Burdock Root Soup

“Ah, monastery soup!” exclaimed Shuho-san.  It does indeed taste like soups served in Japanese training temples. The signature flavour of this recipe is burdock, a long skinny root that grows wild in Europe but has seemingly fallen out of culinary use. In the UK it is more commonly known as a fizzy beverage; Dandelion & Burdock or in the US as Root Beer. (Fermented dandelion and burdock drinks have been around since the middle-ages and reputed to have medicinal qualities.) In Asia, however, burdock (gobō) is often first boiled, drained and stir-fried with carrot and hijiki seaweed then seasoned with sesame oil and soy sauce etc; or put into soup as in this recipe. I simply love the licorice-like flavour.

4 dried shitake mushroom
2 inch square kelp (kombu) seaweed
1½ litres (8 cups) water

20 g ginger
2 medium carrots
1 burdock (gobō) root
1 tablespoon white vinegar
3 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons mirin (sweet rice wine)
1-2 teaspoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon dried wakame seaweed 

Sea salt to taste

Method

  • First make the stock; peel and cut the ginger into wafer thin discs then combine the ginger, shitake mushrooms, and konbu with 1½ litres (8 cups) water in a stock pot. Slowly bring to a boil over a low flame, then cover and simmer for about fifteen minutes. Scoop out the mushrooms, kombu and ginger, and set aside.
  • Peel the burdock root underwater to avoid browning. Cut into thin matchsticks and immediately submerge in cold water with the white vinegar to avoid discoloration and dispel any bitterness.
  • Peel and cut the carrots into thin matchsticks.
  • Thinly slice the shitake mushrooms, and cut the kombu into matchstick slivers and return them to the stock pot. Reserve the ginger for another use if you prefer the stock to remain clear, or mince finely and return to the pot.
  • Drain the burdock and put it into the stock pot. Simmer the soup until the burdock is tender, about fifteen minutes. Skim any scum from the surface as it arises. Put in the carrots and continue to simmer until the carrots are also tender, about another five minutes. Add more water if the level gets too low.
  • Turn off the flame and stir in the soy sauce and mirin. Then add the rice vinegar one teaspoon at time, to taste.
  • Stir in the dried wakame. Watch the wakame unfold, then adjust seasoning to taste and serve.

    Burdock root from the farmers market in Groningen. Black peel on the outside, white on the inside.

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