Kitchen Culture

tasty tidbits from the old-fashioned Japanese Kitchen

Winter Melon




A member of the gourd family, winter melon (Benincasa hispida), tōgan in Japanese, is a SUMMER vegetable.  One explanation as to why a summer gourd would be called “winter” is because of its appearance growing in the field: chalky white "bloom" covers the surface as though frost had fallen on it. The other explanation derives from the ability to store tōgan until wintertime when its vitamin and mineral nutrients are welcome.

DOWNLOAD a RECIPE for Tōgan with Crumbly Chicken Sauce

The technique for tender-prepping in togi-jiru (starchy rice water) is a useful one to remember whenever you are cooking tōgan daikon, carrots or other firm root vegetables or tubers (fresh bamboo shoots and corn-on-the-cob, too). Tender-prepping makes the vegetables very soft without falling apart (the natural oils in the rice water help them hold their shape and minimize the loss of nutrients to the boiling liquid).

Par-boiling makes vegetables such as tōgan porous, getting them ready to absorb the flavor of the broth in which the final cooking takes place. When you wash rice, save the starchy water (called togi-jiru) in a jar, storing it in the refrigerator if you do not use it the same day. After several hours you will notice a sediment forming at the bottom of the jar. When ready to use, stir it to recombine.