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Forget Sweet Potatoes, Bring On Kabocha Soup

Roasted kabocha squash soup with kale. Credit: Cheryl Lee

Roasted kabocha squash soup with kale. Credit: Cheryl Lee

Kabocha squash, also known as Japanese pumpkin, has quickly become my favorite winter squash. The texture is somewhat like a chestnut or potato, unlike most squash and pumpkins, which, when cooked are very soft.

Kabocha can be cooked in a multitude of ways, including roasting, mashing, baking and even in soup. They can be used to make pies and other desserts. When eating in a Japanese restaurant, if there is kabocha in the vegetable tempura, I will always get an order.

I often substitute kabocha squash in recipes that call for other winter squash, such as butternut or acorn squash. The difference in flavor profiles can completely change an old standard into a brand-new classic.

One Thanksgiving, about five or six years ago, I decided to add a kabocha squash recipe to my dinner. Every year I used to cook Thanksgiving dinner for my family and extended family. This is usually very traditional fare, featuring turkey, dressing, macaroni and cheese, collard greens, green salad, maybe a Jell-O mold fixed by my mother, and rolls. My sister would always make the candied yams and sweet potato pie, and bring them over.

Interested in bringing slightly healthier fare to my Thanksgiving table, I wanted another option to balance the buttery sugary overload of the candied yams. I brushed the kabocha squash with a very small amount of melted butter and spiced it with warm spices, including cinnamon. When the squash was done, I drizzled pomegranate molasses over the top. The tart and sweet molasses blended beautifully with the spiced sweetness of the squash.

Of course, once the family saw the kabocha squash, everyone asked what in the world it was.

One cousin even remarked, “Black folks don’t eat that!” I replied, “You do today” and explained what the dish was.

Gamely, everyone took a small piece to try. And wouldn’t you know, they loved it. They all came back for more. So I guess black folks do eat kabocha squash.

This soup has an additional layer of flavor added by roasting the squash before use in the soup. You can roast the squash a day before, or if you have leftover roasted kabocha squash it can be repurposed in this recipe.

Roasted Kabocha Squash Soup With Kale

Serves 4


3 pounds kabocha squash, seeds removed, cut into 4 pieces

3 (15 ounce) cans low sodium chicken broth

1 teaspoon sea salt

½ teaspoon ground allspice

½ teaspoon ground ginger powder

½ teaspoon ground smoked paprika

2 cups torn kale


1. Heat oven to 400 F.

2. Place squash onto a baking sheet skin side down. Roast squash for 30 to 40 minutes, until tender.

3. Remove the squash from the oven, set aside to cool slightly. (This step can be done a day ahead.)

4. Scoop the flesh from the squash.

5. In a large saucepan, combine the cooked squash, chicken broth, salt, allspice, ginger and smoked paprika.

6. Using the back of a spoon or a potato masher, break the squash up.

7. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cook the soup for about 30 minutes, until the flavors have melded.

8. Carefully purée the soup using a blender or food processor.

9. Return the puréed soup to the pot, and bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.

10. Add the kale, and cook for about 10 minutes, or until the kale is tender.

11. If needed, add a small amount of water to thin the soup if it becomes too thick.

Top photo: Roasted kabocha squash soup with kale. Credit: Cheryl Lee

Zester Daily contributor Cheryl D. Lee began her culinary training at the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco, then moved to New York, where among many roles she worked on Chef Emeril Lagasse's cooking show "Emeril Live," became the Assistant Test Kitchen Director at Woman's World magazine, and served as a chef and catering manager in the city's cafés. Returning to her native California, she has served as chef instructor at the California School of Culinary Arts and styled food on the sets of television's "Friends" and "The Bold and the Beautiful." She is the recipe developer, food stylist, photographer and chief dishwasher for her blog, Black Girl Chef's Whites, focusing on real food, developed by a classically trained chef, that anyone can make.

  • Claire at Plant & Plate 11·25·13

    Kabocha is my favorite — I use it for pumpkin pie, with coconut milk and garam masala. Never tried it with pomegranate syrup, but it sounds fantastic, and I just opened a bottle….

  • SeattleDee 11·29·13

    I tried, really REALLY tried to get the family to love squash or at least have an open mind about this winter veggie. One carnival squash was cubed, brushed with honey and oil, dusted with cinnamon and chipotle and roasted until caramelized. It looked gorgeous, and family each tried one polite bite and moved on. I wonder if using kabocha would make a difference… I can only hope.