I was finger licking deep in Christmas pork belly when I tasted my first gobo - and my second gobo. As a matter of fact, I abandoned my crispy hog altogether to focus on this magnificent tuber. What I could not manage to pack into my stomach I hid under the cabinet. I found out later that this was considered rude by many cultures.
Gobo, which is also called burdock, is a very long and inedible looking taproot. It is more than four times the length of a carrot, and just about a thousand times more delicious. It is a Japanese vegetable with an indescribable flavor and texture.
If the word "chalky" was not such a vile descriptor, I might use it convey its flavor-- but it is, so I will stay away from that terminology. Gobo also has the marvelous talent of absorbing any flavor you set forth -- making it even more awesome.
The most fantastic thing about gobo is its crunch. You can eat your way through half of North Carolina slaw and never achieve this epic jaw-slamming crunch. Just try it. I'll go head to head. If the word "woody" did not incite such widespread panic of indigestion, I might use it to convey the texture. Yes, Gobo may have a bit too much fiber for my little engine, but girls, know this: you'll never be irregular again --scout's honor.
So what does gobo have to do with the aforementioned picture? Baby, it has everything to do with the salad I lay forth. The gobo/burdock salad is something I first tried at Delica rf-1 at the San Francisco Ferry Terminal. Since then I have held it as the gold standard for comparison. Delica-rf is a modern Japanese deli serving the perfect balance of salads and fried. How a Japanese restaurant can subsist on just salads and fried is a mystery to me, but to my chagrin, it works completely. Everything they serve is fork scraping good. Even their rice is perfectly steamed, a measure of quality I have grown to use my older years.
There are so many exciting things in the salad that I must got into it-- my apologies. In addition to gobo/burdock, there is young lotus root, konnyaku mountain yam, mizuma, sesame oil, lemon, carrots, and celery.
- The lotus root is a refreshing root that resembles swiss cheese and is almost as good as the gobo -- a bit less dense and a bit less flavorful. Younger lotus root, identifiable by a delicate skin, is more crispy whereas older lotus root has a more mature flavor when cooked.
- The konnyaku yam cake is a bizarre block of indigestible 'jello' that, when thinly sliced, is reminiscent of a poor man's jellyfish. When braised, it can adopt more flavor and is a delight to eat.
- The mizuma are greens that lighter than dandelions but have a similar look. They are not as bitter. Rather, they are bright.
Burdock Root Salad Inspired by Delica rf-1 (Serves 4) Total time:1 hour
- 1/2 small red onion thinly sliced1. In a small bowl, combine vinegar, water, sugar, and onions. Set aside
- 1/2 c rice vinegar
- 1/3 c water
- 1 T sugar + 1 T sugar
- 1 3"x4" piece of konnyaku, julienned
- 1 2" piece of ginger, peeled
- 1.5 T oil, divided
- 2 T mirin
- 1 t white miso
- 1 2-3 ft. burdock root, peeled and julienned*
- 2 4 inch lotus roots, thinly sliced
- 2 t soy sauce
- 1 bunch mizuma leaves
- 2 carrots, julienned
- 3 celery ribs, thinly sliced on the bias
- 1 t sesame oil
- 1 lemon
- 1 t sesames, lightly toasted
2. In a small saucepan on high, heat 1.5 T oil and add the ginger. Allow the ginger to blister for a minute and then add the konnyaku. Saute for 2-3 minutes and then add the mirin and miso. Cover and reduce to low. Cook for 15 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, prepare the burdock root and lotus. If the skins of the roots are thin, you can use the back of a knife to scrape them off.
4. Heat a wok on high and add 1 T oil. When hot, add the burdock and lotus root. Wait 1 minute before tossing so that the roots touching the wok can caramelize. Stir fry for 3-4 minutes. Add
the mirin and 1 t sugar. Toss and continue to fry for another 2 minutes. Make sure the vegetables are still crisp.
5. Add the konnyaku mixture to the wok and combine. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
6. In a large salad bowl combine the mizuma leaves, carrots, celery, the root mixture, and drained onions. Squeeze 1/4 of a lemon on top. Add 1/2 t sesame oil and sesame seeds. Toss to combine.
7. Taste and add sesame oil, lemon, and salt to adjust to your liking.