This is another favorite recipe from Japan. It conjures up fond memories of Fujidera, Hojosans countryside temple nestled at the foot of Mt. Fuji. The monthly zazenkai is followed by a lovely potluck with little dishes carefully prepared by each member, and this was one of them. Eighteen years on I finally I decided it was high time to start making it myself, and it was a lot simpler than I expected. All the ingredients should be easily available at Asian markets or in the world sections in the local supermarket. We’ve even found fresh burdock root on the market in Groningen! You may recognize it as it grows naturally in European and American hedgerows. It’s a large spindly plant with big leaves and pink thistle-like blooms with catchy burrs. Those burrs inspired the invention of velcro on account of the hooks on the seeds that catch in your clothing and don’t let go. Very (not) Zen.
If you can’t find burdock then simply use other types of hard root vegetables like parsnips, salsify, Jerusalem artichokes, or simply more carrots. Mirin and sake can be substituted with a little dry sherry, vermouth, or dry white wine, then sweetened with a couple of extra teaspoons of sugar. On this occasion I added stir-fried tofu for protein but you can skip this step for speed and simplicity, and instead use whole roasted almonds which also taste great in this recipe.
7 cm (3 inch) square kombu (kelp) dried seaweed
240 ml (1 cup) water
2 tablespoons mirin (sweetened rice cooking wine)
2 tablespoons sake (rice wine)
2 teaspoons raw sugar
6 medium carrots
2 burdock roots (also called gobo root in Asian markets)
2 stems green onions
Light vegetable oil for frying
2 teaspoons sesame oil
2 tablespoons soy sauce
Optional: few snippets of parsley and a little grated ginger
Tofu (if using)
200 g (7 oz) tofu or; 100 g (⅔ cup) roasted whole almonds
1 tablespoon vegetable or olive oil
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon sake
Make the dashi
- Put the kombu in a pot with the water and soak for at least half an hour.
- Place the pot on a low flame and allow it to slowly come to the boil. When it starts to boil, turn off and add the mirin, sake, and sugar. When the liquor has cooled down, remove the kombu and large-dice.
Fry the tofu
- If using tofu, drain the brine, rinse, and cut into 2 cm / ¾ inch cubes.
- In a non-stick frying pan, heat up 2 tablespoons of oil over a medium-high flame. Add the tofu and stir-fry until golden.
- Drizzle in the soy sauce and sake and continue to stir-fry until all the liquid has evaporated.
- Turn down the flame and continue to stir-fry until it becomes dark-golden brown. Set aside.
Prepare and cook the vegetables
- Peel the carrots and cut into thin matchstick-size slices.
- Peel the burdock and cut into thin matchstick-size slices. Cover with water and a little white vinegar to prevent browning.
- Cut the green onions into very thin diagonal slices.
- In a stew-pot, heat up 2 tablespoons of oil over a medium-high flame.
- Drain the burdock well, put it into the stew pot and stir-fry for a few minutes. Next, add the carrots and continue to stir-fry until the carrots are almost tender, about 8-10 minutes.
- Pour in the dashi, and simmer until almost all the liquor has evaporated. Stir occasionally for even cooking time.
- Remove from the heat, add the kombu, soy sauce, sesame oil, and green onions. Fold in the tofu or almonds.
- Garnish with snippets of parsley and a little grated fresh ginger.
- Serve alongside short-grain white or brown rice.