Seriously Asian: Burdock Root

[Photographs: Chichi Wang]

Pictured here is burdock, a slender, brown-skinned root vegetable that grows to more than two feet in length. In markets and restaurants, pickled burdock root is often sold as an accompaniment to sushi or rice meals. But in Japanese cookery, burdock is an all-purpose vegetable that's added to stews, stir-fried, and pickled.

With a pleasantly crunchy texture, burdock has a sweet flavor that's similar to lotus root, though its taste is distinctive enough to make it worth the trouble of seeking it out and preparing it. The texture of burdock is also unique: meaty and crispy, with a certain chew that's hardier than that of most root vegetables.

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While burdock is not difficult to cook, it does require time to manage the thick layer of grit that clings to the surface. You can take off the dirt by intensive scrubbing, though doing so may still miss some of the dirt in the crevices. Instead of scrubbing, I like to peel away the skin after the root has been given a preliminary wash. Burdock also discolors easily, so keep a bowl of ice water with a splash of vinegar on hand so that all prepped and cut portions can be kept refreshed in the bowl.

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Burdock kinpira is a simple and homey dish—its richness makes it a welcome complement to meals served with rice. Strips of burdock are stir-fried in oil or fat, then simmered until softened. The only seasonings added to the dish are sake, soy sauce and sugar, but that's all that's needed to enhance the naturally sweet and complex flavor of the root.

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Burdock is also one of my favorite vegetables to pickle. You'll sometimes find pickled burdock as an accompaniment to sushi. In Japanese markets, pickled burdock comes in packages; the root is usually dyed an orange color, though the interior is naturally white. Since burdock is denser than most pickling candidates, I like to parboil the root for two minutes prior to beginning the pickling process. Though komezu, or rice vinegar, is usually used, at home you can vary the kinds of vinegar to add to your pickling mixture I like a combination of komezu and red wine vinegar, which imparts a deeper taste; sherry vinegar is also an option.

About the author: Chichi Wang took her degree in philosophy, but decided that writing about food would be much more fun than writing about Plato. She firmly believes in all things offal, the importance of reading great books, and the necessity of three-hour meals. If she were ever to get a tattoo, it would say "Fat is flavor." Visit her blog, The Offal Cook.

Seriously Asian: Burdock Root

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About This Recipe

Ingredients

  • 2 burdock roots, approximately one foot in length
  • 1 tablespoon cooking oil or fat
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon sake
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 burdock roots, approximately one foot in length
  • For the pickling brine
  • 3 tablespoons mirin
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons komezu (rice wine vinegar)
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Procedures

  1. 1

    Wash and peel the burdock root. Cut the root into 4 inch length segments, then quarter each root lengthwise. Place the prepped root in a ice water bath with a splash of vinegar as you go along.

  2. 2

    Place a saute pan over medium heat and add the oil. Saute the burdock root for 4 to 6 minutes, until the roots is lightly browned.

  3. 3

    Add the sake, soy sauce and sugar. Simmer the mixture for another 5 minutes, until the burdock is cooked through but still crispy. Serve at room temperature or cold.

  4. 4

    Pickled Burdock

  5. 5

    Wash and peel the burdock root. Cut the root into 4 inch length segments, then quarter each root lengthwise. Place the prepped root in a ice water bath with a splash of vinegar as you go along.

  6. 6

    Bring a pot of water to boil. Parboil cut and skinned segments of burdock for 2 minutes. Drain, then immediately plunge back into the ice water bath.

  7. 7

    In the meantime, combine the ingredients for the brine in a plastic bag and shake around to mix. Remove the burdock from the ice bath and place into the brine in the plastic bag. Refrigerate the bag overnight, taking care that all the pieces of burdock are immersed in the brine. You may need to weigh the bag down with something heavier in order to get an even distribution of liquid. The pickles will keep in the bag for up to a week.

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