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Kabocha Pumpkin


Kabocha Pumpkin

Kabocha is a hard skinned variety of  Japanese pumpkin and winter squash. It has an amazingly sweetness, dense and silky texture and almost fibreless with dark green thick skin and bright yellow-orange flesh. This variety is preferred for Thai cooking and Thai people incorporate it in soup, curry, stir-fry and dessert dishes. Buttercup squash or Hubbard belongs to the same species and can be substituted for Kabocha. Pumpkin is a squash, but pumpkin is also a term that applies to almost all hard-skinned winter squash, not summer squash like zuchini. There are two known types of pumpkin that are used in Thai cooking – niho kabocha with a bumpy surface and kuri(seiyo) kabocha that has pale vertical stripes.

How to pick a good Kabocha squash

Kabocha should be fully ripe 45 days after it is harvested – when the starch has had a chance to convert to carbohydrate content. The flesh color then will change from yellow to a deeper color or orange. I choose a dark green skin pumpkin that has a hollow sound when I thump it.  The best way to judge whether the Kabocha is ready is to buy a cut one so you can see its color and the texture inside.

Pranee’s Tips

To cut Kabocha in half, I first use a big knife and hammer to open it.  The rest is easy. I then cut it into 1 – 1½ in wedges, and use the back of the knife or spoon to remove the seeds.  I only peel it based on the recipe. Personally, I love the skin and it has more nutrients than the yellow part.

To prepare Kabocha for dumpling or pie, simply remove skin and seeds and cut into 1- inch chunks, steam about 15 minutes until tender and use a ricer to make a fine mash.

For soup, you may choose to leave the skin on which is tender when cooked. Remove the seeds and cut into the size according to the recipe.

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Thai Cooking with Wok

As far back as I can remember, my family kitchen contained only a few cooking utensils and cookware. The most versatile cookware was a wok. We use woks for all tasks, from stir-frying, steaming and blanching vegetables to making cooking oil from lard and coconut milk. It is possible that every household in Thailand will have an average of 3 woks in various sizes. For a community kitchen, the wok can be as wide as three to five feet wide. This wok is used for cooking curry, frying and steaming rice for a function with more than 300 people. A wok allows you to have total control to stir and mix a large quantity of foods with a large shovel. Owning a new wok is a new beginning of your culinary adventure in your kitchen.

A wok made of mild steel will rust; therefore a well-seasoned wok will protect it and make it easy to cook foods and prevent them from sticking.

Ladle & Shovel (Spatula)

Depending on the style of your wok, a ladle or spatula can be used. A ladle fits well in a deep bowl shaped wok and a shovel can be used for either a flat bottom or deep bowl wok.

How to Season a Wok

This is the summary on how to season a wok according to the “The Breath of a Wok” by Grace Young. 

First step to handling your new wok is to clean it with hot soapy water to remove the protector. Then season it by using a few tips below.

~ Cook pork in a bone in boiling water.

~ Pan fried tofu to absorb metallic taste, and then stir-fry chives.

~ Use scallions, garlic chives, pork and ginger to remove the metallic taste.

~ Use high heat with salt.

This is a recipe for seasoning a wok for the first time before cooking a meal for serving:

2 to 3 tablespoons pork fat

1 cup garlic chives

½ cup ginger, shredded

Clean the new wok according to instructions. In general, clean and rinse well with hot water. Dry with a paper towel. Open all of the windows and turn the range hood on high. Bring the wok to a high heat, when it starts to make a layer of smoke, add in a pork fat, ginger and chives, and with a shovel or spatula stir-fry the ginger/chive mixture to cover the entire surface area of the wok. Reduce the heat to medium-high and keep stirring until the wok darkens. Discard the ginger/chives. Rinse the wok with hot water and bring back to high heat to dry the wok. Your wok is now ready.

The best way to season and to develop the wok patina is to constantly use it. I like to use the wok for deep frying, and the shape of the wok also helps to use less cooking oil.

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Takrai, lemongrass

Thais use herbs in cooking for three great reasons: flavor, aroma and medicinal value. Lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus) has a lemon-citrus flavor and is used widely in Malaysia, Indonesia, Lao, Burma and very intensely in Thailand. In Thai cuisine, lemongrass is the queen of Thai herbs. Thais use it in soup, curry paste, tea, stir-fry, fish and meat dishes. In a Thai kitchen, lemongrass reduces the strong smell of meat and fish and commonly is used in marinades and sauces. Lemongrass is easy to use and combines well with other herbs such as cilantro, ginger, garlic and shallots. Medicinally, lemongrass is known to heal stomach disorders and enhance mood.


Go Wild with Lemongrass

Thais use lemongrass intensively but I encourage American home cooks to use lemongrass whenever possible. Besides traditional Thai cooking, it also works well in a simple syrup or tea. 

Here is a link to Pranee’s recipes for cooking with lemongrass.

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