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If you're looking for a quick meal, try this kabocha squash and beef stir fry, perfect for a laid-back weeknight dinner upgrade. Juicy top sirloin meets sweet kabocha squash in a flavor-packed dance with aromatics and spices.
What makes this dish special
When I think of winter squash, I immediately think of butternut squash. I feel like it's one of the more versatile squashes that pairs well with sweet and savory. However, that doesn't mean I don't enjoy acorn squash, delicata, or kabocha squash. Today I want to divert the love to kabocha, which I feel doesn't receive much attention. This kabocha squash and beef stir fry incorporates sweet squash with savory tender beef, earthy eggplant, charred peppers, and a delicious sauce.
So what makes kabocha squash different from other squashes? Kabocha is sweeter than butternut squash with subtle notes of chestnuts. It's like a cross between a pumpkin and a sweet potato while butternut squash tastes more like a pumpkin. I love to roast whole kabocha squash and snack on the creamy yet firm flesh.
I thought kabocha would be perfect for this stir fry because it'll add a sweet element, complimenting the soy sauce and beef. However, if you're not a fan of kabocha you can swap it out for sweet potato, pumpkin, or yes, even butternut squash.
- Top sirloin: Sirloin cuts are relatively lean and tender, making them a good choice for stir-frying. Top sirloin, in particular, is known for its tenderness and flavor. I shopped for my beef at Snake River Farms, which has great quality beef.
- Cornstarch: The thickening agent is used to tenderize the meat during the marinade, while also thickening the sauce as it cooks.
- Soy sauce: A salty and savory sauce that enhances flavor. You can substitute it with tamari for a gluten-free option.
- Rice wine: Use clear rice wine for this recipe, which adds flavor to the overall dish. You can use sake or dry sherry as alternatives.
- Oyster sauce: A thick, brown sauce made from oyster extracts, soy sauce, and other seasonings, providing a savory and umami flavor. If you can't find oyster sauce, you can use hoisin.
- Kabocha squash: A type of winter squash with sweet orange flesh and a flavor reminiscent of pumpkin and sweet potato. Butternut squash or acorn squash can be used as alternatives.
- Japanese eggplant: A slender and elongated variety of eggplant with a mild flavor and thin skin. You can also use regular eggplant or Chinese eggplant.
- Thai chile: The small spicy chili peppers add a bit of heat but can be omitted.
Substitutions and Variations
- Vegetarian: Replace the beef with tofu and use vegetarian oyster sauce instead.
- Gluten-free: Replace soy sauce with tamari and oyster sauce with gluten-free oyster sauce.
How to make kabocha squash and beef stir fry
Step 1: Marinate beef
Before we can start cooking the kabocha squash and beef stir fry, we must first marinate the beef. Cut the top sirloin into wide strips and toss it with cornstarch, soy sauce, and red wine. The cornstarch will help tenderize the meat.
If you can't find top sirloin, you can use flank, skirt steak, or any other tender cut.
Step 2: Prepare vegetables and saute
While the beef is marinating, prepare all of the other ingredients. It's important to have all of the vegetables cut and the sauce made before you start cooking. Stir-fry cooking is quick so you don't want to have to stop in the middle to cut the bell peppers.
Heat a tablespoon of oil in a wok or large saute pan and cook the beef until beautifully browned. Then, remove the beef, and brown the kabocha squash. Add a splash of water and cover the pan, simmering until the squash becomes tender.
Remove the squash from the pan and set it aside with the beef.
In the same pan, heat another tablespoon of oil and saute sliced onion and eggplant until browned. Add another splash of water, cover the pan, and cook until the eggplant becomes tender. I hate it when eggplant is not cooked and has a spongey texture. By adding water, you make sure it breaks down and softens.
Remove the lid and add the bell peppers and aromatics. Saute until the bell peppers soften, then add back the beef and kabocha squash along with the sauce. Let everything simmer for another minute, soaking up all that sauce.
Finish the kabocha squash and beef stir fry with chopped cilantro and garnish with sesame seeds. Serve the dish with rice and enjoy!
I ate this every day for 4 days in a row, I enjoyed it so much. It's a winter stir fry that checks off all the boxes!
Frequently asked questions
If kabocha squash is not available, you can use butternut squash or another sweet and firm squash variety.
If you don't have oyster sauce, you can use hoisin sauce as a substitute for a similar umami flavor.
Yes, you can marinate the beef in advance and chop the vegetables ahead of time to streamline the cooking process.
To reheat, gently warm the leftovers in a pan over medium heat, adding a splash of water or broth to prevent it from drying out.
More stir-fry recipes
Looking for more quick stir-fry dishes? Try these:
Kabocha Squash and Beef Stir Fry
- 1 lb top sirloin cut into 3" strips
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon rice wine
- ⅓ cup soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon oyster sauce
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- 3 tablespoons oil divided
- 2 cups peeled kabocha squash chopped into 1" cubes
- ½ cup water divided
- ½ medium onion sliced
- 1 small Japanese eggplant sliced
- 1 bell pepper sliced
- 2 garlic cloves minced
- 1 Thai chile minced
- 1 teaspoon minced ginger
- ¼ cup chopped cilantro
- 1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
- Toss top sirloin with cornstarch, soy sauce, and rice wine. Let sit at room temperature for 20 minutes.
- Combine soy sauce, brown sugar, oyster sauce, and sesame oil. Stir until sugar is dissolved and set aside.
- Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large wok or saute pan over high heat. Add marinated beef and saute until browned, about 3-4 minutes. Remove beef and set aside.
- Heat another tablespoon in the same pan over medium heat. Add chopped kabocha squash and saute until browned and caramelized. Add ¼ cup water and bring to a boil. Cover the pan and continue to cook until squash is tender. Remove squash and set aside.
- Heat another tablespoon oil in the same pan. Add sliced onion and eggplant and saute until browned. Add ¼ cup water and bring to a boil. Cover the pan and continue to cook until eggplant is tender.
- Remove lid and add sliced bell pepper, garlic, Thai chile, and ginger. Saute until bell peppers are tender, about 2 minutes. Add back beef, kabocha squash, and stir fry sauce. Bring to a simmer, tossing to coat. Saute for another minute or until everything is well sauced. Remove from heat and toss in chopped cilantro. Sprinkle sesame seeds on top and serve stir fry with rice.