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Steam the Squash!
A vibrant, quick salad that showcases its fresh and pure flavor
It can be helpful to remember that there’s more than one way to cook a squash. Maybe I’m just speaking for myself here, but I’ve been fixated the nuances of roasting winter squash for years… Dicing it, making little wedges or slabs, hacking the thing in half and then roasting it face down, to scrape out and mash the flesh later. Coconut oil, ghee, olive oil. High heat, medium heat, low heat. Any manner of seasonings. They all have their advantages and moments to shine.
But in a bowl of ramen I had recently, there was a lovely wedge of kabocha squash that didn’t have any signs of roasting. It wasn’t singed or shrunken; its flavors weren’t concentrated and assertively sweet. From the outside it looked like it could even be raw — the edges at the peel were still razor sharp. It’d been steamed or simmered, and it was perfect.
So lately I’ve been steaming it more than I’ve been roasting it, and adding chunks of squash to my salads, soups, and frittatas. It’s quick, it’s uniquely delicious, and I love not having to fire up my oven.
To build on it further, I wanted a squash dish that really showcases the uncluttered flavor and soft, starchy structure of steamed kabocha. I landed on a light dressing that’s bright and citrusy and laced with turmeric, which makes its vibrant orange flesh even more vivid. Cucumbers and onion bring some extra crunch, too. It’s a lovely salad for a fall day, and if you’re so inspired, I think it might be a Thanksgiving contender, too.
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Steamed Kabocha Squash Salad with Turmeric and Cucumbers
Inspired by Japanese treatments for simmered kabocha, this is a simple, fast way to cook your hardy winter squash.
While you won’t get the concentrated, caramel notes that happen with roasting, you will get a very pure and clean expression of the vegetable’s flavors. Use the method anytime you need to cook your squash in a pinch.
This is a simple salad where cucumbers and onion add a bit of extra crunch, and a zingy citrus dressing plays off the bright, fresh notes of the squash.
The cooking times may be a little different, but the method would work just as well with other winter squash like butternut or red kuri.
Pile this over salad greens or cooked grains to make it more of a meal.
Yield About 4 servings | Prep and cook time 25 minutes
1 ½ to 2 pounds kabocha squash (about half a medium-sized one)
2 skinny scallions, white and light green parts, thinly sliced
¼ cup fresh-squeezed orange juice
2 tablespoons fresh-squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon honey
1 tablespoon freshly grated turmeric, or ½ teaspoon dried
½ teaspoon fine sea salt, or ¾ teaspoon kosher salt
1 shallot or ½ small sweet white onion, sliced into very thin strips
1 Persian cucumber, sliced into thin half-moons
Handful coarsely chopped cilantro (or other tender herb you like)
Freshly ground black pepper
1. Scoop out the seeds and the stringy pulp from the cavity of the squash (save it if you’d like to roast the seeds, or add it to your next batch of vegetable stock), then carefully cut the squash into evenly-sized wedges about ¾-inch thick, using a sharp, sturdy knife. The skin will soften when you cook it, so there’s no need to peel.
2. Place a collapsible steamer insert into a pot or dutch oven and fill the pot with about ½ inch of water. Bring to a simmer, then arrange the squash in the steamer basket in an even layer. Cover the pot and cook until you can easily pierce one of the thickest pieces with a paring knife, all the way through the skin, for 8 to 12 minutes, or more. If you want to test doneness, remove a piece and cut off a little bite to taste.
3. While the squash steams, combine the scallions, orange juice, lemon juice, olive oil, honey, turmeric, and salt in a jar or tall glass. Taste. If your turmeric is particularly strong, you may want to add a bit more honey.
4. Transfer the squash to a shallow bowl or baking dish and immediately pour the dressing over it. Gently turn each piece a few times to evenly coat, then let stand for at least 10 minutes. Stir in the onion and cucumber and allow the salad to cool. To serve, garnish with the cilantro and black pepper. Packed in an airtight container, this salad will keep for a few days.
Family Friend by Lukas Volger is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.