Of all types of cuisine, Japanese is the one that intimidates me the most. Making sushi at home is out of the question for me, but even other types of Japanese cooking give me pause.  In a recent trip to California, we met a wonderful couple who takes a different approach: they are both Americans, but mostly cook Japanese food at home and are really serious about it.  Their bookshelves are loaded with cookbooks devoted to Oriental (and vegetarian) cooking, their pantry stocked with the most exotic ingredients.  They mentioned a dish they love so much that it’s not uncommon to have it twice in the same week.   It uses a strange-looking root called “gobo“, also known as “burdock“.   They gave me the perfect spice mix to season this traditional Japanese dish (see my previous post) and wished me luck finding gobo in Manhattan, KS.   I was very optimistic, though. It turns out “The Little Apple” is home to one of the most amazing food stores I’ve ever been to, called quite simply “Asian Market“.    I could not wait to get there to search for the elusive root.  Not only they had a ton of it, but the owner said it’s always in stock.   Call me a happy camper. And call this dinner one of the healthiest meals I’ve ever put together.   And very delicious too!

KINPIRA GOBO (Sautéed Burdock)
(adapted from Hiroko Urakami Japanese Family-Style Recipes)

1 medium gobo root
2 carrots
1 Tablespoon sesame oil
1/2 Tablespoon grape seed oil
2 Tablespoons mirin (or sake)
1 + 1/2 Tablespoons sugar
2 Tablespoons soy sauce
1 + 1/2 Tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted
Nanami togarashi to taste

Set up a large bowl with cold water. Peel the carrots and cut in julienne strips. Peel the outer dark skin of the gobo root, and working quickly, cut it in julienne strips.  Soak the gobo and the carrots in water for 10 to 20 minutes.  Drain well, and dry the strips using a kitchen towel.

Heat the sesame and grape seed oil on a large skillet.  Add the carrots and gobo root, and sautée them together for about 4 minutes, until they are tender.  Add the mirin, sugar, and soy sauce, and cook over medium heat until all the liquid has been absorbed.  Transfer to a serving bowl, add the sesame seeds and the nanami togarashi right before serving.


to print the recipe, click here


I have a bit of  trivia about gobo for you:  in the 40’s, a Swiss inventor called George de Mestral was walking his dog through some woods and noticed that the seeds of a particular plant glued to everything, from his clothes to his dog’s fur. He collected some seeds, and inspected them under the microscope. He was amazed by its hooks and loops, and thought that it could be the basis of a new material. From that observation, Velcro was born.  The plant was burdock. Apart from its technological impact, gobo is considered by the Japanese as one of the healthiest types of food, that they claim to “purify the blood”.   It contains a lot of minerals (including iron),  it is high in fiber, low in calories, and has a very unique taste.  The soaking in water is necessary to get rid of tannins that can give it a harsh taste.
soakingI love to find a new ingredient to play with!   Our kinpira gobo was served as a side dish for boneless chicken thighs on the grill (marinated with yogurt and a few spices), snow peas, and brown rice.  It was the type of meal that makes you feel healthier with each bite.  I hope you can find some gobo and give this recipe a try, it’s a keeper…  😉

ONE YEAR AGO: Walnut Sourdough

TWO YEARS AGO: Thai Chicken Curry

THREE YEARS AGO: Zen and the art of risotto