Feb 6, 2014

Burdock Root

3 - 2 1/2 foot burdock roots grown in Hawaii,
cost $4.89 per pound. Weight 1.20 pounds
from Friendly Market here on Moloka'i.
Winter is considered the season for root vegetables like parsnips, turnips, ginger, celeriac and beets. I have always been intrigued by another exotic thin root vegetable called burdock, which is a member of the thistle family. You may have seen them in Asian grocery stores. They are long (up to 3 feet), and slender, woody and they usually look dirty, like the photo to the right.

The burdock plant has been around for a long time. It is native to Siberia and northern China. Burdock grows wild along roadsides and around field boundaries throughout Britain, Europe and North America. It was brought to America in the late 1800's where it was considered to simply be a flowering weed. Today, it is grown primarily in California and Hawaii, both states with a high Asian immigrant population.

Burdock root is very popular in cooking throughout Asia, especially in Japan, Korea and Taiwan. It has a deep, earthy flavor with a unique texture, crisp and chewy. Younger roots are preferred as mature roots become fibrous and woody. It is used in soups and stews, baked as bread and cakes, shredded and simmered to make a very popular side dish called kimpira gobō in Japan, pickled and wrapped into sushi rolls, or fried into chips or tempura. The leaves and nettles of the burdock plant are best used as a tea. Check out this interesting website called "Eat Weeds" that shows the harvesting of burdock root and cooking it. Click here.

Cooking with Burdock: When you buy fresh burdock root (in natural food stores, Oriental markets, and some supermarkets), look for firm, unbroken roots with taut skin. Slender roots tend to be more tender and less fibrous than thick ones. Avoid floppy roots or dry, brittle ones with wrinkled skins. 

To prepare, scrub the root thoroughly but lightly with a stiff vegetable brush and remove any rootlets. It is best not to peel burdock except for overly tough roots, since the skin contains much of the flavor and nutritional value. Burdock's whitish flesh quickly becomes dark after being sliced. To avoid discoloration and eliminate the slightly bitter taste, immediately immerse sliced burdock in cold water for about 15 minutes or until ready to use.

Since burdock combines well with oil, it is often sautéed alone or with other vegetables, or deep-fried as tempura. It is also good simmered in a seasoned broth. Burdock requires lengthy cooking. When combining it with other vegetables in sautéed or simmered dishes, be sure to add burdock first and cook until it starts to become tender before adding other ingredients.

To store burdock: Wrap burdock root in a wet paper towel and seal in a plastic bag. Refrigerate in the vegetable compartment. It will keep for several months. If the root becomes limp, soak in water until firm again.

Note: The stalks of the burdock plant can also be eaten, simply cut them before the flower is open and remove the rind. When boiled, it tastes similar in flavor to asparagus, and also make a pleasant salad, eaten raw with oil and vinegar.

Health benefits of burdock root: Chinese medicine practitioners combine burdock root with other herbs to treat measles, tonsillitis, colds and sore throat. burdock root provides plenty of health benefits, it is rich in nutrients such as proteins, vitamins (A, C, B1, E, K and folate), minerals (iron, calcium, magnesium, potassium and phosphoros) and dietary fiber. It aids peristalsis of the intestines, prevents constipation and abdominal flatulence. It also enhances blood circulation, prevents high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, cerebrovascular disease and cancer. It’s also used to treat skin diseases (such as psoriasis and eczema) and burns. Burdock root oil is useful to strengthen and beautify hair by improving scalp circulation, combat hair loss and dandruff. All that and it tastes good too.
Burdock Nettles
Click on photo to view larger

Interesting note: After taking his dog for a walk one day in the early 1940s, George de Mestral, a Swiss inventor, became curious about the seeds of the burdock plant that had attached themselves to his clothes and to the dog's fur. Under a microscope, he looked closely at the hook system that the seeds use to hitchhike on passing animals aiding seed dispersal, and he realized that the same approach could be used to join other things together. The result of his studies was Velcro.

Rustic Burdock Root Stew
This healthy and economical stew is perfect for those cold winter days. Burdock root not only adds to the flavor of the stew, but adds a great texture.

Rustic Burdock Root Stew
2 tablespoons of canola oil
4 chicken thighs cut into bite-sized pieces
1 cup of spicy Portuguese sausage sliced thin
1 onion cut into large chunks
3 cups chicken stock
3/4 pound burdock root, scrubbed and cut into 1/8 inch diagonal slices
1 large carrot, peeled and rough cut
4 small potatoes cut into large chunks, leaving the skins on
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried oregano
3 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon tamari sauce, or soy sauce
3 tablespoons oyster sauce
2 tablespoons corn starch to thicken the broth
salt and black pepper to taste
1 cup frozen green peas

Heat oil in a large pot on medium high heat. Add chicken pieces and brown for about 5 minutes. Add the sausage slices and onions and continue to cook for about 10 minutes on medium heat, stirring often. Now add the chicken stock, and bring to a simmer. Add the burdock root and simmer for 15 minutes. Add the carrots, potatoes, thyme, oregano, garlic, tamari sauce, and oyster sauce. Stir and simmer for 30 minutes. Now put the corn starch in a small bowl and add a tablespoon of cold water. Mix and add the slurry to the stew. Stir for a few minutes until thickened. Taste and add salt and pepper if needed. Finally add the frozen peas and bring back to a simmer for 5 minutes. Serve with crusty bread. Makes 4 servings.

Stir-fried Kinpira Gobō 
(Gobō is the Japanese word for burdock root)
Kinpira is a very popular Japanese stir-fry dish, either served as a side dish or served over rice as a meal in itself.

1 pound burdock root (gobō), peeled and julienned
1 large carrot, peeled and julienned
canaoa oil for frying
1 tablespoon dark sesame oil
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes, or shichimi-togarashi (Japanese seasoning)
1-1/2 tablespoon tamari or soy sauce
1-1/2 teaspoons mirin (sweet rice wine)
salt and pepper
toasted white sesame seeds for garnish

Peel and cut the carrot and gobō into julienned size pieces. Soak them in a large non-reactive bowl of cold water for about 15 minutes. Drain well and wrap the carrot and gobo into a clean dish towel. Press out as much water as possible.

Heat pan or wok until hot. Add sesame oil, 1 tablespoon canola oil and pepper flakes to wok. Add burdock and carrots to pan and stir-fry for about 6 minutes stirring constantly. Add tamari, mirin and 3 tablespoons of water to wok. Toss. Lower heat and cook, covered, for 5 to 10 minutes longer depending on how crunchy you like your vegetables. Sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds before serving over rice. Makes 4 servings.

(Japanese pork soup)
Tonjiru is usually made by stewing thinly sliced pieces of pork, alongside vegetables, in dashi stock, and flavored by dissolving miso. Common additional ingredients include burdock root, konjac, seaweed, spring onions, daikon radish, carrot, tofu, potatoes, taro or sweet potatoes, and mushrooms such as shitake and shimeji.

4 ounces boneless pork, sliced
1/2 carrot, sliced
2 teaspoon grated ginger root
1/4 cup miso
1 gobō root (burdock)
2 scallions, sliced
1 quart chicken stock
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste

Peel gobō root and slice into 1 inch strips. Heat chicken stock and when it comes to boil, add pork, gobō, carrot and grated ginger root. Cook over medium heat for 5 minutes. Add Miso and salt, stirring constantly until miso is dissolved. Add scallions just before serving. Makes 4 servings. 

Asian Beef Rouladen with Burdock Root
Beef rouladen is a German dish usually consisting of bacon, onions, mustard and pickles wrapped in thinly sliced beef which is then stewed in a savory sauce (click here for the recipe). I have been making this version for years, and love it. The recipe below is the same concept, however it uses burdock root, carrots and green beans, wrapped in thinly sliced beef, and cooked with an Asian flavored broth.

10 ounces of the tender part of lean beef, thinly sliced and cut into 2" wide strips
2 medium carrots, cut into 6" long & roughly 1/4" squares
4 ounces burdock root
1/4 cup water
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon soy sauce
4 ounces green beans
2 cups water
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup water
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon sweet rice wine (Mirin)
3 tablespoons soy sauce
cornstarch for dusting meat
1 tablespoon canola oil for sauteing
4 sprigs watercress, as garnish

It is important the the beef be cut thin. The thin slices ensure the meat will be tender. I usually buy the beef already cut thin at Friendly Market here on Moloka'i.

Scrape the thin, brown skin off burdock root with the back of a knife, and cut into strips the same size as the carrots. Immediately after cutting each piece, soak in water containing 1 teaspoon vinegar for 5 minutes to prevent discoloring. Drain and rinse off vinegar.

Bring to boil 1/4 cup water containing 1 teaspoon each of sugar and soy sauce. Add carrot and burdock root, boil until done, about 5 minutes. Remove the carrots and burdock root to cool, and save the broth.

Cut tips from green beans and remove strings. Bring 2 cups water containing 1/4 teaspoon salt to a boil and blanch beans in pot without lid until tender (about 3 minutes) and drain. Cool quickly under running water and drain.

Spread thin beef slices on a chopping board and sift cornstarch lightly over the upturned part only.

Put one group of vegetables (2 each of burdock root, carrots and green beans) on the dusted side of each slice of beef, wrap and pierce with toothpick to hold the roll together while cooking. Dust outside of each roll lightly with starch.

Heat pan with 1 tablespoon oil over high heat and saute beef rolls until slightly browned all over, turning occasionally.

Add the reserved broth. When it begins to simmer, reduce heat to low and continue to saute about 5 minutes, turning rolls continuously until well flavored and well coated with sauce. Serve with rice and garnish with watercress. Makes 4 servings.

Warm Burdock Winter Salad
1 burdock root (about 8 ounces), scrubbed and trimmed, but not peeled
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons dry white wine
1/2 teaspoons salt
1 clove garlic, minced
2 teaspoons fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dried
1/4 teaspoon pepper

Cut burdock crosswise into 1/8 inch thick slices; as you work, drop burdock slices into a bowl of water with a little lemon juice or vinegar to prevent discoloration. In a medium saucepan, bring 1 quart of water and 1 tablespoon of red wine vinegar to a boil over high heat. Add burdock; return to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook 10 minutes or until burdock is tender. Drain. In a medium nonstick skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add garlic and saute 30 seconds until garlic is fragrant. Add drained burdock and cook one minute or until lightly coated. Add wine, thyme, salt, pepper, and remaining 1 tablespoon of vinegar and cook for two minutes to blend flavors. Makes 4 servings.

Fried Burdock Chips
Burdock root can be shaved into strips with a potato peeler, then fried and seasoned for a sweet and crunchy pupu (Hawaiian word for appetizer).

burdock root, thinly sliced with a potato peeler
2 parts flour
1 part corn starch or tapioca flour
canola oil
Shichimi Togarashi (Japanese seasoning)
salt and pepper

Make thin slices of the root using a vegetable peeler. Drop burdock slices into a bowl of water with a little lemon juice or vinegar to prevent discoloration for no more that 15 minutes. When ready to fry, dry slices, then dust with a mixture of flour and corn starch. fry them until crispy in oil heated to 325˚F. Remove from oil, drain and immediately sprinkle with seasonings. Use as a garnish, a side dish, or as a pupu (Hawaiian word for appetizer).

Pickled Burdock Root
Pickled Burdock Root
Click on photo to view larger
1 1/4 pounds burdock root
1/2 cup tamari sauce
3/4 cup cooking water
1/3 cup rice wine vinegar
1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup sake
3 tablespoons sugar
3 garlic cloves, sliced thinly
1/2 teaspoon chili flakes
1 2-inch piece of ginger, minced

Burdock will brown easily when peeled, to prevent that, prepare a bowl of water with a couple of tablespoons of white distilled vinegar or the juice of half a lemon. Peel the burdock root to remove outside fiber skin, then cut it into 1 inch long pieces. As you peel and cut, place the burdock pieces in the acidic water. Then cut each piece in half lengthwise and julienne them into matchstick size strips, or you can slice the roots into thin rounds, about 1/8 inch thick, placing them back into the acidic water as you go.

Place your prepared burdock into a pan and just cover with water. Boil the burdock for 15-20 minutes in water to cover, or until tender with a soft and yielding texture, sort of like cooked artichoke, (save the burdock cooking water). Pack the burdock pieces tightly in a sanitized quart canning jar.

In another pot, add the tamari sauce, saved burdock cooking water, rice wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar, sake, sugar, garlic, chili flakes and ginger. Bring the brine up to a boil for 2 minutes.

Immediately pour the hot brine over the hot burdock pieces, to cover to 1/4" from the top of the quart canning jar. Screw the canning lid on the jar tightly and let sit at room temperature for one day before refrigerating. The pickles taste best after resting in the refrigerator for at least 3 days, and will keep indefinitely in the fridge once opened. Serve as a condiment with Asian food, or whatever you like. Makes 1 quart.

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