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Burdock

by Jacqueline M. Newman

Vegetables and Vegetarian Foods

Spring Volume: 2015 Issue: 22(1) page(s): 28


Some might hesitate before biting into a piece of burdock if not peeled and cut into sticks. This native of Northeastern China, Siberia, and some places in japan and Europe is cultivated for its tap roots. Folks in those countries do not hesitate to do so. Sometimes thin and more than three feet long, more often only an inch or two in diameter, a little hairy, and with light or dark skin, this plant can be an annual or a biennial.

Burdock grows nicely in well-drained sandy soil and does not flower if the temperature goes below freezing; actually a few days below freezing.

Originally used for medicinal purposes, the Chinese recommend it as a diuretic, to purify blood, reduce the pain of arthritis, and to help those suffering from gout and also from various skin diseases. Botanically known as Aretium tappa, the Chinese call it niu bang, its Japanese name is gobo. Some in the US call it Great Burdock, Ox Flank, or Elephant Ear, probably because its leaves can be huge, bigger than the upper torso of a man.

These leaves are heart-shaped and rough in texture, the veins are pinkish, and the root itself can have many short white hairs. Some say it tastes like a sweet artichoke when young, a strong one as it ages. They also say the plant attracts many bees and butterflies so home owners with small children should not plant it near where they play.

When peeled, this root does discolor quickly. If not cooking it immediately after peeling, do dip it in acidic water such as some with a tablespoon or two of lemon juice mixed in. When peeled, the root is white no matter the color of its skin, sometimes it is gray with some patches of black. This native plant of temperate Eurasia grows wild on the hillsides of western China, is cultivated in Northern China for its seeds, and both are used in traditional Chinese medicine. One can eat it raw when the root is young, and most soak it before eating it removing any its bitterness.

The bitter in burdock is from inulin, and many peel, slice, then soak it before cooking or eating it raw. There are many ways to cook it including to saute it, stir-fry it, stew, boil, or steam it. If the roots are large or old, it is a good idea to peel, slice, and pound the slices to tenderize them and to reduce their bitterness.

Those who want to keep some for more than a couple of days after purchase or picking it, do refrigerate one or two pieces of its root wrapped in one or two paper towels, or bury it below the frost line. That way it can last for a couple of months.

Rare is the Chinese cookbook with even one recipe for these vegetables the Cantonese call ngao pong. Americans call then ‘eastern sea radishes’ and the rest of China refers to them as indicated above. Incidentally, these words are not only rare in cookbooks, they rarely appear in any dictionaries.

Those who adore them do know to cook them as one would cook carrots or to stew them with other root vegetables. Many more markets serving Chinese, Japanese or other Asian populations now carry them, and if they do, look for then from mid to late summer and often until mid December. That or ask for them as Tappa edlis which is their botanical name. The ones on this page tell you and vendors there will be more hairs on younger roots, their skin color can be light or dark. That, or ask for ‘burdock granus’ or show the vendor the picture shown here. We hope you do, and that you will purchase, taste, and enjoy them. You are invited to send us any recipes you make and enjoy.
Burdock and Carrots
Ingredients:
1 burdock root, peeled or brushed to get rid of its skin
2 Tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 carrot, the same size as the burdock, peeled
1 to 2 Tablespoons sesame oil
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1 Tablespoon rice wine
2 Tablespoons thin soy sauce
1 teaspoon white sesame seeds
Preparation:
1. Cut the burdock into thin matchstick-size pieces two inches long, and soak it in the wine vinegar for fifteen or twenty minutes, then dry them with a cloth or paper towels.
2. Cut the carrot into pieces to match the burdock pieces.
3. Heat the sesame oil in a wok or a fry pan and stir fry the burdock for two minutes, add the carrot pieces and stir-fry them together for three minutes longer.
4. Add the sugar, rice wine, and the soy sauce and tree tablespoons cold water, reduce the heat, and stir-fry until all the liquid evaporates.
5. Put the vegetables into a pre-heated serving bowl, toss with the sesame seeds, and serve.

                                                                                                                                                       
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