Friday, October 29, 2010

Simmered Burdock and Lotus Root

There's nothing like bland comfort food after one has been immensely ill from being badly glutened.

Now don't get me wrong. I love spices and strong flavours. Heck, I live in a country where bold cooking and pungent spices are the norm for meals. But there are times - like today - when all my system wants is something warm and soothing rather than fiery stimulation.

Lo and behold, in a beautiful display of serendipity, Shauna of Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef posted a wonderfully simple recipe for coconut brown rice. Not only that, I even had all the ingredients necessary except for coconut milk, which I could get by just walking downstairs to the little convenience store in the apartment complex. No argument about it, that was my dinner all set and planned.

I wanted something else to go with the coconut rice though - something that would complement the flavours, not overpower it. Since I had a length of burdock that's been sitting on top of my oven for umpteen weeks (burdock keeps incredibly well, as I know from personal experience), I decided to make simmered burdock and lotus root for an accompanying dish.

I never cease to marvel at how beautiful lotus root is when I slice it up. All those lacy holes like some couture piece of jewellery! Can you wonder that lotus flowers are so beautiful when they have roots like this?

I put the rice on to boil in my rice cooker, and got the vegetables prepared. Just the smell of all the cooking made me smile.

And when everything was done, the flavours of the rice and the vegetables went together so beautifully, they could have been made for each other.

Serendipity. There's nothing quite like it.

Simmered Burdock and Lotus Root

1 length of young lotus root
1 length of burdock (if it’s a large one, even a quarter of a burdock root will do)
1 pack instant dashi powder
1-2 tsp cooking oil
1-2 tsp mirin (Japanese sweet cooking wine)

Preparing the vegetables:
Wash and scrape the brown skin off the lotus root – you may use either a knife for this, or a vegetable peeler. Slice into thin rounds cross-wise. Set aside.

Prepare a big bowl of water. Wash and scrape the burdock. I’ve found the back of a knife very handy for this, as the skin is thinner than that of the lotus root. Sliver the burdock like you would sharpen a pencil with a pen knife – into thin, long shavings. As you sliver, drop the burdock into the bowl of water. This helps prevent discolouration, as burdock tends to oxidize very fast when exposed to air. Keep the burdock soaked until you are about to use it.

Cooking the dish:
Drain the burdock well in a colander.

In a heavy medium saucepan, heat the cooking oil until drops of water flicked into the pan fizzle and pop sharply. Toss in the burdock and fry it, stirring constantly, for around 2-3 minutes, or until it changes colour and begins looking less opaque. Add in the lotus root and fry for another 1-2 minutes, stirring the entire time. The starch content in the lotus root may cause it to stick to the pot, but don’t worry, the next step will take care of that.

Pour the packet of dashi powder into the saucepan, and add the water. Stir to combine with the vegetables. Eyeball the water a bit; you don’t want to have too much, but you don’t want to have too little either. The water shouldn’t cover the vegetables; maybe about ¾ way up is enough. Add the mirin and stir.

Bring the saucepan to the boil, then turn down to a simmer and cover the pot. Let the whole thing simmer for about 15-20 minutes to give the burdock time to soften.

When the burdock is soft, turn off heat and serve hot with rice.

You can use any cooking oil – I sometimes use sesame oil when I have it to give added fragrance to the dish. I sometimes also julienne a bit of carrot to add to the dish to give it some colour – if you do use carrot, add it when you put the lotus root in to fry.

For Shauna's rice, I halved the recipe as there's just one of me in the house and in this tropical weather, coconut milk in food spoils quite easily. I didn't have coconut oil so I used sesame oil instead. As an extra bit of flavour, I sliced up one kaffir lime leaf into thin shreds and added it to cook with the rice.

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