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Growing up, every year as Halloween approached, I could feel a sense of dread creeping up on me. It wasn’t the prospect of being hunted by werewolves or getting lost in a haunted house that frightened me, though.

I was terrified that someone would give me raisins when I went trick-or-treating.

Honestly, I understand that some people don’t approve of eating nothing but candy on Halloween, and there’s a valid point in trying to balance out your diet on All Hallows’ Eve. Do you have to do it with something as soulless as raisins, though, especially when you could use our recipe to whip up some tasty and jack-‘o-lantern steamed buns instead?

Last time in the RocketKitchen, we walked you through the steps to make your very own Pikachu burger. Today, we’re once again combining our macho love of meat with our soft spot for anything cute, by putting our own spin on the Chinese-style steamed buns that Japan calls nikuman.

In the fall and winter, almost every convenience store in Japan sells nikuman, but if you don’t happen to have one close by (say, as a result of not living in Japan), you can make them yourself as long as you’ve got a frying pan with a lid. Since Halloween is just a few days away, let’s jump right into the recipe.

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Ingredients (makes four jack-‘o-lantern nikuman)

onion (1/4 or 1/2)
ground pork (100 g / 3.5 oz.)
ginger paste (2 centimeters / 0.8 inches)
cooking sake (1 tablespoon)
soy sauce (1 tablespoon)
sesame oil (1/2 tablespoon)
kabocha (50 g / 1.8 oz.)
pancake mix (150 grams / 5.3 oz.)
canola oil (2 tablespoons)

We’re going to start by getting the filling ready, then make the dough just before we wrap and cook everything. Start by dicing one-fourth of an onion.

▼ You can up this to one-half onion if you’re not planning on kissing anyone later, or if the object of your affection loves onions as much as you do.

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Place the diced onions in a bowl along with 100 grams of ground pork.

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For seasoning, we’re going to use ginger paste, which you should be able to find in most Asian supermarkets. Squeeze out a two-centimeter (0.8-inch) length to add to the mixture.

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After squeezing the ginger into the bowl, follow up by adding one tablespoon of cooking sake, one tablespoon of soy sauce, a half-tablespoon of sesame oil, and a dash of salt and pepper.

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Mix everything together with a spoon or your hands until it’s a uniform consistency. Since we’re going to be making four steamed buns, and you’ve got all the filling together right now, you might want to use the edge of a spoon to divide the bowl up into quarter slices to make sure each bun gets the same amount.

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That takes care of the filling, so now it’s time to move on to the dough. To give our nikuman some color, and as a cross-cultural Halloween tie-in, we’re going to be using kabocha, a type of squash that’s often referred to as Japanese pumpkin.

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Some markets sell kabocha pre-sliced in wedges, and one will be plenty, since our recipe doesn’t need all that much. Using a spoon, scoop out the inedible core and seeds.

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Keep on slicing until you’ve got a handful of chunks totaling 50 grams or so in weight. Place them in a bowl, cover it with plastic wrap, and stick it in the microwave for four and a half minutes.

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You can eat cooked kabocha skin, but right now, we need to separate the yellow inside from the rind, since we don’t want the skins’ color mixed in with our dough. Remove the skins with a fork or knife, but don’t throw them away, since we’re going to use them to make the jack-o’-lanterns’ faces.

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With the skin gone, you should end up with about 30 grams of kabocha left over. We’re going to come back to them in a little bit, but for now, place them aside in a bowl.

Using a kitchen or X-Acto-style crafting knife, cut out eyes, noses, and mouths for your jack-o’-lanterns from the kabocha skin.

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Now, we’re ready to mix our flour. Grab that bowl of kabocha chunks, and mash them all up with a fork.

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Into the bowl, pour one tablespoon of canola oil, plus 150 grams of pancake mix. Mix everything together, while stirring in 50 milliliters (1.7 ounces) of water.

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While you can start with a fork, eventually you’re going to knead the dough by hand, in order to get rid of any air pockets. Once you’ve done that and divided the dough into fourths, it’s time to start wrapping.

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Grab a portion of dough and flatten it out by hand. Scoop one-fourth of the filling into it, and fold the wrapping up so that it meets in the center.

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Fold up the other corners, adding a drop or two of water if necessary to seal up and stick together. To keep the dough from drying out, you’ll want to move quickly, and it’s a good idea to wrap whatever dough you’re not immediately using in plastic to keep it moist.

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You could stop here and make ordinary-looking steamed buns, but now it’s time to add the faces. Since the dough is still soft, press the facial features into the buns with your fingertips or, for better precision, the blunt end of a toothpick.

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▼ You can also add a crumb to the top to simulate the stem.

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Now, it’s finally time to cook the nikuman. Place them in a frying pan, then add one teaspoon of canola oil and 150 milliliters (5.1 ounces) of water.

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Cover the pan, and cook on high heat for four minutes, then turn down the flame for another five and a half minutes on low heat.

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▼ Our jack-o’-lantern nikuman enjoy a few minutes in the steam room before their eventual move to our stomachs.

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▼ Finished!

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Our steamed buns came out piping hot, so before taking a bite we set them out to cool for a few moments while we admired their tiny little mugs.

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The inexact nature of working with kabocha skin means each one ends up with its own individual personality. Inside, though, they all look the same: meaty and delicious.

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At about a 20-80 ratio between spooky and cute, our jack-o’-lantern steamed buns came out just about like we’d expected. If they’re not quite scary enough for you, though, you can look forward to the transformation that takes place as you eat one, when it suddenly changes into a skull nikuman, complete with a mouth-watering brain.

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Just the sort of snack to enjoy while you’re wearing your zombie costume.

Photos, video: RocketNews24