Throughout history, burdock roots and leaves have had medicinal uses—both beneficial and bogus—in many cultures, including Native American and European. The nasty seed-sac burrs, which stick to clothing and even skin, inspired Swiss engineer George de Mestral to invent Velcro in 1948, after he and his dog went for a hike and returned home covered with them. Burdock’s the bane of many a gardener, but to the Japanese, the long, slender root is the prized vegetable gobo. The best preparation of it I’ve had is the traditional small dish kimpira at Masu Izakaya. Chef Koichi Asano patiently juliennes great burdock, which can grow to seven feet, and sautes it with carrots in heated oil spiked with chile peppers. Next he stirs in sugar, mirin, and soy sauce, adds water, raises the temperature to high, and boils until the water is absorbed, tossing often to avoid burning. Sesame oil finishes the slightly crunchy dish, which is addictively spicy-sweet.
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