Loving this 5-ingredient Asian-inspired Chinese squash side dish that screams “look at me” when served at the dinner table. Roll them up with sesame infused spinach and sprinkle some furikake for the perfect umami finish.
- Why You’ll Love This Chinese Squash Side Dish
- What is Chinese Squash?
- What Does Chinese Squash Look Like?
- What Does Chinese Squash Taste Like?
- What is Furikake Seasoning?
- Recipe Overview
- Variations and Substitutions
- How to Make This Salad Perfectly [Expert Tips]
- Great Mains for This Side Dish
- Frequently Asked Questions
Why You’ll Love This Chinese Squash Side Dish
If you’ve always wanted to make a Chinese squash recipe but wasn’t sure how to use it, this Chinese squash side dish is for you! This long squash makes it easy to peel nice long wide strips which is one of the reasons it was the perfect agent to make these spinach rolls.
This Asian side dish is also great because it only needs 5 ingredients. And also because something so easy can be made to look so gorgeous. They are the perfect accompaniment for fish dishes or any Asian-inspired feast.
If you love furikake and always seem to have some in the pantry, this is a good way to use them up without rice. The umami flavours work really well with the lovely aroma of the sesame oil.
What is Chinese Squash?
Contrary to popular belief, Chinese squashes are not squash. They are, in fact, a gourd. A gourd is a fruit from a flowering plant species in the family Cucurbitaceae. Yup, Chinese squashes are fruits, not vegetables.
They are known by many names across the world. These include fuzzy melon, hairy gourd, Chinese long squash, Opo squash and fuzzy squash. They are native to Chinese cuisine and also to many parts of Southeast Asia.
This vegetable is often confused with winter melons, although you wouldn’t be completely incorrect as Chinese squashes are, in fact, immature winter melons. They are harvested about a week after they blossom.
What Does Chinese Squash Look Like?
A Chinese squash is long and oblong in shape. They are approximately 10 to 15 inches in length (25 to 38 cm) and are firm to hold.
The skin of the Chinese squash is of a light to bright green and slightly blotchy. It consists of very fine hairs across the skin.
The interior of a Chinese squash is pale in colour, almost white and contains edible seeds.
What Does Chinese Squash Taste Like?
Often compared to a zucchini, Chinese squashes are very mild in flavour although slightly saltier compared to the other squashes. Its mild flavour, however, does mean they are usually paired up with other ingredients that will hold up the dish.
They are typically used in stir fries and Chinese soups as they tend to also absorb all the other flavours. Great for stir fries with garlic, soy sauce and chicken.
What is Furikake Seasoning?
Furikake seasoning is a dried Japanese seasoning which in its simplest form, consists of nori, sesame seeds, salt and sugar.
Depending on which part of Japan you’re from, you’ll be able to find all sorts of different types of furikake that may include bonito flakes, red perilla leaves, chilli, wasabi, miso powder and even matcha green tea.
You can use furikake for so many things but they are mainly used to flavour Japanese rice. They are also used in sushi, nigiri rolls, on top of fish and in modern days, even on popcorn!
You can even sprinkle some on top of our Japanese inspired salads such as marinated Japanese mushroom salad with sesame spinach or kingfish sashimi salad with pickled radish.
Flavour/Texture: The strips of Chinese squash are bland in flavour which makes it the perfect wrapping agent for the rest of the ingredients. The sesame oil and salt marinated spinach is aromatic, salty with green leaf flavours, while the furikake is umami with strong seaweed tastes.
The textures are soft as everything is cooked while the furikake provides a little crunch. Just grab a spinach roll, mop up some furikake and pop it in your mouth.
Ease: A few components to work through but not overly challenging. It’s important to get as many wide strips as possible so you can roll up the spinach.
The most important factor in this recipe is to ensure the ingredients are as dry as possible, otherwise the whole thing will just be a sloppy mess. Read the instructions below thoroughly.
Time: Doesn’t take too long at all. It’s a quick steam and blanch while the rolling process is quick. You’d be surprised how pretty they look without putting in too much effort!
Here are the ingredients you will need for Chinese squash and spinach rolls:
Chinese squash: These long and large Chinese squashes have a fair bit of seeds in them. You may think they are too big but it doesn’t take much before you get to the seeds. With the leftover centre of the Chinese squash, you can throw them in broths. You’ll be surprised how sweet they are!
After steaming the Chinese squash strips, they have to be dried out completely. Best to lay them flat on paper towels and set aside until completely dry.
Spinach: Get 2 big bunches of spinach as they wilt incredibly when they are cooked. Be sure you wash them thoroughly as they are so dirty. Cut off the stem and then open up the leaves.
The best way to wash them is to submerge them in water in your sink and let the dirt fall to the bottom. You’ll see how much dirt there is when you remove the leaves. After that I drain the sink and wash it properly, I submerge it a second time just in case. You don’t want gritty spinach.
It is also very important that you remove as much water from the spinach as possible after you cook it. Watery spinach will ruin this dish. See instructions below on exactly how to dry it out, which is exactly what we also did with our Korean spinach side dish – sigeumchi namul (시금치나물).
Sesame oil: Sesame is incredibly pungent and you don’t need too much as otherwise it can be overpowering.
Thankfully you can buy sesame oil in small bottles if it’s not an oil you use regularly. It’s also perfect for cooking Asian stir fries. Add a little with regular oil for extra flavour.
If you prefer Korean sesame oil, that’s great too. You can also use them in our Korean steamed eggplant side dish – gaji namul (가지 나물) and Korean zucchini side dish – hobak bokkeum (호박 볶음).
Furikake: Any furikake will work for this recipe so just select your favourite one. If you have never had furikake before, read the ingredients to see which combination you think you may like best. Avoid bonito flakes if you don’t eat fish or looking for a vegan or vegetarian option.
You can find Furikake in the Asian section of your supermarket and it either comes in a jar like a spice or in small packets.
Salt: The spinach needs a good amount of salt and works so well with the aromatic sesame oil.
Step by step instructions for how to make Chinese squash and spinach rolls:
How to Prepare Chinese Squash
Prepare your steamer and boil the water.
Peel the Chinese squash. Then using a wide peeler, make long wide ribbons all around the melon, avoiding the seeds. Try to get them as wide as possible. But if you can’t, you can always use 2 thin strips side by side to make a wider strip.
Steam Chinese squash strips for 2 minutes, place in cold water to stop the cooking process and set aside to dry on paper towels. It is very important that they are completely dry before using.
How to Prepare the Rest of the Side Dish
Bring a medium-sized saucepan of water to the boil.
Cut the stem off the spinach and wash thoroughly.
Blanch the spinach in the boiling water until cooked. Drain, and place in cold water to stop the cooking process.
Pick up spinach in small handfuls, and between the palm of your hands, squeeze them tightly to remove as much water as possible.
In a small mixing bowl, add the spinach, sesame oil and salt and mix until well combined.
Lay the strip of Chinese squash flat. Place a small amount of spinach on one end of the strip.
Then roll it to the top.
Then place it standing on your platter. Continue until you have finished the vegetables.
Drizzle some sesame oil around the platter.
Sprinkle on top with furikake.
Variations and Substitutions
Chinese squash substitute: If you can’t find Chinese squash, there are quite a few different substitutes. The best replacement would be the winter melon. You can use the leftovers to make soup.
Otherwise, you can just use zucchini or cucumber. Up to you if you wish to steam the zucchini to take the raw edge off but the cucumber certainly doesn’t need to be steamed.
Spinach leaf alternative: You can use baby spinach leaves if you don’t wish to fuss with the cleaning of the spinach. You’ll need to get 4 times the amount as they will wilt to a quarter of the quantity after it’s been cooked.
Vegan option: There are many different types of furikake and some of them come with bonito flakes, which was used for this recipe.
To make a vegan version of this Asian side dish, select the furikake without the fish flakes. The packaging will unlikely state that it is vegan or vegetarian so just read the ingredients.
How to Make This Salad Perfectly [Expert Tips]
Perfect Chinese squash strips: To get the nice long wide strips of Chinese squash, use a wide vegetable peeler. Also, lay the Chinese squash on a flat surface and place the pressure down.
This gives it more stability compared to holding the Chinese squash with one hand while your other hand is doing the peeling.
Uneven strips: If you’re getting uneven strips, don’t fret. You can “cheat”.
For strips that are too short, place one strip on a flat surface and then overlap the second strip on the top end. As you roll the spinach, you’ll effectively be rolling the length of 2 strips. It always ends up looking pretty good!
For strips that are too thin, you can place 2 strips together side by side with a slight overlap to make a wider strip.
Keep it dry: There is a lot of water content in this recipe. This comes from the steaming of the Chinese squash strips as well as from boiling the spinach. To ensure this Chinese squash recipe doesn’t end up in a soggy mess, they must be dried.
Lay the Chinese squash strips on paper towels and pat dry. Squeeze the spinach between the palms of your hands until no more water can be extracted.
Great Mains for This Side Dish
What to serve with Chinese squash and spinach rolls? Try these delicious main dish recipes:
The best thing about these Chinese squash and spinach rolls is that it makes for a great Asian dish for any Asian cuisine. For something familiar, this pad Thai recipe is all you’ll need.
Frequently Asked Questions
There are many ways to cook Chinese squashes. A popular way to cook them is in Asian stir fries. Peel the Chinese squash and cut them into large wheels, cubes or big matchsticks.
The seeds are edible and easy to digest so there is no need to remove them. Stir fry them with shrimp, any protein or with other vegetables like broccoli, cabbage or carrots, to name a few.
Chinese squashes are also fantastic in Chinese broths and soups. Peel them and then cut them up into large pieces and allow them to cook in the stock until they become really soft.
They add to the sweetness of the soup while also having the ability to soak up the flavours of the other ingredients making the Chinese squash delicious to eat.
A less popular way of consuming Chinese squash is perhaps in salads and sides. You can steam or fry them and can be eaten cold. Adding Asian-inspired dressing such as our
Palm Sugar and Fish Sauce Dressing or Chilli Tamarind Dressing would make for a great Chinese squash recipe.
You can make your own furikake at home if you’re after a smaller batch or perhaps you want to try different combinations that you can’t find in the shops. The base of furikake seasoning is nori (dried seaweed), sesame seeds, salt and sugar.
If you’d like to try different flavours, you can start by including ingredients such as kelp powder, bonito flakes, dried shrimp flakes, chilli powder, matcha powder, miso powder, dried perilla leaves and much more.
Always add the flavouring agents by the small teaspoons until you get the right combination that will suit your palate.
Yes, you can make these spinach rolls ahead of time as the dish is at room temperature. You can roll the spinach in the Chinese squash and then assemble only when ready to eat.
If the rolls are coming undone, you can pierce toothpicks through the middle to hold them together. Sprinkle the furikake only when ready to eat as otherwise they will lose their crunch.
How gorgeous do they look and who would believe that it was much simpler to make than you thought.
This Asian side dish would also make for great appetisers as you can serve them around and guests can help themselves while standing. Either, enjoy this Chinese squash side dish! It’s a winner!
Chinese Squash and Spinach Rolls
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- Prepare your steamer and boil the water.
- Peel the Chinese squash. Then using a wide peeler, make long wide ribbons all around the melon, avoiding the seeds. Try to get them as wide as possible. But if you can’t, you can always use 2 thin strips side by side to make a wider strip.Steam Chinese squash strips for 2 minutes, place in cold water to stop the cooking process and set aside to dry on paper towels. It is very important that they are completely dry before using.
- Bring a medium-sized saucepan of water to the boil.
- Cut the stem off the spinach and wash thoroughly. Blanch the spinach in the boiling water until cooked. Drain, and place in cold water to stop the cooking process. Pick up spinach in small handfuls, and between the palm of your hands, squeeze them tightly to remove as much water as possible.
- In a small mixing bowl, add the spinach, sesame oil and salt and mix until well combined.
- Lay the strip of Chinese squash flat. Place a small amount of spinach on one end of the strip and roll it to the top. Then place it standing on your platter. Continue until you have finished the vegetables.
- Drizzle some sesame oil around the platter.
- Sprinkle on top with furikake.
- If you can’t find Chinese squash, there are quite a few different substitutes. The best replacement would be the winter melon. You can use the leftovers to make soup. Otherwise, you can just use zucchini or cucumber. Up to you if you wish to steam the zucchini to take the raw edge off but the cucumber certainly doesn’t need to be steamed.
- You can use baby spinach leaves if you don’t wish to fuss with the cleaning of the spinach. You’ll need to get 4 times the amount as they will wilt to a quarter of the quantity after it’s been cooked.
- Any furikake will work for this recipe so just select your favourite one. If you have never had furikake before, read the ingredients to see which combination you think you may like best. You can find furikake in the Asian section of your supermarket, and it either comes in a jar like a spice or in small packets.
*Disclaimer: Nutritional information provided is an estimate only and generated by an online calculator.
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