The land of the Rising Sun, a beautiful island in Eastern Asia bordered by the Pacific, at the end of the Silk Road. Welcome to Japan for its famous kinpira gobo (うんぴらぼぼぼう in Japanese), one of the most typical dishes of the New Year.
What is kinpira?
Kinpira (金平 or んぴ) is a Japanese cooking style that can be summarized as the technique of “sautéing and then simmering”. In short, kinpira means “double cooking” in Japanese.
Kinpira is commonly used to cook root vegetables such as carrots, lotus root, seaweeds such as arame and hijiki, and gobo that I will talk about today. This method is also used for other foods, such as tofu, wheat gluten (namafu), and meat (chicken, pork, beef).
Kinpira requires the use of soy sauce, mirin, and crushed dried pepper.
This technique is quite similar to the braising technique of French cuisine. In both cooking methods, the food is first sautéed in a hot fat, then a liquid is added, which evaporates slowly as the ingredients cook. Kinpira is best known as a way of preparing gobo, this delicious root.
What is gobo?
The name is certainly curious, but gobo is just the root of the burdock, a plant that botanically belongs to the Asteraceae family.
With a delicate flavor between salsify and artichoke, with a mushroom aroma, gobo is not its only name. This root has multiple names just as curious as the first. It is also known as “greater burdock”, “edible burdock”, “lappa”, “beggar’s buttons”, “thorny burr”, or “happy major”.
Gobo is present in many traditional Japanese recipes. The burdock, whose gobo is the root, is very resistant to all temperatures and would originate from the frost of Siberia. But it is in Japan that it has been cultivated for millennia: the roots are generally eradicated in the autumn and put to dry during the winter, they are thin and can measure up to 10 feet. They have a rather compact consistency and are dark in color, but with a white pulp.
Burdock also grows in the fascinating valleys of the Himalayas, Tibet and the provinces of Xinjiang and Ningxia in China.
Among the recipes that use the gobo, kinpira gobo is the most famous.
But gobo is also present in other recipes and is a typical ingredient of home cooking, especially at the beginning of the new year.
The uses and benefits of gobo
The leaves and roots of this plant have been used in traditional medicine for centuries for the many medicinal characteristics that have always been attributed to it: it seems to be purifying for blood, fungicide and antibacterial, laxative and diuretic. In ancient times, it was even considered a cure for infertility and snake bites.
Nowadays, burdock is still used for its recognized cleansing properties and for the treatment of many skin problems. Very present in Chinese medicine, it is found in various herbal products.
Burdock contains potassium, magnesium and vitamin B, that is so valuable for the proper functioning of our body. That said, gobo certainly deserves a place in our kitchens, not only because it is nutritious and has purifying, draining and antiseptic characteristics but also because it is good! The kinpira combination of gobo with carrots is delicious.
What does gobo taste like?
In terms of flavor, some would say that gobo is halfway between salsify and artichoke, others would say between parsnip and Jerusalem artichoke.
Like them, its flesh is white but a little more fibrous. Before preparing it, it is recommended to soak it about ten minutes, to remove a sometimes strong earthy taste.
In France, gobo is prepared like asparagus. In other countries, it is a substitute for potatoes and is used for cooking soups and pies.
Here are two secret recipes based on this plant to make full use of its benefits:
For internal use
For internal use, it is mainly the seeds and roots that are used. An infusion of dried burdock root helps the body get rid of toxins and helps maintain a beautiful skin.
For external use
– Fresh leaves crushed and applied to the skin, in the manner of a poultice, are effective against cutaneous affections.
The leaves also soothe insect bites and especially those of spiders.
– It’s one of the best plants to make a facial steam.
– For our dear teenagers, burdock leaves are recommended for the care of acne skin, they also regulate oily skin and soothe irritated skin.
– An infusion of burdock leaves helps fight against dandruff and hair loss.
How to make kinpira gobo?
To make kinpira gobo, you have to cut it. To cut it, people use a special cutting technique called sasagaki, a kind of julienne Japanese version.
In Japanese cuisine, cutting food is fundamental. It is a real art that only real chefs can master naturally, accompanied by an equally elitist tradition of Japanese cutlery. In fact, for Japanese chefs, knives are almost sacred tools.
What are the different cutting techniques in Japanese cuisine?
- Purautawā, diced.
- Hangetsu-giri, mezzelune cut.
- Sainome-giri, another type of diced cut.
- Sen-giri, of striped shape.
- Tanzaku-giri, sticks.
- Wa-giri, sliced.
- Hyōshigi, rectangular or square.
- Katsura muki, threads.
- Hanagata-giri, flower-shaped.
- Miki tour, a cut that consists of cutting a vegetable, like a carrot, into sticks, then reducing it to tiny pieces.
- Sen tour, another variant of the julienne.
- Sasagaki, julienne.
The motto in Japanese cooking is harmony. The harmony of shapes and colors but also the beauty and satisfaction of the aesthetic sense.
If, for the Westerners, cooking aims above all to satisfy the taste, among the Japanese, vision is the first sense at the table. What is thought to be tasted, is thought to be tasted first by the eyes. The dish is a small work of art that must answer to precise rules of harmony and grace, and often precisely thanks to these cutting techniques as well as beautiful color combinations and balanced shapes.
You will notice that when dishes are served in a Japanese restaurant, the eye is immediately attracted by the geometries of the food and dishes, the regular and neat disposition of each piece of sushi and sashimi or even California rolls for example and even the study of colors leaves nothing to chance.
Try the kinpira gobo, you will not regret it!
- 2 gobo root (Great Burdock root)
- 2 carrots
- 2 tablespoons mirin (or a mixture of sake, water and sugar)
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 4 tablespoons soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons sesame oil
- 1 tablespoon dried chili flakes (optional)
- Peel gobo root with a peeler. Cut 2-inch long sections. Cut them in matchsticks of about ⅛-inch thick.
- Immerse them in water for 30 minutes to slightly soften and remove the oxidation. For those in a hurry, it is possible to immerse them in water for a few minutes, change the water and re-soak for a few minutes.
- Meanwhile, peel the carrots and cut into matchsticks also the same length and thickness.
- Heat the sesame oil in a wok or large skillet over high heat.
- When the oil is hot, add the gobo root and carrots. Toss to coat.
- Add the dried chili flakes (optional).
- Add the sugar, mirin (or sake with vinegar rice), soy sauce. Cook for 2 minutes over medium heat.
- Then add ½ cup of water and stir. Cook until liquid is evaporated.
- Check gobo and carrot. If they are still crunchy, continue to cook, adding a little water and soy sauce.