If you live in the northern hemisphere, it’s hard to escape pumpkins and various hard fall/winter squashes these days. They’re displayed by the front doors of grocery stores and end-caps in the produce section. Farmers are bringing them to our weekly markets and there are better and bigger selections at Asian grocers. Halloween-carved pumpkins and related holiday decor are front and center in store ads and people’s lawns. Food magazines are loaded with photos and recipes for squash-centric dishes for Thanksgiving celebrations. It's a food that screams autumn in color and evokes the coziness of the cooler weather ahead.
In Vietnamese, a generic term for squash is bi and one with red/orange/yellow flesh (e.g., pumpkin, kabocha and butternut) is bi do. We bought a pumpkin to carve for Halloween a couple of weeks ago but instead of thinking about cutting into it for decoration, I pondered hard squash and pumpkin recipes.
No, I’m not saying I cook with pumpkins raised for carving. They don’t taste good. We mistakenly bought a wedge of Cinderella pumpkin from a Mexican market last month and it looked gorgeous in the oven but tasted blah on the plate. At the store, I recognized it in its cut form as a decorative pumpkin but since it was sold under the auspices of being good for cooking, I tried it out. Don’t do it. It’s not worth it.
For cooking, I like kabocha (can’t lose with this Asian favorite), butternut (sweet, creamy orange flesh), kuri (has a chestnut-like texture and flavor), and banana (firm flesh, conveniently sold in sections at supermarkets). I’ve been meaning to try baby cooking pumpkins as they’d probably work well in recipes.