Deep-orange kabochas, smooth yellow butternuts and green zucchini – all the striped, speckled and spangled squash family vegetables are in season now. They make delicious winter eating. For an extensive list of seasonal produce this month in the Middle East, click on this. Pumpkins and squashes often make a base for soup, but Middle-Eastern cooks know infinite ways to cook these sturdy vine plants: grated into fritters like these, lightly stewed in sauce, and naturally, stuffed. But the most unfussy way, roasting them, is also one of the most delicious ways to eat them.
Pumpkins and acorn and butternut squashes have hard peels that protect the flesh inside, so they can be stored at room temperature and will keep for several weeks. Just don’t keep them next to the stove. This is great for me, as then I don’t have to make room in the refrigerator for the fat kabocha pumpkins I’m especially fond of – my refrigerator is almost always overcrowded. And until I get around to cooking my kabocha, it sits out on the dining table looking decorative.
If I have time and want to impress guests, I’ll stuff a kabocha with rice or quinoa. But most often, I crave the natural sweetness that roasting the vegetable gives it. I love to season wedges of kabocha with a spicy blend of garlic and herbs, then let the oven do the rest of the work. In the 25 or 30 minutes that the pumpkin wedges are roasting and the divine odors are drifting around the apartment, I cook rice and toss a salad to round the meal out. Voila, in about 40 minutes, dinner’s on the table.
If you do consume dairy, Aryan, a light, salty yogurt drink is delicious with this.
1 small kabocha pumpkin, rinsed, dried and left unpeeled
2 garlic cloves, chopped fine
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon dry thyme or 1 teaspoon chopped fresh
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 or 4 small sage leaves or 2 small bay leaves
salt and pepper
Optional garnish: small, fine sprouts like alfalfa or beet sprouts; or 1 tablespoon finely chopped scallions
Heat the oven to 200°C – 400° F.
Cut the kabocha in half from the top down. Scrape the seeds out of the halves. Slice the halves into wedges about 1/2″ thick.
Mix the seasonings, including the sage or bay leaves, and olive oil in a large bowl.
Roll the pumpkin wedges around in the seasoned oil. Rub them with your hands to ensure that the pieces are well coated with the oily seasoning.
Lay the slices down on a baking tray with a little space between them. Tuck the sage or bay leaves around them, here and there.
Roast for 25-30 minutes.
Scatter optional garnish over the wedges and serve right away.