Burdock is a hearty biannual plant and relative to the thistle, known to most everyone because of their super sticky seed pods. Anyone with a pet dog has taken burdocks from their coat or noticed the plant growing in an empty lot.
With a very deep taproot and tenacious ways, the burdock root is best deliberately planted in a garden for easy digging. Aside from that, spring or fall are both good times to dig the burdock root. Fall dug roots are available in local natural foods markets now, and are known to be a strengthening and medicinal food. They are useful for making liver tonics as well as side dishes. The idea is that this slow growing and strong root will impart these qualities to the diner.
Often used in oriental cuisine, the hardest part of using burdock is getting them cleaned. They will need a super brisk scrub with a stiff brush and often two types of cooking techniques to soften them. I use them in a Hiziki seaweed stir fry with carrot, onion and tofu, but the julienned or shaved roots (sasagaki style, sort of like sharpening a pencil) are delicious on their own.
Here is a recipe featuring classic Japanese technique that couldn’t be easier.
image courtesy of ibelieveicanfry.com
Laura Cabot, Laura Cabot Catering, Waldoboro
Scrub several burdock roots, being careful not to take off all the skin. This is where the flavor is.
Shave the root like you would sharpen a pencil with a knife by turning the root in small increments as you shave it down. Stop at two cups of shaved root.
Choose a heavy saute pan and heat it up with a small amount of good quality oil.
Toss the burdock with a small amount of sea salt and coat with the oil, sauteing for five minutes or so. Add a dash of sake or mirin and a little soy sauce, continuing to saute. A small amount of sugar, maybe a half teaspoon, is favored by some but I omit it.
Reduce the flame and add a cup of vegetable stock. Cover with a close fitting cover and let the burdock steam until it is tender and all the liquid is absorbed. You may need to add a little more liquid.
By the time the roots are cooked you should have a tender, lightly glazed, bronzed and delicious side dish with dynamic flavor and very healthy qualities. Kinpira is a technique that means “to saute and then simmer,” which is important when using a root this hard.
I used to kill these plants, and now I seek them out for supper!
Be well with this strong winter food.
Laura Cabot is an MF&L columnist and blogger, a French trained chef with a long career as a chef/restaurant owner, and president of Laura Cabot Catering in Waldoboro.