What ingredient do all these bento have in common? (Hint: it’s brown and covered in sesame seeds!)
My current culinary projects are still both in the works, so I thought I’d share a recipe today.
Back in my early exchange student days, meals were a source of anxiety. With limited language ability and almost no prior knowledge of Japanese cuisine, not only did I never know what I was going to have to eat, but I was often none the more knowledgeable after eating it. This was the family that gave me natto without so much as a cautionary disclaimer – they didn’t usually explain what something was, and I wasn’t usually conversational enough to ask. It took me a long time before I started to recognize the dishes that my host mom made often, and even longer (sometimes many years, in fact) before I actually learned their names.
Kinpira gobo (金平ごぼう) was one dish that I learned to recongize early on. Gobo (burdock root), a readily available vegetable year round (but particularly good in the fall), is simmered in soy sauce, sake and mirin or sugar, then finally sauteed to give it a browned, almost caramelized appearance. I had no idea what the earthy vegetable was, but I knew right away that this was something to look forward to for many meals to come.
Kinpira gobo is a great side dish at dinner, and I now make it pretty regularly to use in bento. Because cleaning and slicing the vegetables is kind of a big job (and because it’s usually cheaper to buy more than one burdock root at once), I usually make a lot in one go. The finished product keeps for a long time in the refridgerator, and even longer in the freezer if you seal it well.
The word kinpira actually describes the method of cooking, so there are many other things that can be prepared this way. Lotus root is another common vegetable, but celery, seaweed, konnyaku, and even meat and fu can be kinpira-ed. Try a variety of different ingredients! Incidentally, for those of you who don’t live in Japan, burdock root may not be common in your grocery store, but it’s definitely available stateside. I used to buy it at Corners of the Mouth, our local health food store. Keep an eye on your produce section – burdock makes a unique addition to soups and stir fries as well as kinpira.
Burdock and Carrot Kinpira
- 1 medium sized burdock root (gobou, ごぼう） (about 18 inches long)
- 1 carrot （ninjin, 人参）
- 1 tablespoon sesame oil （goma abura, ごま油）
- 1 dried spicy pepper, such as tougarashi (唐辛子)
- 1 teaspoon sugar （satou, 砂糖）
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce (shoyu, 醤油)
- 2 tablespoons cooking sake (ryori shu, 料理酒)
- 2 tablespoons sesame seeds (goma, ごま)
- Scrub the burdock root thoroughly, preferably with a vegetable scrubber, to remove all dirt.
- Using a knife (or a mandoline, if you’re lucky enough to own one) slice the burdock root and carrot into long, thin (julienne) slices. Discard any sections of the burdock root that are black or pourous/woody.
- Soak burdock root in plenty of water for at least ten mintues.
- Split pepper in half lengthwise. Remove seeds and stem.
- Combine sugar, soy sauce and sake in a small bowl, and set aside.
- Drain burdock root thoroughly. Over medium heat, sautee burdock root and carrot in sesame oil for about 2 minutes.
- When vegetables begin to soften, turn stove to low and add soy sauce mixture. Simmer over low heat until all liquid is gone, stirring occasionally.
- Remove from heat. Add sesame seeds and stir.
- Unless you’re a masochist or want to scare your guests away, remove hot pepper before serving.