Friday, January 10, 2014

Kabocha korokke - Winter squash croquettes as adapted by an Indian palate

One of the great things about growing up in a foreign country is the inevitable widening of one's palate that occurs as a result.  Additionally, the amalgamation of one's own culinary culture with that of the foreign nation often results in the creation of a wonderful melange of tastes that sometimes surpasses the beauty of the original dish.  Perhaps this is why pizza is so much more delicious in the United States, where it is served in a variety of styles and with endless toppings, than it is in Italy.  (Yes, I said it, and I meant it: American pizza - especially of the type found in local pizza houses, not national chains - is way better than most Italian pizza.)

But, I digress.  The point I was trying to make is that the influence of a foreign palate's preferences on a local dish can sometimes result in the creation of something brand new.  A case in point is the subject of today's post and one my favorite Japanese foods, the humble kabocha korokke.  I have previously lamented about my limited exposure to Japanese food, despite having spent a sizable part of my childhood in Japan.  The largest limitation to my education in Japanese food was the fact that Japanese cuisine offers very little that suits my vegetarian tastebuds.  However, one of the dishes that I relished while growing up in Japan was the delightfully vegetarian kabocha korokke.

Korokke is simply a Japanese pronunciation of the french word 'croquette' and kabocha are Japanese winter squashes with a firm green exterior and a orange interior.  While recipes for these tasty little fried morsels can vary quite a bit, they always involve a filling of the nutty sweet flesh of the kabocha pumpkin coated in a crunchy brown exterior of panko (Japanese breadcrumbs).  Once I started cooking for myself, my own culinary preferences directed me to include a variety of spices and vegetables in my own recipe for kabocha korokke.

Although I sometimes curse my over-saturated Indian tastebuds for frequently wanting to modify foods to spicier versions, I do believe that my alterations to the kabocha korokke elevate this dish from a mere accompaniment to a cold beer to a worthy weeknight dinner...but I'll let you be the judge of that.

Kabocha Korokke - as adapted by an Indian palate
For patties:
1 medium kabocha, or butternut squash as a substitute, if you absolutely cannot find kabocha
2T olive oil
pinch of salt
1 medium red onion, diced finely
1 large green pepper, diced finely
2 medium potatoes, boiled and mashed
1 small bunch green onions, finely minced
1 T red chili flakes
2 tsp cumin powder
2 tsp coriander powder
1 tsp turmeric
2 T canola oil
Salt, to taste
For dredging patties:
2 eggs, whisked
1/4 C all-purpose flour with a pinch of salt and red chili powder
2 C panko bread crumbs
Canola oil for deep-frying

Prepare kabocha:
1.  Preheat oven to 400 F.
2.  Wash kabocha thoroughly and cut in half
3.  Oil kabocha with olive oil, drizzle cut sides with salt, and place cut side down in a roasting pan containing 1 inch of water
4.  Cover tightly with aluminum foil and roast for 30 minutes or until kabocha is fork tender.
5.  Cool kabocha, discard seeds, and transfer flesh to a large bowl
Prepare other veggies: 
6.  Sautee diced onion in oil until browned, add diced pepper, along with spices and salt, and cook until peppers are tender and spices taste cooked.
7.  Combine kabocha pulp, onion mixture, and mashed potatoes in bowl.  Taste for and adjust salt.
8.  Add minced green onions and combine.  Allow mixture to cool.

Prepare patties:
9.  Set up an assembly-line type work station to make your korokkes.  Place flour, whisked eggs, and panko in three sequential shallow dishes.  
10.  Make 2 inch wide flattish patties out of cooled kabocha mixture.  Dredge kabocha patties sequentially in flour, egg, and panko, making sure patties are completely coated in panko at the final stage.
Fry patties:
11.  Heat canola oil for deep-frying.  Choose a pan and oil amount that will allow your patties to be completely submerged whilst frying.  Test if oil is hot enough by tossing a tiny bit of panko into the oil.  If it sizzles and rises immediately, the oil is hot enough.  If oil starts smoking, it's too hot.  Adjust heat as needed.
12.  Slide panko encrusted patties into hot oil carefully and fry until golden brown on all sides.  Do not fry too many croquettes at once, so as to not allow oil to cool rapidly.  Your croquettes should take about 2 minutes to brown properly.  If patties are browning faster, reduce heat to avoid burnt korokkes
These can be served hot and crispy with some ketchup and/or spicy mayo.  Alternatively, serve with some minted rice for a hot and substantial dinner.


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