How to CookJapanese Cooking

This Huggable, One-Pot Braised Squash is Dinner Tonight & Lunch Tomorrow

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When milk’s involved, magic happens. We’re partnering with Milk Life to learn all about the essential role the farm-fresh beverage plays in elevating everyday recipes—and sharing recipes, tools, and tips for incorporating milk’s rich and smooth texture into wholesome at-home cooking. Read up here.

Photo by Emiko Davies

Squash braised in whole milk is a downright delicious dish: sweet, silky squash in a barely-there dressing of soy sauce-spiked braising liquid that turns into soft, delicious curds. But it’s also unlikely dish, especially for Japanese cuisine.

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Although the cooking technique is not too different from an Italian maiale al latte or pork braised in milk, dairy milk is not a traditional ingredient in Japanese cuisine, which has for centuries been based on rice and vegetables.

Japanese pumpkin braised in milk
Japanese pumpkin braised in milk Photo by Emiko Davies

For an incredible primer on Japanese food culture, reach for Bee Wilson’s First Bite: How We Learn to Eat. She explains that in 1947, postwar food aid from America was brought in to help alleviate childhood hunger in Japan. With this, school children were given milk with every lunch, and like that, red meat and milk were introduced in Japanese kitchens.

Photo by Emiko Davies

This squash braised in milk—kabocha no miruku ni—is a dish that you could imagine in a lunchtime bento box or as a side dish to some grilled salmon or roast pork. It's also a great vegetable dish for children who love things sweet and creamy.

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In Hokkaido, which is just as famous now for its dairy farms as for its salmon, you might see a similar preparation for a hot pot with salmon braised in milk and soy sauce.

Kabocha squash / Japanese pumpkin
Kabocha squash / Japanese pumpkin Photo by Emiko Davies

Kabocha (also known as Japanese pumpkin) is best for this recipe because it’s sweet and nutty with a floury consistency that reminds me of eating chestnuts. As it cooks, the edges soften and become incorporated into the creamy "dressing.” You could use butternut squash or sweet potato as a substitute, but also think about doing this with other vegetables, such as cauliflower.

Gentle cooking is key so that this soft pumpkin does not get—gasp!—mushy. But if it does, have no fear: Add a splash of rice wine vinegar and eat it cold the next day. It’s a rather welcome substitute to creamy potato salad, and I have to admit, my favorite way to have it.

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Kabocha Squash (Japanese Pumpkin) Braised in Milk

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Serves 4 as a side dish
  • 1 pound kabocha squash (Japanese pumpkin)
  • 3/4 cup (180 ml) whole milk
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 splash rice wine vinegar, optional
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Make magic with milk this fall. We're partnering with Milk Life to learn all about milk and the incredible things cows can do—and arming you with recipes, tools, and tips for making use of milk’s superpowers while we’re at it. Have a look at just how essential its seat at the table is here.

Tags: Japanese cooking, dairy, milk, pumpkin, vegetables, vegetarian