by Isha Karim (’22) | March 21, 2022
I’ve been hearing the phrase “spring has sprung” for the last few weeks, and I can’t help but agree (and so do my raging pollen allergies). Floral and citric flavors tend to guide our spring palates, but this month, I’m looking to the crisp oranges and yellows of Californian autumn. Namely, I’m taking advantage of a seasonal peculiarity: kabocha. Kabocha is a Japanese squash, known for its wide shape and subtle sweetness. I personally prefer kobachas to other types of squashes because the preparation is relatively straightforward, and drawing out the squash’s natural flavor isn’t much of a difficulty. While kabocha is known primarily for being a popular winter gourd, my local supermarket happened to stock them on sale, and I wanted to take advantage of reintroducing a familiar fall favorite amidst our first spring weeks.
For my Greek-inspired kabocha tart, I wanted to embrace the cultures the dish spanned: from Japan to Greece to France. While the form of a tart is prevalent across Europe, I used a traditional phyllo dough, a flaky tart crust from Greece to encircle my squash filling. Phyllo dough is incredibly difficult to make, and while I enjoy unique cooking challenges, making pastry from scratch is one that I have yet to experiment with. While phyllo dough is primarily all-purpose flour and warm water, the true challenge lies in laminating the dough such that it results in flaky layers. I purchased my phyllo dough at a local grocery store, and you can certainly do the same or brave the challenge of creating your own rustic phyllo dough.
To prepare my squash filling, I slow-roasted my kabocha with sea salt and olive oil in the oven, poking gently with a fork throughout as you would with a baked potato. After 40 minutes (I prefer to slow and open roast my squashes to ensure a sweet, not smoky, flavor), I allowed my squashes to cool in the oven while I assembled my spices. To pair the sweetness of the kabocha with something more savory, I gathered warmer spices, cinnamon and mace, and toasted them with a handful of walnuts in a pan. Gathering my toasted spices and walnuts, I added a teaspoon of paprika (a warmer spice than chili powder) and blitzed them in a spice grinder. Once my kabocha was cooked through and cooled, I pureed them and stirred in the powdered spice mix, resulting in a thick, deep orange mixture. Because kabocha originates from Japan, I added brown sugar and soy sauce to add umami and a savory touch to this sweet dish. Tasting my filling mixture, I was immediately reminded of Christmas flavors: warm and spicy, but with a savory kick from the soy sauce and paprika.
Because phyllo dough isn’t as sturdy as shortbread or hot water crusts, it’s imperative that you allow the kabocha filling to sit in the fridge for thirty minutes, lest it run through the dough during the baking process. Because I used store-bought phyllo dough, which often comes frozen, I allowed my dough to thaw outside the fridge beforehand. You can then shape it however you like. I personally enjoy a simple, circular naked tart, so I molded my phyllo dough into a medium-sized well and folded in my kabocha filling with a spatula. After that, I popped it in the oven for 40 minutes and served hot!
The flakiness of the phyllo dough, in combination with the thick sweetness of the kabocha filling, was the perfect coming together of texture and flavor. The oily, savory phyllo against the richness of the kabocha and spiciness of the paprika was the perfect adjacent flavor to the subtle savory notes of the soy sauce. If you’re looking for a dish to reminisce about the fall, this Greek-inspired kabocha tart, a delicious amalgamation of spicy, sweet, and flaky, could be a perfect Sunday bake as the temperatures rise and summer comes into full spring.
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