Every Monday night, Nell and Doug host a movie night in the screening room of their house in Cambridge. I don't know how many years they've been doing it - I've been going off and on since the early 2000s, but I know it has been going on even longer. They take a break over the summer; the rest of the year, a rotating cast of friends, recent and historical, curate 8 week 'series' of loosely connected films. The movie night is open to all - well, at least all who know someone who knows Nell and Doug.
Before the movie, a vegan meal is served, though cheese and other non-vegan condiments are available. Doug and Nell have an uncanny memory for the dinners they serve. When I showed up at their house two weeks ago, Doug, recalling a meal I had shared with them in late spring, apologized for serving pasta again. Of course I remembered that meal (it was a very good pesto) but Doug, who has since served dozens of movie night dinners to legions, recalled it with startling acuity.
It is hard if not impossible to attend movie night without a treat in hand. Guests' contributions vary. This past week, before a screening of the early Jack Nicholson flick Five Easy Pieces, one guest brought a just-baked chocolate and banana bundt cake, another brought candied kiwis. There were assorted small containers of wasabi peas and a few other things I didn't even see because I arrived a little late (argh! Why do the suburbs have to be so far from Cambridge? Don't answer, it is just me whining). I'm not sure how I had been wasting my day, but suddenly I looked at the clock and it was 5 pm. I had to leave by 6:30 to get there in time, and I had no time to shop or bake or do anything remotely well-planned.
I considered asparagus souffle. But the idea of bringing not-yet-in-season produce to the dinner brought me down. Plus I would probably screw it up and end up bringing some rubbery, mockable mess. Rooting around the produce drawer (I'm trying to use up as much of the vegetables as I can before my mom gets home from Florida), I found a forgotten stash of burdock, one of my favorite crunchy vegetables. It was left over from a dinner party several weeks earlier and now was just sitting there, sad, waiting to be eaten. So I complied. Kinpira Gobo was going to be my contribution to the meal.
Kinpira Gobo (金平牛蒡), sauteed and simmered burdock root with, usually, carrot, is one of my favorite Japanese side dishes. First exposed to it during a homestay outside of Tokyo when I was 16, I continue to make it whenever I happen to notice burdock in the store. Which is not all that rare, as I tend to shop the Japanese grocery stores whenever I can (it is also available in Chinese markets - I haven't checked Korean markets so you'll have to tell me if it is stocked there too).
Burdock, a long, thin, bark-colored root that measures anywhere from 1 to 3 feet, is an easy-to-cultivate thistle, renowned for its 'blood purifying' and diuretic qualities when concentrated in its dry form. Its' dark, woody exterior must be peeled off before use, and the white flesh of the root oxidizes quickly (and browns) if left out. This isn't a problem - as it cooks, it browns all over and becomes a golden straw color (my friend Becky wants you to know that raw burdock can stain your hands, though I've never experienced it. Wear rubber or plastic gloves if you are concerned).
The crunch of the cooked burdock root pairs well with its mild flavor. The simmer sauce/glaze - basically a combination of soy and sake and sugar (in the ratio of 3:3:1) is finished with a bit of sesame oil and, if desired, a dash of shichimi togarashi (seven spice blend) or, if unavailable, cayenne.
"Kinpira" - the cooking technique - is a saute followed by a simmer. Kinpira is a fast cooking technique and imparts a ton of flavor in a short period of time. It is always the same regardless of the dish cooked in that manner. I like a version with hijiki seaweek, carrot, and tofu - it may, in fact, be one of my favorite dishes of all time. In this recipe I pair carrot with the burdock - a very traditional combination. The sweet softness of the carrot is an appealing contrast to the subtle flavor and harder crunch of the burdock.
Here's the basic recipe I used:
Cake & Commerce's Kinpira Gobo
- 1-2 large carrots, Julienned
- 1 large burdock root, Julienned (you can soak in water after cutting if you don't want to watch it oxidize - remember to dry as much as possible before cooking).
- 1 t sesame seeds raw (toasted is fine too)
- 2 t sesame oil + 1 t peanut oil
- 1 T sake
- 1 T soy sauce (gluten-free for all my celiac pals)
- 1 t sugar (substitute coconut sugar or agave syrup)
- 1/4 t OR LESS cayenne or shichimi togarashi (optional, but makes for a nice kick)
Combine sake, soy sauce and sugar. Heat oil in large saute pan with lid. If using raw sesame, add to the oil and allow to cook for a couple minutes - add carrot and burdock when sesame is no longer translucent. Saute for about 2-3 minutes. Add in soy/sake/sugar combo, and simmer gently with a lid for about 10 minutes. Check from time to time to make sure liquid has not entirely evaporated and give mixture a stir. When the carrots and burdock are mostly cooked, uncover pan and allow to finish cooking - there should be no liquid left in the pan. Finish with the cayenne (or shichimi) and a touch more sesame oil if desired.
Serve at room temperature.
The forgiving crowd at movie night downed the kinpira in record time even though it clashed with the main dish of the meal - a killer vegan chili, made by Doug. Nell chastised me for not having the recipe up on the blog. So Nell, for you, the recipe. A few days late, but I hope not too late.