Japanese Burdock & Carrot Stir-fry (きんぴらごぼう – Kinpira Gobo)
Kinpira Gobo is a classic Japanese side dish often found packed in bento boxes or served as kobachi alongside other dishes in a traditional Japanese meal. It’s most commonly made with gobo, a long root vegetable frequently used in Japanese cuisine, but it can also be made with other veggies such as carrots, celery, or lotus root.
For my version, I like to use a combination of carrots and gobo root, which gives it a nice color and a great spread of vitamins and minerals. Thanks to the earthy flavor of the root vegetables and the umami from the soy sauce and sake, this Kinpira recipe doesn’t include any dashi, making it both vegetarian and vegan friendly.
Table of contents
Why This Recipe Works?
- Cutting the vegetables with the grain in a thin julienne preserves their crunchy texture while still tender enough to eat.
- Soaking the burdock in acidified water during preparation keeps it from oxidizing, preserving its light color.
- Kinpira Gobo tastes best after resting overnight in the fridge, so it makes for a great make-ahead bento item or a side dish for busy weekday dinners.
Ingredients for Kinpira Gobo
- Gobo (burdock) – Gobo is the Japanese name for burdock root. Although it may go by other names (Chinese: niúbàng Korean: u-eong) it’s a popular vegetable in Asia so you should be able to find fresh burdock at Asian grocery stores. If you can’t find it in stores, it might be possible to forage for it, but make sure you check that the variety growing near you is edible.
- Vinegar – Due to the enzymatic browning of polyphenols, burdock oxidizes very quickly. To prevent it from discoloring, I recommend soaking it in acidified water while you prepare it. I used rice vinegar, but anything acidic that doesn’t have a strong taste will work here. Citric acid and lemon juice are a few examples of other ingredients you can use.
- Carrot – Kinpira Gobo is usually made with a combination of carrots and burdock, but if you can’t find burdock, you can also make it with carrots alone.
- Oil – I like using a neutral flavored oil like vegetable oil, however some people like to use toasted sesame oil.
- Sake – Sake is added as a flavorful liquid to help steam the vegetables. Sake is also a rich source of amino acids, which produce the umami taste. The alcohol in the sake will evaporate during cooking, so you don’t need to worry about that. You can learn more about the role of sake in Japanese food here. You can also use mirin in place of the sake, but you will want to skip the sugar.
- Soy sauce – Soy sauce is the primary seasoning ingredient for Kinpira Gobo. Any dark Japanese soy sauce such as Kikkoman will work.
- Sugar – Japanese foods balance salty and savory tastes with sweetness. I like using dark brown sugar for Kinpira Gobo because its caramel and molasses notes complement the earthy root vegetables.
- Salt – Although Kinrpira can be seasoned with soy sauce alone, I prefer using a little less soy sauce and supplementing with salt. This preserves the bright colors of the vegetables and keeps them from turning brown.
- Toasted sesame seeds – Toasted sesame seeds added at the end contribute a nutty flavor and a fun poppy texture to the dish.
- Red chili pepper – This is optional, but I like my Kinpira Gobo to have a bit of heat, which is why I like to add some chili flakes to the oil at the very beginning. You can also serve this with shichimi pepper at the heat level can be adjusted to taste.
How to cut gobo for Kinpira
You first want to prepare a bowl of cold water and acidify it by adding a neutral-tasting vinegar, lemon juice, or a pinch of citric acid. This will prevent the gobo root from oxidizing and turning gray.
Wash the burdock and scrub it with a clean abrasive sponge or a wadded-up piece of aluminum foil.
Burdock peel can be eaten, but I usually like to peel it with a vegetable peeler for Kinpira Gobo. The gobo will quickly oxidize once you peel it, so I recommend working in small segments and then cutting the peeled parts into 2-3 inch lengths that you can drop in the acidified water.
Once you’ve peeled and cut up all of the gobo, cut each piece into thin slices. I usually cut one or two slices from one side and then roll the root onto the flat spot so it doesn’t move around.
Then you want to line the slices up in a staggered stack and then cut the slices into thin strips. They don’t have to be perfect, but I try to get the strips under 1.5mm in thickness. Finally, return the cut gobo to the bowl of acidified water.
Because burdock is so thin and fibrous, I do not recommend using a mandoline to julienne it.
How to Make Kinpira Gobo
Before cooking the Kinpira, strain the gobo and rinse it under cold water to remove the vinegar. Shake the strainer vigorously to drain it well.
Into a frying pan over high heat, add the vegetable oil and chili flakes and swirl them around.
Add the drained gobo and carrots and stir-fry them until they start to wilt.
Add the brown sugar and continue stir-frying until all of the water released by the veggies has evaporated. This should take about two minutes.
Pour the sake, soy sauce, and salt over the gobo and carrots, and then continue to stir-fry until the sauce has created a glaze around the gobo and there is no liquid remaining in the pan (another 2-3 minutes).
Finish the Kinpira Gobo by tossing in the toasted sesame seeds and stirring to distribute.
It’s worth noting that Kinpira tastes better the next day, and it will keep for up to a week in the fridge, so I usually like to make a big batch to eat throughout the week.
Other Japanese Side Dish Recipes
Burdock is a biennial plant that’s found globally. The plant has broad leaves that are green on top and whitish underneath, and the base of the pink flowers has burrs, which is how the plant got its name. In most parts of the world, it is considered a weed, but the taproot is used as a vegetable in Asia. It is long and fibrous and has a distinct flavor that’s earthy and mineral-like. Another fun fact is that the Swiss inventor of Velcro was inspired to make the hook and loop fastening system after taking his dog for a walk and noticing the burrs sticking to its fur.
Kinpira Gobo is a stir-fry of burdock root and carrots that have been cut into thin strips. It’s usually seasoned with a sweet and savory sauce and finished with sesame seeds.
Although burdock root is the most common vegetable, Kinpira can also be made with other crunchy or crispy vegetables such as carrots, celery, lotus root, or kohlrabi. Some people also include a protein such as chicken or fried tofu.
Kinpira Gobo is a 5-syllable name pronounced as follows (read the italicized parts).
kin like keen
pi like peal
ra like the “ra” sound does not exist in the English language and the best way to make it is to say the word “romp” with the tip of your tongue at the front of your mouth.
go like ghost
bo like boat
This Kinpira Gobo recipe is plant-based, making it vegan and vegetarian friendly. However, if you buy it pre-made from a store, be careful as it is relatively common to add dashi stock to Kinpira.
carrot (1 small carrot)
chili flakes (to taste)
dark brown sugar
toasted sesame seeds
Prepare a bowl of acidified water by stirring the vinegar into a bowl of cold water.
Wash and scrub the gobo and then peel it in segments. Cut the peeled segments into 2-3-inch long pieces and immediately put them in the acidified water. Repeat with the remaining gobo.
Working one piece at a time, use a sharp knife to cut the gobo into thin slices. Line the slices up and then cut them into thin strips with the grain. Return the julienned gobo to the bowl of water and repeat with the remaining burdock.
Peel, trim, and cut the carrots into a thin julienne as well.
Just before you start cooking, drain and wash the burdock to remove the vinegar taste. Drain well.
Heat a frying pan over high heat and add the vegetable oil and chili flakes. Swirl to coat the pan with oil and add the burdock and carrots.
Stir-fry this mixture until it starts to wilt, and then add the brown sugar. Continue stir-frying until the water released by the vegetables has evaporated (about 2 minutes).
Add the sake, soy sauce, and salt, and continue stir-frying the Kinpira Gobo until all of the liquid has evaporated and the sauce has caramelized around the vegetables.
Add the toasted sesame seeds and stir to distribute them evenly.