The little pumpkin that could

| 04 Nov 2014 | 02:49

Meet the thick-skinned Cinderella of the winter squash family

Kaboucha (ka-BOH-cha), not to be confused with the fermented drink, kabucha, is commonly known as a Japanese pumpkin, although that’s where its similarity with pumpkin ends. Winter squash are not all alike. Each vividly colored, nutrient-packed variety boasts its own unique texture and varies in flavor from mild to sweet. I’ve only recently discovered the squat green kaboucha and welcomed it to the neat row of butternut, acorn, delicata and spaghetti squashes that adorn my kitchen counter. Its edible skin strips away to reveal orange flesh with an earthy, chestnut-like flavor, perfect for savory dishes.

The challenge in working with kaboucha is cutting through its tough skin. I recommend using a very sharp knife or cleaver, making sure to cut around the cork-like stem. Confession: After several failed attempts I asked sous chef and husband Tom to do the knife work and cut up the entire squash. If I’m going to crank my oven to 400 degrees, I like to conserve energy and roast all of the squash to use for multiple meals. Tomorrow nights’ menu will include either chunks of squash and sautéed greens, kaboucha and sweet potato mash, or kaboucha tempura.

While I’m partial to butternut’s subtle sweetness and moist texture, it takes a sturdier squash like kaboucha to stand up to the bold flavors in this dish. Fragrant curry powder, garlic and ginger elevate ordinary green lentils and have reformed many a lentil-hater. When spooned over squash puree and surrounded by chunks of roasted kaboucha, tart apples and whole shallots, this vegan comfort food explodes with flavor and is impressive enough to serve to dinner guests.

Curried lentils with roasted kaboucha squash

Serves 4

1 kaboucha squash, unpeeled, seeds removed and cut into large wedges

1 large tart apple cut into wedges

6 shallots, peeled and halved

1 tablespoon unrefined coconut oil

For the lentils:

1 shallot, chopped

1 large clove garlic, chopped

1 inch piece of ginger, peeled and minced

1 ½ tablespoons curry powder

1 cup green lentils, rinsed

2 cups vegetable broth plus 1/3 cup for squash puree

Salt to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line two sheet pans with parchment paper. Cut the kaboucha squash in half, remove seeds and cut into large wedges, leaving skin intact. Place on sheet pan and lightly brush with coconut oil. Place shallots and apples on second pan. Place both in oven and roast for approximately 45 minutes or until fork tender (squash) and 15 to 20 minutes (apples and shallots). Remove from oven and set aside. While the squash is roasting, heat a medium saucepan, add coconut oil and cook shallots for 3 minutes on low. Add garlic, ginger and curry powder and cook 1 minute more, stirring so garlic doesn’t burn. Add lentils and broth and bring to a boil. Turn heat to low, cover partially and simmer about 45 minutes until lentils are done. Add salt to taste, cover and set aside to absorb any remaining liquid.

To make squash puree, place 2 cups roasted squash and 1/3 cup vegetable broth in blender or food processor and puree until smooth. Add more broth or squash to reach desired consistency.

To plate, place a spoonful of puree on plate, top with lentils and chunks of squash, apples and shallots.