About two years ago I went to a bistro called “One Flower One Leaf” in Beijing. The dishes there were quite tasty and delicate. One vegetarian dish called “casserole pumpkin” left a particularly deep impression with me. In a casserole, pumpkins were nicely arranged on a bamboo rack, and a full layer of garlic cloves were placed beneath the bamboo rack. It was so fragrant that I could smell the sweetness of the pumpkin and the aroma of garlic from afar. The pumpkin’s outer skin was slightly crispy and glistened with a caramel color while the inner flesh was soft and sweet. The garlic was soft to the bite and was infused with the pumpkin’s sweet flavor.
I came home and started experimenting and I came up with my own version. Since I didn’t find pumpkins in my local grocery store, I’m using butternut squash instead for today’s recipe. Pumpkin and butternut squash are both winter squashes. They are very similar in terms of nutrition, texture, and taste. Some varieties of pumpkins are sweeter than others. So it really comes down to a matter of availability when choosing the type of squash. Plus, both pumpkin and butternut squash have a super long shelf life so they are ideal to have during this coronavirus pandemic.
The ingredients for this recipe are few, consisting mainly of the squash, garlic cloves, and plenty vegetable oil. Oil is basically treated like water here. It’s important to not over heat the oil during simmering. The squash needs to be slowly cooked by the garlic infused oil. At the end, oil is poured out (you can re-use the oil for stir frying or for other recipes). The resulting squash pieces are soft but not mushy. Oil makes the texture of the squash somehow both smooth and firm, and not at all greasy.
Preparation Time: 10 minutes
Active Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 40 minutes
Serving: 2-4 people
- ~2 lb (1kg) butternut squash or pumpkin1
- 3-4 whole garlic bulbs (about 25 garlic cloves)
- ~3 cups vegetable oil
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- ½ cup chicken/vegetable stock or water
Tools: a steamer rack2 and a casserole or Dutch oven3
- Wash the butternut squash thoroughly. Scoop out the seeds4 and cut the squash into thick rectangular slices.
- Separate the garlic cloves. Using the back of a chef’s knife or cleaver, gently smash the garlic so the skin can be easily removed. (Do not use too much force as the garlic cloves need to be intact)
- Combine the 1 teaspoon of salt, 1 tablespoon of sugar, and ½ cup of stock or water and mix the sauce well.
- In a casserole or Dutch oven, first lay the garlic gloves at the bottom of the pan. Then add the steamer rack. Lastly, arrange the squash pieces on the steamer rack in one layer.
- Slowly pour the sauce first, then the oil. The squash should be barely submerged in oil. Cover the lid.
- Turn the stove to medium-high heat. When the oil starts to bubble (it only takes about 5 minutes), turn the heat to medium-low and let it simmer for 20-30 minutes until squash pieces become soft.
- Uncover and carefully pour out the oil.5 Put the pan back onto the stovetop and set the heat to high for a minute before turning off.
- Transfer the squash pieces and garlic to individual plates or leave them intact in the casserole as a family style dish.
- Like I mentioned earlier, either butternut squash or pumpkin works well for this recipe.
- I used the steamer rack that came with my Instant Pot. But any food grade safe shallow steamer rack should work for this dish.
- Ideally, a shallow clay casserole should be used. But any pot with a large enough surface area and deep enough side should work. Here, I used a 5-quart cast iron Dutch oven.
- The seeds can become a nutritious snack by roasting them at 275 °F (135 °C) with a bit of sea salt and olive oil for 15 minutes.
- Don’t waste the oil. After filtering, it can be used for regular cooking and can be stored in the refrigerator for a month.