Japanese Side Dish – Simmered Pumpkin

Japanese - 001 Stewed Pumpkin edited re-sized

My interest in cooking Japanese cuisine was stirred by an introduction in the mid 1970’s to a bento lunch of sushi and chawan mushi and it has continued thenceforth.  Little did I know that in the early 2000s we would live in Tokyo for sometime. A country which in most parts enjoys all four seasons with the presence many high mountain ranges and great expanse of seas. My mind was opened to how much its physical geography has impacted its cuisine! The hallmarks of Japanese cuisine are artfully decorated dishes, the use of all seasonal produce offerings using only simple seasoning to bring out the full flavour of  very fresh and high quality produce.

Since Japanese who live in big cities lead fast paced lives in crammed quarters, many Japanese housewives shop daily for ready cooked food and side dishes in the basements of chain supermarkets which are always linked to their major subway stations. Kabocha no Fukumeni is only one of the many popular traditional side dishes. You can also find this side dish being offered on the shelves of their convenience stores. It is a very nutritious, tasty side dish that contains no oil and it is easy to prepare. Yes, the skin of  cooked Japanese kabocha is edible.

I do agree that fresh Japanese vegetables from the supermarkets here are expensive. At some wet markets here you may find Japanese kabocha which have been grown in Vietnam. That lowers the cost quite a bit. A Malaysian brown-skinned variety of pumpkin (with its skin removed) may be used instead but cooking time varies.

Some comments about the Ingredients

Japanese - 002 Stewed Pumpkin edited re-sized

Photo above shows a bottle of Tamari in place of the more common Kikkoman soy sauce. I had purchased a bottle to test out the difference. Both sauces are by-products of fermented soybeans. Tamari is used for thsoe on a gluten free diet and it is of Japanese origin, traditionally made as a by-product of miso production. Tamari has a darker colour and a richer flavour too.


STEP 1 Cut pumpkin into half and remove seeds. Cut each half into thick wedges, then into smaller pieces of equal size. It is unnecessary to remove the skin. This is where the Malaysian and Indonesian variety of pumpkin differs from the Japanese pumpkin.

Japanese - 003 Stewed Pumpkin edited re-sized

STEP 2. In a large saucepan add the Simmering Sauce and bring sauce to boil for about 3 mins, uncovered. Add pumpkin pieces, raise heat and cover with lid which is placed at an angle so that steam escapes and it doesn’t over boil too quickly causing sauce to spill over (see photo below). Once contents of pot boils quickly, lower heat. Cook pumpkin pieces till pieces are tender but still whole and the sauce has thickened.

Japanese - 004 Pumpkin edited re-sized

HINT: If the pumpkin pieces are tender before sauce thickens, lift pumpkin pieces out of pot onto a plate and continue cooking sauce (uncovered) for a few more minutes  to thicken sauce. Then, place pumpkin pieces back and stir gently to coat pieces with the tasty sauce.


Serves: 4 to 6 pax

600 gm Japanese pumpkin. Another suitable substitute is the Butternut squash (which is a winter squash and these are easily available here at the supermarkets).

Simmering Sauce
2/3 C dashi made from instant dashi granules ( to get one Cup of dashi,  mix 1/4 Tbsp granules with 1 Cup of hot water, stir well to melt )
1 tsp Kikkoman Soy sauce (Chinese light soy is not a suitable substitute. If you have a lighter Japanese soy sauce called usukuchi soy sauce, use that).
2 Tbsp Mirin
1 1/2  Tbsp sugar


Toasted sesame seeds.


1. Cut pumpkin or squash into half and remove seeds. Cut each half into thick wedges, then into smaller pieces of equal size.

2. In a large saucepan add the Simmering Sauce and bring to boil. Add pumpkin pieces and continue to cook. Lower heat when Sauce comes back to boil. Cook till pumpkin pieces  are tender but still whole and sauce thickens.

3. Garnish with toasted black and white Sesame seeds.

HINT: if you are using home-made dashi from kelp and bonito flakes, increase the soy sauce to 2 Tbsp.

Serving Suggestions

Most Japanese meals at home consists of rice and soup with some dishes (usually one is raw, one is simmered, and one is grilled). If you are also having guests, another dish which is deep-fried is added and the crockery is much more ornate and of finer porcelain and lacquer.

The meal is always served with green tea and fresh fruit.

Consider any one or more of the recipes listed below for a complete nutritious tasty Japanese meal. Purchase a plate of sashimi and/or sushi to accompany your servings. This  will impress both family and guests alike.

1. Quick Miso Soup and Brown Rice with Barley. Click here.

2. Yawata Maki. Click here.

3. Tofu no Shira -ae. Click here.

4. Chawan Mushi. Click here.

5. Japanese Potato Salad. Click here.

6. Pari Pari style Chicken Wings. Click here.

7. Almond Jelly and Longans. Click here.

8. Caramel Custard. Click here.


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