Kabocha and Turkey Day Sides

by Elena on November 26, 2014

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November is the start of the holiday season.  After Halloween and the barrage of candy that I feel is only appropriate for an adult to eat openly on this one day, stores quickly begin to put up their Christmas decorations.  Literally the next day when I was still looking for white face makeup, white string lights were on the shelves at my local Duane Reade!  I always find myself thinking that it is way to early for holiday music, but marketers have learned to get us eager consumers early.  They may forget, but there is still one more national holiday before we start putting up our Christmas trees and lighting our menorahs.  It’s Thanksgiving people!  That is why there is currently a 12 pound free turkey that I got from work taking up the bottom half of my fridge.

While I have grown to like turkey more and more each year, especially after we started sticking a mix of butter, herbs, brioche, preserved lemons, and dried apricots under the turkey skin, the real stars of the show are all the sides.  This day is where it is appropriate for adults to fill their plates with 7 or 8 different items and then cover them all with gravy or cranberry sauce.  It is the ultimate indulgence, free of guilt until you need to unbutton your pants while watching Elf on the couch.

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As I said, the true stars are the side dishes and the vegetables of the season like this kabocha squash here.  The bright flesh is so beautiful and versatile that you can braise it, bake it, sear it, or make some of the most delicious fries.  It even makes a great soup if you cook it down long enough.  Since it is a little more starchy than say a butternut or acorn squash it actually feels more like a fried potato, so when you are craving some starch this guy will do the trick.  As a bonus, it is also loaded with tons of vitamins and nutrients.

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The preparation for this squash can be a little daunting.  The hard outer skin can be a pain to get through.  First cut the squash in half and scoop out all the seeds.  Next I always cut the half of the squash into quarters; then peel the skin of each piece very carefully with a knife.  Once you get that hard skin off the rest of the prep is very easy.  Cut into manageable slices and you are ready to cook.

Kabocha Squash 1

So this meal came out of a cravings for something very ‘Fall like’ as well the options that I had available in my pantry and fridge.  I was craving slow-roasted squash and I had a bag of pepitas in the pantry that I’ve been munching on raw and were begging me to season and roast them.  When everything was finished the dish was complete with the crunch from the pepitas, tartness from the pickled chard stems, nuttyness (is that a word?)  from the farro, and sweetness from the queso fresco.

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Kabocha Squash 2

Another perk of roasting everything for dinner is that it heats up your apartment until nice and toasty!  I was a little shocked to return from a trip to find New York City cold and dreary so soon.  At least it feels too soon for me.  All this talk of an impending snow storm combined with a couple days off all provide the perfect excuse to bunker down inside my warm home (and the homes of my family) and eat lots of Fall friendly food.

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Roasted Kabocha Squash with Farro, Pickled Chard Stems, Pepitas, and Queso Fresco

Ingredients
1 bunch swiss chard stems (save leaves for another use)
1 cup white balsamic vinegar
1 tbs sugar
pinch salt

1 cup farro
3 cups water

1 small kabocha squash
2 tbs olive oil
1 tsp curry powder
1/4 cayenne pepper
1 tsp salt

2 cup raw pepitas (hulled green pumpkin seeds)
1 egg white
1 tsp curry powder
3 tsp sugar

1/2 cup queso fresco
Pinch red pepper flakes
1 tbs extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 lemon

Pickled Swiss Chard Stems
Bring white balsamic vinegar, sugar, and salt to a boil.  Add the swiss chard stems and boil for thirty seconds then turn off the flame.  Cool down the stems in the pickling liquid.  Keep stems in the liquid until ready to use them.

Farro
Rinse and drain farro.  Place the farro in a pot and combine with 3 cups of water.  Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer.  Cook for 30 minutes.  When the farro is tender drain off any excess water.  Season with salt and pepper.

Roasted Kabocha Squash
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Cut the kabocha squash in half and scoop out the seeds.  Cut each half in quarters  and peel off the skin very careful with your knife working from one end to the other.  Once the skin is off cut 1/2 inch thick slices.  Toss the squash with olive oil, curry pepper, and cayenne.  Place the kabocha squash in a single layer on a foil-lined baking sheet.  Roast the squash for 30 minutes, turning once, until the squash is tender and starting to brown.  Season with salt.

Pepitas
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Beat the egg white until frothy.  Mix in the curry powder and sugar.  Toss the pepitas in the egg white mixture.  Using a slotted spoon, scoop out the egg white covered pepitas and lay them on a foil-lined baking sheet.  Bake until they are dry for about 10-15 minutes.  Store in an air tight container.

To Finish
Toss the farro and roasted squash.  Garnish with the queso fresco, pepitas, pickled chard stems, and red pepper flakes.  Drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil and a little squeeze of lemon.

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