Braised Gobo (or Kin pira Gobo, kinpira)
One of our favorite Japanese vegetables is gobo, the long, narrow root of the Great Burdock (Arctium lappa), which was initially domesticated in northern China. Although its current use in China is primarily as a medicinal plant, it is still regularly eaten as a vegetable in Japan. Its 1 inch diameter roots grow up to a yard long in rich, loose soils, and are crisp with a mild flavor. The roots should be soaked in water for 15 minutes to remove compounds that will give it a harsh taste. In the following recipe, julienned gobo strips are further blanched in boiling water to remove even more of this compound.
FOR MORE ABOUT BENTO AND ITS COMMON RECIPES, SEE JAPANESE BENTO.
• Two 18-inch gobo roots
• 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
• 2-1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
• 2 tablespoons sake
• 1 tablespoon mirin
• 2-1/2 tablespoons sugar
• 3 tablespoons shītake dashi
• 1/2 teaspoon sichimi togarashi (7-spice powder)
• 1 tablespoon roasted sesame seeds
1. Peel gobo and cut into 3-inch-long sections. Place into a bowl of water. Let soak for 15 to 30 minutes.
2. Cut each section into matchsticks, and return to the bowl of water.
3. Heat 4 cups of water to a rolling boil and cook the cut gobo for 5 minutes. Drain.
4. In a large skillet, heat vegetable oil over high heat until almost smoking. Add the drained, blanched gobo and stir-fry for 2 minutes.
5. Add in the soy sauce, sake, mirin, sugar, and shītake dashi. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the liquid has almost completely evaporated. Remove from heat.
6. Mix in the sichimi togarashi, and place in a serving bowl. Garnish with sesame seeds.
Notes: While we usually do not opt for pre-made spice mixes, we make an exception for sichimi togarashi, simply because it calls for dried tangerine peel and sansho pepper that are much more difficult to obtain than the perfectly adequate premixed sichimi available at any Japanese or Korean market.
If you want to try growing your own gobo, remember that it is a heavy nitrogen feeder and will need deep loose soils. You should likely consider double-digging your bed to make sure there is plenty of loose soil for the roots to grow into. Also, remember that it can become a noxious weed so you’ll want to make sure that you harvest it before it sets seed.
Jeff Nekola has a PhD in Ecology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and has a passion for biodiversity in its many forms, whether it be plants, butterflies, and land snails in the wild or crops grown in gardens, orchards and fields, or the use of those foods as expressed by the entire range of humanity's cuisines. You can learn more here.
Linda Fey's first and finest childhood memories are of helping her mother and grandmother in the garden and then bringing in freshly picked produce to the dinner table. As an adult, she has over 20 years of experience in market gardening and teaches middle-school English at the Albuquerque Institute for Math and Science. Visit www.LindaFey.com to view her writing about food and life.