Last week, I brought home a completely new-to-me food item after giving my motivational speech at Whole Foods Pasadena (I actually used this item during the speech as an example of how I love trying new produce items). I present to you… gobo root!
They’re ugly little fellas, and exactly the sort of thing you’d expect to pull out a mound of dirt. Last night, I decided it was time to eat them. Because I had no idea what they were, this involved a little research. There was learning to be done! While gobo from the produce section is new to me, I do know the word ‘gobo’ from another application: in the theatrical lighting world, a gobo is a stencil-like thing that you slide in front of a lamp to change the shape of the light that’s emitted. And, I can’t look at the word ‘gobo’ without thinking of downtown Detroit, which is home to Cobo, a big convention center. Yeah, yeah, they’re completely different words, but I look at gobo and think of Cobo. Probably because they both end in ‘obo.’
Gobo the produce item is known by another name, burdock – although this is no help to me; I’ve never heard of burdock, either. It’s a root, and the burdock plant is a type of thistle that grows burrs that get stuck in your clothing. I remember picking burrs out of my hair and clothes after playing out back when I was a kid – I wonder if there’s wild burdock behind my childhood home?
Gobo is starchy and dense, like a potato or a turnip, although more woody than either of those. It’s high in iron, potassium, and fiber, and low in calories. It’s been used for centuries in folk and traditional medicine all around the world: in Europe, burdock oil is used as a scalp treatment (burdock and dandelion are a traditional soft drink blend in England, too!) , and in Asian cultures, it’s used as a diuretic and a blood-purifying agent. But that’s not all, folks! The more I looked into gobo, the more benefits I uncovered:
- It’s a good source of anti-oxidants, which can help prevent and fight off a myriad of diseases.
- It’s a good source of inulin, which helps lower blood sugar and cholesterol, and is a natural laxative (yippee!).
- Burdock seeds can be used for throat and chest ailments.
- Burdock leaves can be used for pain management and to speed healing of burns.
- Burdock helps with skin problems like eczema and psoriasis (which may explain why burdock oil is rubbed onto European scalps?).
It’s a wonder food/herb/plant! What I get from all this info is that I should be eating more gobo. We all should be eating more gobo. But how?
I didn’t research tons of gobo recipes, because my friend Debbie (an expert on all things Japanese) left me a link to a recipe for kinpira gobo, a popular Japanese gobo dish. It seemed like an easy-enough dish to pull off – it’s basically braised gobo and carrots – but I did look up a few other kinpira gobo recipes just to see how they differ. They’re all basically the same, and involve a sauce containing, among other things, mirin (a Japanese cooking wine), sake (a rice wine), and sesame seeds – all of which I don’t have, and didn’t intend to buy.
So, naturally, I altered the recipe, as I’m known to do.
First things first: prepping the gobo. I peeled it, and even though I have an awesome vegetable peeler, it was still a pain in the ass. Very fibrous. But I did it:
Turns out these buggers oxidize quickly (which I learned the hard way), so I should’ve kept them in water instead of leaving them lying around while I putzed with my camera. Oh well, next time.
The recipes I based this dish on all suggest using shredded gobo, but the gobo was too tough for my box grater, and I wasn’t in the mood to slice it into planks, and cut the planks into matchsticks, or do any of that nonsense… so I sliced the gobo into thin rounds. It’s easy to hack away a lot of the gobo with the peeler, like I did, so I only ended up with a yield of a few handfuls:
Makes me glad I was cooking this only for myself, instead of for a dinner party!
Next ingredient: carrots. Carrots can easily get worked through a box grater, so I shredded two of them:
Even though none of the recipes called for it, I also shredded a zucchini. Why? Because I had a zucchini, and I like zucchini, and they shred easily, and I was having fun shredding.
I got out my skillet, slicked it down with some non-stick spray, and threw in the gobo first. I thought since it was so tough and starchy, it may need a little more time to cook. After a few minutes (on medium-high heat), I added the carrots and zucchini.
Instead of making a sauce with ingredients I don’t have, I instead opted to use a bottled sauce. Lazy, I know, but you’ve done it, too. I found this bottle of Chef Myron’s Ponzu at Whole Foods:
I’ve had Ponzu tons of times in restaurants, as a dipping sauce for dumplings and sashimi, but I’ve never had it in my house before. This bottle is pretty good, health-wise: a tablespoon has 30 calories, 1.5 grams of fat, and 220mg of sodium. That’s a great number for sodium – many Asian sauces have loaded with salt and have 2 or 3 times that, or more. I didn’t measure it, but I added probably around 2 to 3 tablespoons to the skillet.
Here’s everything cooking away – I removed the skillet from the burner for this picture, because my stove is hard to photograph:
I let it go for 6 or 7 minutes, then tried the gobo, and it definitely wasn’t done yet, so I added a lid to speed up the cooking, and let it go for another 6 or 7 minutes. I probably should’ve let the gobo cook on it’s own for a few more minutes before adding the carrots and zucchini… oh well, I’ll remember that (maybe) for next time.
The finished result:
The gobo was good! It’s kinda crisp like a water chestnut, and bland like a water chestnut, too, and that went well with the carrots and zucchini. The bottled Ponzu was delicious – citrusy and tart and flavorful, especially since I let it cook down a little bit.
Ultimately, I’m torn about gobo. I’d totally eat it again, for both health and taste reasons, but the peeling process was annoying enough to be a deterrent. I’ve heard you can find canned or jarred gobo, so maybe I’ll keep an eye out for that. If I do buy fresh gobo again, I’d do a couple other things differently, thanks to additional research not found until after this gobo was comsumed: I’d let it soak for 10 minutes in water, which leeches out some of the starch; and I’d peel and prep the gobo underwater, which stops the oxidation process.
Eating well and trying new foods is always going to be a learning process! In the meantime, I’m quite happy with my first attempt at gobo.
Are you a gobo fan? Have any gobo-related tips or tricks? Share them below!
Keep it up, David!