. If you plan on using your squash in grain bowls and salads, you don’t need to remove it. But because I so often add it to puréed soups and porridges, I prefer to scoop out the flesh and compost the skin.
Is Kabocha Squash Better than Butternut Squash?
Now, I don’t want to get into any internet fights, but I think kabocha is way better than butternut. As I mentioned, it is much creamier and thicker. It has a less “watery” consistency than butternut squash, so it’s really great for baking recipes. In fact, I’d classify the texture of kabocha somewhere between butternut and a sweet potato. If you like pumpkin, butternut, and acorn squash, you will probably really like kabocha.
If you can’t find kabocha squash in your grocery store, no worries: You can whole-roast just about any squash, including the ones I mentioned above. Koginut squash has been making the rounds on restaurant menus lately, and is increasingly available at well-stocked supermarkets. Kuri squash and turban squash will work too, The only squashes I wouldn’t use are delicata, which is small with thin, edible skin—you can chop or slice it and cook it on a sheet tray—or hubbard, which is so comically large, I wouldn’t know what to do with it all (let alone fit it in my oven).
What Can You Make with Kabocha Squash?
You can use cooked kabocha squash for every meal! Foremost, it makes a really great thickener for soups, even if you’re not going to purée them. Just add a scoop of the cooked squash once the soup is almost done cooking, and stir to distribute it evenly and heat through. (I think it’s particularly good in red lentil soup.) Here are some other ways you can use cooked kabocha squash.
- Stirred into oatmeal with brown sugar or maple syrup
- In roasted veggies sandwiches—spread it on the bread
- On top of rice cakes with a sprinkle of nuts or seeds for a snack
- Added to just-cooked rice or quinoa
- In a carrot-ginger soup for extra richness
- Added to a salad
- Whisked into a vinaigrette for a dairy-free creamy texture
- Blended into a smoothie
- In a non-traditional spin on pumpkin pie