Itadakimasu! – きんぴらごぼう Kinpira Gobo
きんぴらごぼう Kinpira Gobo is yet another classic dish in traditional Japanese home-styled cooking. But unlike Daikon no Soboroni, many of us have actually eaten Kinpira Gobo before without realising it. It is often used as a side-dish filler in takeaway bentos from Japanese delis and depachikas, most notable for the crunch from the root vegetables used. Sometimes written in Kanji as “金平牛蒡” Kinpira Gobo is a very versatile dish which can be improvised for other root vegetables like 蓮根 renkon (lotus root), 大根 daikon (white radish) or just 人参 ninjin (carrots) on their own. And yes! the Japanese name for carrots is the same as the korean and chinese name for ginseng!
Kinpira in modern context is a culinary term in Japanese cuisine to mean “saute and simmer”. The vegetables are first given a quick stir-fry, usually with light sesame oil before being boiled down over dashi stock. The dish is actually named after a character in Japanese folklore, Kinpira (金平) who was the son of Kintaro （金太郎) known to exhibit superhuman strength, whose acts of bravery are being portrayed in traditional Japanese art forms i.e. musical dramas like Noh (能) and Kabuki (歌舞伎) or traditional story-telling like Joruri (浄瑠璃). It is in hope that through eating this dish, one’s children could grown up to be as strong and brave like Kinpira. That’s every mother’s wish at least…
As with many of such Japanese home-cooked dishes, simplicity is of utmost importance, requiring few steps and calling for only a handful of ingredients. But flavour is in no way compromised. The dish first requires the root vegetables to be julienned into match-stick like strips. Burdock a root vegetable which is available at our local supermarkets and markets in Singapore, though I must say that it is often neglected. Choose young burdock whenever possible as the larger and older ones may be too fibrous for one’s taste and sometimes, the insides have already become so fibrous that it’s dried out. That said, if burdock is not available at your local grocers, you can also substitute it with other root and hardy vegetables like lotus root and daikon as mentioned above.
Sometimes the burdock root can come with quite a bit of dirt and soil on it, so it is important to scrub the exterior throughly. For young roots, the skin is thin and could be eaten as it is but with thicker and more matured roots, one may wish to remove the skin with a vegetable peeler. The processing of the vegetable has to be done swiftly or the interior would brown very rapidly due to enzymatic reactions that occur when it comes into contact with oxygen in air, not unlike other vegetables and fruit like brinjal/egg plant, apples and bananas. The strips of burdock have to be soaked in water which had been added with a bit of salt and vinegar. Change the soaking water once it turns brown from the substances leached from the burdock until the burdock strips turn a pale creamy white and the soaking water stopped darkening. So if you can watch and take note of this little step to handle burdock, you are ready to make some Kinpira Gobo!
きんぴらごぼう Kinpira Gobo Recipe (serves 3-4) adapted from here
1 burdock root
1 medium carrot
1 dried red chilli
1 tbsp light sesame oil
1 tbsp toasted white sesame seeds
1 cup of dashi stock
Seasoning (all mixed in a small bowl)
1 tbsp mirin
1 tbsp cooking sake
1 tbsp sugar
1-2 tbsp Japanese soya sauce (adjust to level of saltiness and colour desired)
Peel burdock and julienne finely into match-stick thick strips. Soak in a large bowl of water with a small pinch of salt and ½ tsp vinegar. Change the soaking water once it turns brown and repeat process until water stays clear and burdock strips are pale and creamy coloured. Keep burdock strips soaked until ready to cook.
Peel carrot and julienne finely like burdock
Julienne or snip dried chilli very very finely into long strips.
Heat sesame oil to a frying pan/wok over medium-high until fragrant.
Once ready to use, quickly drain burdock with a sieve or colander, rinse under running tap water for a few second, drain again and add to wok. Stir-fry for 1 min or so.
Add carrot strips and dried chilli strips, mix with burdock and continue to stir fry for another min or so.
Add seasoning mixture and stir-fry until the ingredients are uniformly coloured.
Add dashi stock and simmer until most of the liquids have evaporated leaving the ingredients coated with a glossy sauce.