Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Gobo - Burdock root

When I was a kid I used to watch my grandmother in the kitchen preparing gobo. Standing on my toes to see above the kitchen counter, I marveled at how each scrape with a knife would slough off the dark woody bark and reveal pearly white flesh. I used to wonder how she could transform something which looked like an old stick into a sweet-tasting traditional Japanese Canadian dish.

Gobo, or burdock root, is a hardy biannual plant belonging to the chrysanthemum family. It can grow to around three or four feet tall with large pale green leaves. The edible roots are normally harvested when 12 to 18 inches long. Gobo easily grows from seed. The spring-sown seeds are ready for harvest from late summer through to autumn, and the autumn-sown varieties are overwintered and dug up the following spring or early summer. Although gobo produces flowers, it’s best to harvest it before the flowers appear, otherwise the root gets too tough.

I remember watching my dad digging up gobo from our backyard; it was always quite a workout because the taproots can extend for several feet. My father would choose sandy, loamy soil and cultivate it very deeply, making sure there were no rocks. Cultivating the sandy soil at least a foot and a half deep before planting the seeds helps make the effort of digging it out a little easier. These days gobo can easily be found in Asian grocery stores.

It’s believed that gobo was originally used in Japan for its medicinal qualities. It is a good source of dietary fibre, contains calcium and potassium and it’s low in calories. Since it can grow nearly anywhere and rarely bothered by pests, many cultures have used it over the centuries. Burdock root has been used in early Chinese medicine and it’s also been documented in Indian Ayurvedic medicines, as well as used by German and Russian herbalists. For the Iroquois in North America, burdock root was an important winter food; they dug it in the autumn, dried it, and ate it throughout the winter. Although burdock root grows wild around the world and many cultures have used it throughout the ages, it had only, until very recently, been actively cultivated by Japan as a vegetable. In that regard, it’s very likely the seeds Japanese Canadians used were brought here by the Issei (first generation) from Japan. (My father says he uses seeds given to him from a late Issei relative in our extended family.)

A popular way to cook gobo—and the way my grandmother used to prepare it—is kimpira, a sauté and simmer cooking technique often used to prepare root vegetables. When gobo is cooked this way the bitter flesh becomes nutty and sweet.

Gobo Kimpira

1 cup gobo

¼ cup carrot or one large carrot

2 tbsp vegetable oil

1 tbsp sesame oil

2 tbsp soy sauce

1 tbsp sugar

1 tbsp mirin

½ tsp dried chilli flakes or shichimi togarashi

To prepare the gobo you can scrape off the bark with a knife but I use a vegetable peeler to take the bark off, it’s quicker and safer. If the gobo skin is thin you can also clean it by using a coarse vegetable brush. Cut the gobo into thick matchsticks. Immediately soak the cut and cleaned gobo in cold water to prevent it from turning grey. Cut the carrot into matchsticks.

Heat a wok or skillet over medium heat. Add the vegetable oil and add the drained gobo. After a few minutes add the carrots, shoyu, sugar, mirin and continue to cook over medium heat until most of the liquid has evaporated. Sprinkle on the sesame oil, chili flakes, or shichimi togarashi. Gobo kimpira can be served hot or cold.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Cambodian beef lok lak

One of the best meals I had during my trip to Southeast Asia was Cambodian beef lok lak. I enjoyed this dish while I was in Siem Reap, where the amazing temples of Angkor Wot are located.
Cambodian beef lok lak (or loc lac) consists of stir-fried cubes of beef in a spicy lime marinade served with a fried egg and rice. This was a hearty and satisfying meal to enjoy after a long day scrambling around the temples in the steaming jungle. Chow has a good recipe for it here.

Siem Reap is a magical place. I was surprised at the number of tourists there and I was particularly surprised at the Las Vegas-style hotels being constructed along the road to the airport. The tourism industry is booming there, according to the latest statistics.

I have to confess that during my trip to Southeast Asia I didn't partake in a lot of the streetfood. I was worried about getting sick and--sure enough--I did get sick one evening while I was in Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City. But I've recently came across a short article, How to Eat Street Food Without Ruining the Trip, that contains some good tips.

Coming up: I have a few more posts to make about my trip to Southeast Asia once I've sorted through my photos. I also just got back from a trip to Portland, Oregon, and the International Pinot Noir Festival in McMinnville, so expect to see a report on that.