There are many things that look more exciting than the beige stick facade of burdock roots but few have the appealing crunchiness it is prized for. Resembling a lengthier anemic carrot, it takes well to braising, retaining its crispness where other root vegetables turn mushy, and stir-frying, where its appetizing aroma is drawn out. Both cooking techniques are used in this traditional Japanese dish, serving as a good introduction to gobo cookery.
Although Kinpira is usually associated with spicy root vegetables that are stir-fried and glazed with soy sauce, sake, and sugar, its origin has little to do with culinary techniques. Kinpira originates from the name of a mythical character in musicals from feudal Japan. The dash of heat from shichimi togarashi, a bright orange spice blend containing seven ingredients, represents the hero’s strength and fortitude.
recipe adapted from Elizabeth Andoh’s Washoku: Recipes From The Japanese Home Kitchen
Stir-Fried Spicy Burdock Root
makes 4 servings as a side dish
1 medium burdock root (gobo), about half a pound
2-3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons sake
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
shichimi togarashi (Japanese 7-spice blend) or crushed red pepper flakes, to taste
white sesame seeds, toasted, for garnishing (optional)
- Shichimi togarashi is a piquant Japanese spice blend that has many variations. Red peppers, sansho peppers, dried orange peel, hemp seeds, poppy seeds, dried seaweed bits, and sesame seeds are some of the most commonly used ingredients.
- Substitute carrots, parsnips, or other crisp root vegetables for some of the burdock root.
- Avoid using a peeler when preparing burdock root — the nutrients and flavor are concentrated in the outer layers.
Rinse the burdock root under cold running water. Using a stiff brush or the back of your knife, lightly scrape the burdock root, carefully removing any rootlets and trace amounts of dirt.
Julienning the burdock root is not fun if your knife skills are as pitiful as mine so use a cutting technique where the burdock root is sharpened like a pencil to produce thin slivers.
Sasagaki cutting technique: like sharpening a pencil.
Heat the vegetable oil in a wok or skillet over high heat. Stir-fry the burdock root until slightly softer, about 3 to 5 minutes. Lower the heat to medium and add the sake, sugar, and soy sauce. Continue simmering over medium heat until the liquid is almost completely reduced to a glaze.
Add the shichimi togarashi or crushed red pepper flakes, to taste.
Serve hot or at room temperature. Sprinkle with additional shichimi togarashi and garnish with toasted white sesame seeds.