Kalabasa – pumpkin, winter squash, kabocha
Kalabasa plant is a summer vegetable that grows prostrate on the ground. The leaves are heart shaped and rough and bristly to the touch. The flowers are bright yellow and also edible. The fruits are dark green in color with some white spots and if you slice it open, the flesh are either pale yellow or deep yellow in color. Inside, you will find, are hundreds of seeds which are also edible.
I only know two varieties of kalabasa in my hometown; the pale yellow flesh which has a soft texture and easy to peel; whereas the more orange or dark yellow one has a more chewy texture and sweet like a sweet potato and harder to peel.
You can start this vegetable from seeds. Put about 5 seeds on a hill or a mound of well-amended soil in the sunny location of your garden bed. The small plants will emerge in about a week. Select the most vigorous growing plants and thin out everything else. I hate to waste so I give the other seedlings to my friends. When flowers are starting to come out, you can help pollinating them by picking the male flowers and letting the stamen touch the female flower’s stamen (you will know that it is a female flower because it will have a small size pumpkin in the bottom of the flower). And to avoid cross-pollination especially if you’re growing heirloom varieties of pumpkin, the experts suggest closing the flower by tying it with a rubber band . When the fruit sets, make sure you cover it with newspaper or brown paper bag to avoid being attack by fruit flies or be eaten by slugs or other pests in the garden.
Kalabasa (pumpkin) is a superior source of vitamin A (the deep color orange is indicative of beta carotene which converts into vitamin A) and vitamin C, both antioxidants which helps in preventing cancer and heart disease. It also provides potassium and magnesium, along with fiber which prevents constipation. Beta carotene also helps prevents cataracts and macular degeneration.
We do not make pies out of this pumpkin, but we make savory desserts like ‘ginataan’ which we incorporate the diced pumpkins with coconut milk and cook them together with “mochi” balls, cooking bananas or plantains we call “saba”, sweet potatoes, and jackfruit. We also add “pandan” leaves for added flavor. “Pandan” (screwpine) is a tropical plant that loves shade and moist soil. The leaves are generally used mainly for flavoring rice and other desserts.
This pumpkin is also the main ingredient in making “bulanglang”, our version of French ratatouille. I especially like to cook pumpkin with fresh “Kahuku” shrimp and coconut milk flavored with lemon grass and a dash of curry powder and turmeric.
While French cooks developed using the flower of the squash in their recipes by stuffing them, we have this dish we call “diningding” which is mainly made of boiled fish stock (dashi) with vegetables like fresh bamboo shoots, saluyot (jute mallow), patola (ridged luffa) and topping it off with the squash flowers (you need to remove the stamens first before cooking them).
The seeds of the mature fruits are also edible so nothing goes to waste. We dry the seeds with a sprinkling of sea salt on a big flat container made of bamboo we call “bilao” and then let the sun do the work. We enjoy eating them just like watermelon seeds and sunflower seeds. The seeds has also some added benefits because they are full of nutrients.