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Every week we get Down & Dirty, in which we break down our favorite unique seasonal fruits, vegetables, and more.
Today: Burdock might not be the most attractive vegetable (it looks more like a stick than dinner), but it's a versatile root that's worth working into your cooking repertoire.
Burdock is a biennial plant in the sunflower family, which means the plant has a two year life cycle. The first year burdock is a small flower-less plant, but the second year it shoots up to between three and six feet tall. During this second year, the plant produces flowers which turn into tenacious brown burs, the tiny hooks of which actually inspired the invention of Velcro!
The roots you find won't be so tall -- they'll be about one foot in length, perhaps up to two. But the taproot can grow even longer than that -- three to four feet! That takes serious work to dig out, so it's probably no surprise to learn that burdock is another vegetable that is considered an invasive weed in some areas.
Where to Find Burdock and What to Look For
You should be able to find burdock in Asian markets (it might be labeled as gobo) practically year-round, or at farmers markets later in the summer and into autumn. If you’re into foraging wild burdock, there's an added bonus: the flower stalks can be harvested before any flowers appear, and then prepped and used like cardoons. Look for firm, slender specimens -- Diane Morgan suggests sticking to roots less than 1 inch in diameter (1), and avoid any that are cracked or overly flexible.
How to Store and Prep
Burdock will store well in the refrigerator for a couple days wrapped in wet paper towels and then plastic. If you know you aren’t going to get to your burdock that quickly, lay your roots in a shallow dish of water and refrigerate, or make sure to keep re-wetting the paper towels.
Much of burdock’s flavor is in its exterior, so there’s no need to peel -- just give them a vigorous scrub. If you do remove the peel, the flesh (2) will rapidly turn brown when exposed to air, so peel small sections of the root as you cut it. Have a bowl of acidulated water on hand to drop cut pieces (3) in -- this brief soak has the added benefit of removing any potential bitter aftertaste.
How to Use
Burdock’s sweet earthy flavor (not unlike its family members Jerusalem artichokes and artichokes) is at home in soups and stir-fries. It's a common ingredient in a number of Japanese dishes, too; you might have pickled burdock in sushi, where it is often dyed orange to resemble a carrot. Burdock roots also make an appearance in beverages, like this British soft drink! Make your own adult version, or use burdock roots to create your own root beer. Of course burdock is at home on your plate, too. Here are some ideas for working it into meals all week long:
Friday: Root Ribbons with Sage
Saturday: Burdock Root Tempura
Sunday: Red Rice and Avocado with Crispy Burdock Chips
Monday: Crunchy Burdock Salad
Tuesday: Burdock and Mushroom Sushi
Wednesday: Japanese Style Pickled Burdock
Thursday: Kinpira (Stir-fried Carrot & Burdock Root)
Photos by James Ransom