culinary adventures: kinpira gobo (braised burdock root)

Those of us who grew up in rural areas know burdock primarily as that annoying plant whose seed pods stick to clothes and/or hair.
photo from herbalremediesinfo.com
The burrs get to about the size of a walnut and stick toe everything--even skin. They don't hurt, but, especially as they age, they take forever to work out of clothes. The plants have huge leaves and an earthy smell.

What most of us don't know about burdock, however, is that it has been used in various types of herbal medicine as a detoxifying herb, and its oil contains nutrients that help with scalp and hair health. According to Wikipedia, burdock was also the inspiration for Velcro (which, if you've ever studied one of the burrs, makes perfect sense).

And what I didn't know about Burdock until a couple years ago is that the root of the burdock plant is a common ingredient in Asian cuisine! Chinese, Korean, and Japanese cuisine all have recipes for burdock root. Our local coop (as well as Whole Foods) carries burdock root from time to time, and I took it upon myself to try it.
"We are ugly roots but we are tasty!"
Burdock root is like the wild rice of root vegetables--it's earthier and darker tasting than its cousins. You can use it in stews and stir fries, and really, anywhere you'd use assorted root vegetables. For my first burdock experience, however, I wanted something really simple, so I'd get a full sense of the flavor and texture burdock root could lend to a dish. I read up on burdock root online to find a simple way to prepare it, and in the course of my research I discovered that when exposed to air, the burdock root browns quickly and its taste changes. So it's best, as soon as you chop it, to soak it in a bowl of water for a while before cooking with it. Otherwise, sources say, it will end up tasting "muddy." I did not want a muddy dish!

Kinpira gobo is a traditional Japanese dish. It's base components are julienned (or very thinly sliced) burdock and carrot sauteed in oil, then simmered in soy sauce, and, optionally, sprinkled with sesame seeds. Variations include the addition of sesame oil, mirin, red pepper flakes, and/or sugar. Again, I wanted this to be as simple as possible, so I used Christina Pirello's Kinpira recipe from Cooking the Whole Foods Way, but next time I would definitely add some mirin and sugar to create a bit of a teriyaki glaze when the liquid cooks down. Because burdock root and the flavors in this recipe are prominent in a variety of Asian cuisines, you can use it as a side dish for any stir fry-type meal.
Kinpira Gobo (bottom left) served with rice and tofu
Kinpira Gobo, adapted from Cooking the Whole Foods Way
Serves 4 as a side dish

2 medium burdock roots
2 medium carrots
1-2 Tbsp vegetable oil
2 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp toasted sesame oil
1 Tbsp sugar (optional)
1 Tbsp mirin (optional)
Sesame seeds, for sprinkling on top (optional)

First, get a medium-sized bowl and fill it with water. Then, peel the burdock root (like you would a carrot), and either julienne or slice it thinly. Submerge the chopped burdock root in the water while you chop the carrots. Chop the carrots however you chopped the burdockr oot, so the pieces match.

Heat the vegetable oil in a wok or skillet over medium-high heat. (Use 1 Tbsp with a wok, maybe more if you have a wide skillet). Drain the burdock root and toss it in the skillet. Make sure it all gets some oil on it, stir for 3-5 minutes, until they seem to soften a little, then add the carrots, and stir them for about 3-5 minutes, until they too appear to have softened. Then add the soy sauce, sesame oil, and any of the optional ingredients you choose to use, and continue to stir fry until the liquid in the pan is mostly gone and the vegetables have a slight glaze. Remove from heat, sprinkle with sesame seeds, and serve!

This is the only recipe for which I've tried burdock, but I will definitely use it again; our co-op has it fairly regularly. Let me know if you have any burdock recipes or recommendations for how to use it!


panda with cookie said... Best Blogger Tips

I sometimes see burdock and never know what to do with it. I will bookmark this. Thanks!

affectioknit said... Best Blogger Tips

Burdock root sounds wonderful! I've never seen it in our health food store - but I'll be going in early January (it's 90 miles away) - and I'll definitely be lookinng for some!