Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Kinpira gobo (with vegetable ribbon "meatballs")

This was a lot of fun to research. I still have several of these gnarly brown roots around—it seems like they will last for weeks in the refrigerator. Apparently, besides being a key vegetable in the Japanese repertoire, burdock root is beloved of herbalists, co-operative farmers, and foragers worldwide. And—how thrilling!—I had taken a picture of burdock flowers growing wild by the roadside back in July without knowing what they were:

According to Wikipedia, "Burdock is any of a group of biennial thistles in the genus Arctium, family Asteraceae. Native to the Old World, several species have been widely introduced worldwide…The taproot of young burdock plants can be harvested and eaten as a root vegetable. While generally out of favour in modern European cuisine, it remains popular in Asia, particularly in Japan where A. lappa (Greater burdock) is called gobō (牛蒡 or ゴボウ). Plants are cultivated for their slender roots, which can grow about 1 metre long and 2 cm across. Burdock root is very crisp and has a sweet, mild, and pungent flavour with a little muddy harshness that can be reduced by soaking julienne/shredded roots in water for five to ten minutes." Google "burdock root" or "burdock root recipes" for an entertaining and enlightening hour of reading.

Most of the culinary sites agree with what I said in my nishime post, that despite its rather unpromising appearance, burdock is quite pleasant both to work with and to eat. One thing I apparently did wrong was to use a vegetable peeler to peel the root; important nutrients, so the sources say, are concentrated near the outer layers, so you should use a brush instead.

The recipe I chose, from many that are available online, was this one.

Kinpira gobo
Serves 4 as a side dish

1/2 lb burdock root
1/4 lb carrot
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons mirin
1 tablespoon sake (don't substitute)
1 teaspoon sesame seed
1 tablespoon vegetable oil

Peel the burdock root and julienne it into matchstick-sized pieces; soak the burdock matchsticks in water for 30 minutes and drain well.

While the burdock is soaking, peel the carrot and julienne it into matchsticks of a similar size to the burdock root sticks.

Mix the sauce ingredients together and have them handy: this dish goes fast.

Heat a wok or frying pan to medium heat and, when hot, add the vegetable oil. Fry the burdock sticks for a few minutes. They're already starting to improve:

Add the carrot sticks and fry for one or two minutes longer, flipping the vegetables around constantly. You can see they're going to be good friends:

Pour in the sauce and stir well. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and chopped chives. Remove from heat and serve!

Okay, well, after all the hype, this was underwhelming. Perhaps the health benefits of gobo are such that they are now protecting me from H1N1 and all the other fall viruses going around—at least I hope so, and that I've now had a big enough dose, because I'm not likely to try this again. Your mileage may vary, but though I tried hard I didn't enjoy it that much. Burdock root was better in my opinion anonymously composing part of a stew.

However, check out the side dish. As of today, I'm starting to segue out of the all-Japanese-all-the-time thing, just as I started to segue into it in September, so I made a couple of non-Japanese dishes to go with this, chief among which was vegetable ribbon meatballs. This sounded so silly that I just had to try it, and after having done so, I'm glad I did. I searched for about half an hour on the Internet, and though I found many recipes, hardly any of them had pictures, and those that did weren't all that impressive. Most of the recipes called for strips of zucchini, which (woe!) for the first time in months I don't have right now, and red pepper, which I do, but which seems utterly misplaced as a wrap item. So I improvised with sweet potato, carrot, and cucumber. The cucumber was a bit of a gamble, but one that really paid off.

You can use your favorite vegan meatball recipe. Mine was from the freezer, and was originally based on Bryanna Clark Grogan's polpetti recipes from her Nonna's Italian Kitchen, only I used ground up seitan instead of whatever she had originally recommended. As I've mentioned before, I tend to cook up seitan dishes with high hopes and then not like them, grind them into crumbles, and give them new life in chilies and balls. Basically, these balls were highly seasoned with fennel seed and something else really hot and scrumptious, probably as simple as lots of red pepper flakes. Bryanna's recipes are endlessly versatile, and my only comment on the one I used was that you should increase the gluten flour from 1/4 cup to 1/3 to get a firmer ball. I'll be making them again and again, and will be more specific later.

What you do to start your vegetable ribbon meatballs is slice strips of carrot and sweet potato with your vegetable peeler. I had long, thin, Asian-type sweet potatoes, but if you have the big ones, just cut them into fat 1-inch slices lengthwise first and you're good to go. Heat a pot of water to boiling, and drop in your strips, cooking the sweet potato and carrot separately for about 2 minutes each, just until barely tenderized, and in the case of the sweet potato, not likely to oxidize and lose colour. Oh, yum! Have I mentioned that my favorite colour is orange? Have I mentioned that as a toddler all I would eat was carrots, until to my mother's despair I turned orange? (Later I learned to tolerate other foods, and the orange colour faded, but carrots, ah, carrots—I still love you! What meal cannot be improved by the addition of carrots?) Obviously, though you slice the cucumber in the same way, you don't pre-boil it.

Meanwhile, brush your meatballs with a mixture of hoisin sauce and canola oil and bake them at 350F until the hoisin sauce has caramelized and the balls are heated through. I started with frozen meatballs, and this took about 15 minutes. Take them out of the oven and let them cool.

Once they're cool enough to handle, wrap each meatball in a slice of vegetable, securing it with a toothpick. Now check out my Japanese toothpicks, each of which was obviously hand-lathed and the whole pack still went for $1.49.

Brush or spray the completed meatball-vegetable things with canola oil and cook at 350F for a further 10 minutes, or until the vegetable coating has shrunk a little around the meatball and it's looking fantastic. Remove from the oven, and serve hot or—as I found, better—warm.

Yes, it's kind of dumb, but also fun, and quite cute. These would make great appetizers. Some of the recipes will tell you to serve them with a sauce, but mine were pretty rich and flavourful as is, and my advice would be to serve them plain.

I had them with very slow-roasted beets and fennel broiled in olive oil with the leftover strips…maybe a little too much broiling/baking involved in this meal, but I can't resist an oven that's already on…

1 comment:

  1. I love the idea of the meatball ribbons; very clever and very attractive. The burdock sounds intriguing...I must keep my eyes peeled for some.