Individual Kabocha Casseroles

by Tokyo Terrace on October 31, 2011

Its amazing how quickly my mind goes from Halloween to Thanksgiving to Christmas this time of year. The excitement might as well start mid-September because thats when I have to start using my self-control (of which I have very little) to not listen to Christmas music just yet. Its been this way for my entire life. My sister and I have both been fans of starting to listen to/sing/play Christmas music together very early in the season. I think we could probably get away with it when we were younger. Its probably less cute now that were all grown up. These days, after Halloween, I allow myself to relax a bit and begin listening to Christmas music that isnt really Christmas music. You know, the newer releases that are not as traditional as Bing Crosby, for example. Bing should be reserved for falling snowflakes and tree decorating.

Its a little harder lately to avoid having Christmas music playing in the background because Im trying to get a number of holiday posts completed before our Little Man arrives at Tokyo Terrace. With only 3 weeks left until the due date, I have to use my time wisely and a little holiday music seems to help the creative flow. So yes, thats how Im justifying my ridiculously early listening pleasures.

In an effort to spread the early holiday joy, and with Thanksgiving coming up very quickly (check your calendar- its nearly NOVEMBER!) I thought it would be nice to share one of my favorite Thanksgiving recipes with you. This is not exactly what graced our table in years past as my family gathered to enjoy a massive, delicious meal together, but its roots stem from Thanksgiving at my parents house. Every year of my life, until moving to Tokyo, the entire extended family would come over and everyone brought their signature contributions. My Aunt Joannes pumpkin and apple pies, my grandmas fruit salad (a shade of mint green and filled with mini-marshmallows) and my moms sweet potato casserole, to name a few.

We have hosted Thanksgiving for the past 3 years in Tokyo, which I must say has proven to be the most difficult but also rewarding experience. The logistics of putting together a traditional Thanksgiving meal in Tokyo make for some interesting stories. And the creativity of using the ingredients that are available (no canned yams or pumpkin around here, folks!) can result in both discoveries that are frustrating and entirely satisfying. Recreating my moms sweet potato casserole was just such an experience.

Our first year in Tokyo I knew only of the white-fleshed, purple-skinned sweet potatoes that I saw in every grocery store. But I also knew that I couldnt have white potatoes as the main ingredient in the casserole. Aesthetically it would not be as pleasing. So, I decided to experiment with Japanese kabocha squash. Ive tried several different methods for cooking the kabocha before putting it in the casserole dish- steaming, roasting and boiling. While each method worked well, I have found that roasting leads to the most satisfying flavor in the squash.

This year, since Im a little too pregnant to host Thanksgiving (OK, my due date is the day before), I decided to make personal sized casseroles with these mini-kabocha that I found the other day. They are the perfect personal size! You can use orange sweet potatoes (or yams) that have been cut in half in place of the kabocha, but if youre in Japan I recommend giving this a try. If you dont have an oven, you can simply steam the squash halves in a bamboo steamer until a knife can be easily inserted into the flesh. To brown the top, simply pop them in the fish oven but keep a close eye on them so you dont end up with a black, charcoal topping.

What are some of your favorite twists on traditional holiday dishes? Id love to hear some of your ideas in the comments below!

Individual Kabocha Casserole

Makes 2 servings

*This recipe is written specifically for individual servings but it is quite simple to multiply. If you are using a larger squash or sweet potatoes/yams, you will need about 2 cups diced to serve approximately 6 people. Prepare the squash/potatoes/yams as desired- steamed or roasted- before adding them to a casserole dish. For the brown sugar-cinnamon topping, you will need about 1 cup brown sugar, 3 tablespoons cinnamon (or to taste- Im a big fan of cinnamon) and 1/4 cup flour. Otherwise, just follow the cooking steps below!

1 small kabocha or other squash, or a medium sweet potato or yam

1/3 cup brown sugar

1 tablespoon cinnamon (or to taste- Im a big cinnamon fan so I am generous)

1/4 cup course chopped pecans

2 tablespoons flour

1-2 tablespoons butter


Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

Cut the squash in half along the equator and scoop out the seeds. Place it cut side down on a foil-lined baking sheet. Bake for about 15 minutes or until the flesh can be pierced with a knife with little resistance. Meanwhile, combine the brown sugar, flour, cinnamon and pecans in a small bowl.

Turn the squash halves cut side up and sprinkle with the brown sugar/cinnamon/pecan topping. Top with small pieces of butter. Return the squash to the oven and bake for about 5 minutes, or until the topping is beginning to bubble slightly. Be careful not to leave them unattended for too long, or the nuts will burn.

Top with the mini marshmallows (they expand slightly, so dont go too overboard or they will ooze over the edges- not necessarily a bad thing but it doesnt look as pretty). Return to the oven for 2 or 3 minutes, or until the marshmallows are a beautiful golden brown.

Serve immediately.

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  • Isabelle @ Crumb

    What a great twist on a classic dish Id never have guessed it was driven by necessity, because those little kabochas are so clever and cute that Id probably make them on purpose, even though I have no problems getting my hands on orange-fleshed sweet potatoes.
    PS Happy early Thanksgiving. Sounds like youll have a lot to be thankful for, assuming Little Man makes an appearance on time. :)

  • Amy

    Oh wow!  These sound amazing!  I had to check out this post when I saw you were using kabocha, they are my favorite squash and I can eat a whole one plain.  This is so much better than sweet potato casserole and so pretty!

  • Samantha Jean

    Those look adorable. 

    I suppose this comment isnt so much about my favorite dishes, but a request for you to answer your favorite ways to use kambocha squash.  I actually have one, sitting on my counter, that I purchased a few days ago, but I havent figured out what to make with it.  I was thinking maybe a steamed cake, but Im not 100% sure.  What are some of your favorite ways to prepare it?

  • Sandras Easy Cooking

    What a cool idea and so creative! I love the way these beauties look and sound! Awesome photos, thank  you for sharing!

  • Anna

    Congratulations! Your little one will be here in a few weeksI bet you are so excited. I agree, the best way to spend the few weeks other than waiting is to cook, bake and cook! I love the history of this Kabocha recipe. I will probably have this served for Thanksgiving. I am not sure if I can get a great Kabocha, but Ill find a way. Thanks for sharing! ;)

  • Easternplums

    Looks amazing!  I actually only just discovered your blog, and having moved to Hiroshima only this past summer, Im still trying to figure out how to cook with a somewhat different set of ingredients (not to mention some CRAZY prices).  Looking forward to exploring your blog.  And trying this kobocha recipe!  おいしそう!

  • Anonymous

    Thanks, Isabelle! The mini kabocha are just perfect for this dish, arent they? They make the perfect vessel for some delicious toppings! Im sure this baby wont be on timeearly or late, that is the question. Take care!

  • Anonymous

    Thanks Amy! Glad you like the use of kabocha in this dish. It is a pretty tasty squash, especially with brown sugar, cinnamon, pecans and marshmallows on top!

  • Anonymous

    Oh, thats a tough one I really love kabocha that has been simmered in dashi, soy sauce and sake. Thats a pretty classic Japanese take. I also like to stuff kabocha with a mix of ground pork and veggies for a nice hearty meal. Roasted kabocha soup is another big favorite of mine. I havent tried baking with kabocha yet, but Im sure it would be just like using pumpkin if you make it into a tasty puree. Id love to hear what you end up doing with yours!

  • Anonymous

    Thank you! Glad you like the recipe and photos. Hope to see you here again soon!

  • Anonymous

    Thank you for your kind words about our upcoming arrival! We are pretty thrilled! If you do serve this for Thanksgiving but cant find kabocha, I would go with sweet potatoes/yams. Just cut them in half the long way and youll have another beautiful presentation. Or you can cube them, roast them, and put everything in a casserole dish. Let me know how it turns out and what you decide to use!

  • Anonymous

    I have yet to visit Hiroshima- how do you like living there? I hope you will find some helpful tips here to get you through the difficulty of learning new ingredients. Ive done a lot of fusion recipes but many can be made with ingredients found at grocery stores here in Tokyo- not sure of the selection in Hiroshima. がんばってね!

  • PolaM

    Sweet and individual sized, what else could a girl desire?

  • Joanne

    Adorable! I dont think Ive ever seen Kabocha that small. Perfect for Thanksgiving.

  • Lora

    I was an Ami expat in Germany for over 10 years. In the early years, the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving were one big mad dash around town trying to gather all the ingredients I could buy in one supermarket run in the States. Lots of funny stories. Two different birds in Germany Truthahn and Puten)both turkey-like and we never figured which one is which. But eventually we found where to buy what and later on more and more American products became available (no more begging friends of US military to get us into the local PX or smuggling products from home) I cant even imagine how difficult this must be in Japan. Wonderful Kabocha recipe and best wishes for your new little ones arrival!

  • Annette Garcia-kerslake

    Looks so yummy!

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