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


  1. What a great post Sally – I had no idea Velcro was born from burdock. Love learning about these things… I blog with a couple of Japanese home cooks and I am always being opened up to new ingredients and ideas. I think it’s great and if you don’t take it too seriously, there’s very little downside to trying these things. Good ol’ fashion trial and error ;-). This dish looks fantastic and quite right, Japanese cuisine is amongst the healthiest out there!


    • Trial and error is they key indeed… must not worry too much about boo=boos along the way. As they say regarding bread baking: it’s just flour and water, no need to be too paranoid about it ;0)


  2. I will look for gobo but I doubt I will be able to find it here. Still I am always happy to learn about a new ingredient 🙂
    If it is any consolation, Japanese food intimidates me too! I have bought the ingredients for sushi one time too many only to chicken out at the last minute


    • Amazing how some cuisines can seem tricky, even in their simple recipes. I tell you one thing that intimidates me a lot: Persian rice. I only had it in restaurants and keep flirting with the idea to make it at home… seems very very tricky


  3. I don’t know about the flavour of the burdock (the sauce ingredients are all tasty and I’ve marinated fishing in a similar mixture) but I have to say that presentation is very attractive.


  4. Look at you, Sally. Turning Japanese! (Now I’ll never get that song out of my head.) I’ll admit it. I’m intimidated by Japanese cooking. This dish, though, looks relatively doable. I’m sure I can find the gobo root and nanami togarashi. I just need to remember where I left my courage the last time I decided to try to cook Thai. I think it would be good here, too. 😉


    • Sally Turning Japanese – that’s got potential! 😉

      I don’t think you need much courage, John… anyone who makes pasta from scratch and the type of concoctions you blog about, will cook ANYTHING with a big smile!


  5. I’m going to have to head to chinatown this weekend to try to find this root! I’ve heard of it but have never tasted it. Love your kitchen experimentation! And should you come to visit me in NYC I will show you how to make sushi! It’s really not that hard!


    • Oh, my! I cannot think of anything better than learning sushi from you in NYC! sounds like a dream…. where do I sign? Do I have to give a seminar? Is your department interested in iron? 😉


  6. Hi Sally! Wow! What a beautiful dish. I also get intimidated by cooking certain foods. We’re experimenting with an Asian recipe tonight…I hope it turns out as well as this did for you! Thank you for sharing, as always! I hope you have a bright end to your week!


  7. You know we always love to try new ingredients too. This sounds like a fun one. And anything with sesame oil. I drool just thinking about it. Mr. N would too. 🙂


    • Sesame oil is an interesting ingredient, isn’t it? I had to kind of warm up to it a little. At first, I thought its taste was too overwhelming. LIke a friend who talks too much, maybe… But then, if you allow its personality to shine and forget the excesses, you can really appreciate it… 😉


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