Japanese Braised Squash

Japanese Braised Squash 

The first time I ate this dish I was a little confused.  It was unlike anything I’d had before, kind of sweet, kind of savory, earthy, hearty, very warming.  I was shocked.  There are a lot of braised dishes like this in Japan, in fact there’s an entire genre of cuisine called ODEN very similar to this.  Oden is kind of like a sobering bar food that people eat out on the streets at night under tents.  From blocks away you can smell the simmering pots of sweetened soy broths cooking all sorts of meats, veggies, fish and eggs.  You also see oden boiling away on the counter at convenience stores…I keep clear of convenience store foods though!

1/2 Acorn Squash, chopped into big chunks
1.5 C Dashi stock
2 TBS Sake (or vermouth or white wine)
3 TBS Soy sauce
Scant 2 TBS Mirin
2 tsp Ginger, sliced thin
1/3 to a 1/2 Pound of fried tofu

Don’t freak out if you don’t have dashi, sake or mirin.  You can still make this dish, only it won’t be traditional, but it’ll still taste good.  Let’s see…you can substitute any light flavored stock (veggie, chicken, beef or fish) for the dashi stock.  If you don’t have sake I think vermouth or sherry make a pretty good replacement and even a dry white wine (like sauvignon blanc) works.  Mirin is not my favorite thing…it’s a very sweet cooking sake but it is fairly common in Japanese cooking and hard to replicate.  Still, a good substitution is to just use the same amount of wine or sake and a couple teaspoons of sugar for the sweetness.  BUT if you are serious about Japanese cooking, you should start making (or buying) dashi and always have a bottle of sake and mirin on hand.  The recipe for dashi is posted below.  Oh, since we’re on the topic of authenticity…in Japan the traditional squash is a kabocha which you can find pretty easily (it’s also pretty similar to an acorn).

This dish, like many Japanese cooked classics, is unbelievably easy to make.  Cube your squash into one or two inch pieces, leaving the skin on.  Now the skins are not really edible and your guests will have to cut or bite around the skins…but it helps keep the squash intact as you braise it.  Anyhoo, place the squash cubes in a pot skin side down.  Add the rest of the ingredients, crank on the heat, put a lid on it and bring to a boil.  Turn the heat down to low and simmer the baby for 30 minutes.  You’ll have a really tasty pot of braised veggies in a light, healthy, slightly sweet sauce.  You’d normally serve this over rice, but it makes a great side (or main) dish all its own!

Serves 2