Winter is a time to get back to your roots. I’m not talking about taking up knitting or studying Yiddish or something else important and having to do with your heritage. I’m talking about root vegetables. They’re abundant — probably the only produce that’s abundant — when the ground is frozen, and they’re widely adaptable to many cooking techniques. They also claim a wide range of flavors, from spicy (horseradish) to sweet (parsnip), bitter (turnip), zesty (ginger), fresh (celeriac) and earthy (beet). One root you might have not tried, but certainly should this winter, is burdock — also known as gobo in Japan, where it is savored in this easy and pleasing snack-like dish.
Or maybe I am talking about “getting back to your roots,” because according to macrobiotic dieting, eating roots is associated with feeling more grounded, or rooted. And you just might be inspired to talk to Grandma from doing so.
It’s funny because my own Grandma and Grandpa on my mother’s side probably didn’t eat burdock root cooked as a delicacy like in this dish, but they most likely encountered the plant as a component of traditional Chinese medicine. You see, burdock has many uses, too — its woody and fibrous root can be eaten when cooked, much like a potato. But the plant has leaves and seeds and woolly burs, from which the seeds are extracted, and all are edible or medicinal in their own ways.
What a range of topics to dispel when at first I had only wanted to cook with some unfamiliar burdock root! If you’re new to cooking with it, like I am, then this recipe is surely the ticket.
sugar, rice wine, and soy sauce
You just need three things: soy sauce, sugar, and some rice wine. Simmer that root until it’s tender in this mixture, and it’s good to chill or eat right away. I don’t care if you cut it into fine matchsticks, or add some carrots to them for color. I’ve seen them sliced in wide slivers at Japanese restaurants and grocery stores (Sun Market!) like this, too, so I’m obliged to take the easiest route and do that. I did sprinkle them with some sesame seeds for serving, though, because they’re attractive (although the black sesame seeds that I had on hand may be less so).
- sugar, rice wine, and soy sauce
- unpeeled burdock roots
- So if you once thought burdock a little exotic, pick it up next time you’re at the Greenmarket, where many farmers, I’ve noticed, have been offering it over the years. Especially in the winter, when it can be a little harder to find something more “exotic” or interesting abound.
- Soy-Simmered Burdock Root (Kinpira Gobo)
- (makes 4-6 small appetizer-size portions)
- 2 burdock roots about 2 ft long x 1/2-1″ diameter
- 1 Tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 Tablespoon rice wine
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 2 Tablespoons vegetable, canola or peanut oil
- toasted sesame seeds (for garnish)
- Peel burdock root and cut into 1″ pieces lengthwise. Slice into 1/8″ slices lengthwise.
- Heat the oil in a small pot and add the burdock slices once hot. Crisp the slices for 2-3 minutes, until fragrant. Remove from oil.