pickles, Tolstoy, vegetables, winter
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from Russia with love

I have a friend who wants me to read War and Peace. She is one of approximately two people on earth who could persuade me to take this on, and at her urging I have spent some recent hours trying to locate an audio version of this admirable monstrosity so I can devote some of the time I spend driving around like a hamster in a Habitrail to absorbing a portion of the material. Here are some of the highlights of this quest:

  • I ordered the book through the library, and when it came it had TWENTY-SIX CDs, and turned out to only be volume two.
  • I looked it up on iTunes (there is nothing you can say to me about looking for Tolstoy on iTunes that I have not already said to myself), where one review read simply: “You will die before you finish this book.”
  • I found an mp3 version on the web, and feeling victorious, downloaded it to my iPod. This morning in the Habitrail I turned that puppy on, and it appears to have been recorded by an Austrian with a severe speech impediment and the thespian skills of a shoe horn. I think he recorded it in his bathroom.

Bringing this back around to what we are all going to have for dinner, after I listed to the entire first chapter of the Austrian’s version, laughing a little harder than I imagine Tolstoy intended me to, I started wondering what to write about today. (This is code for “feeling like I had nothing to say.”) Thinking back over the last few days of eating, my mind settled, with not much certainty, on burdock root. Last weekend my brother-in-law brought me a packet of fresh burdock root from the Asian grocery store he raided for me on his way here, and I made quick pickles with it. I used to make this dish, which in Japan is called either Gobo Kinpira or Kinpira Gobo, all the time when I learned from my herb witch friend that burdock was a superfood. But like some things do, despite their popularity, it had fallen off the menu for quite a while. My children, whose growing bodies are 73% composed of pickles, were happy to see it come back. (This is code for “they ate the whole bowl.”) I supposed that was worth a post, so I did a little reading (“Wikipedia”), and–you may have seen this coming, but I didn’t–immediately encountered a quote from Tolstoy regarding burdock. He said, of the tenacious root, “it makes me want to write.”

So there you have it: fusion cuisine! Salad from Japan, with Slavic and Napoleonic overtones.

In case you are curious about burdock’s stupendous powers, its roots and leaves and seeds are all a potent part of the herbal pharmacy, acting as a blood purifier, skin soother and cooler of inflammations, among other applications. A particularly prolific member of the Dock family, the widely available leaves were often used by farm wives to wrap the butter they were taking to market, hence the name (“beurre-dock”), and we all have the pesky seed heads to thank for having Velcro in our lives: a Swiss scientist felt a mental light-bulb switch on when he was pulling them out of his dog’s tail, and the rest is history.

I think there is no shortage of ways to make this, and as I recall I make it this way because this is what I deduced from how it tasted in the Japanese restaurant we went to when our girls were tiny tots. It’s best to set this up for an hour or so of marinating before you plan to eat it, but you may have to hide it.

gobo kinpira

carrot & burdock pickle

about 5 ozs burdock root (look for firm roots not much thicker than your thumb, or they may have woody centers; if this turns out to be the case just trim that part out)

3 or 4 carrots

2T brown rice vinegar

1T tamari or shoyu

1t maple syrup or honey

1t finely grated fresh ginger root

Have a medium size saucepan of cold water near your cutting board, and into it splash about a teaspoon of rice vinegar. Work with one burdock root at a time, as they oxidize very rapidly. Peel the root, noticing but not becoming alarmed by the earthy smell that’s released, and cut it into matchsticks about 2-3″ long. Plunge these into the saucepan, and continue with the rest of the burdock. Cut up the carrots in a similar way, but set them aside; they cook much faster than the burdock.

Bring the pot full of burdock to a boil and then reduce the heat to medium and simmer for about ten minutes, until the pieces are barely tender. Throw in the carrots, and cook about two minutes longer. Cooking time will vary somewhat according to how thin your slices are and how old your roots are, so just aim for barely tender.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, combine the other ingredients. When the vegetables are cooked, drain them (you may want to reserve this water for making soup, as it is full of goodness) and plop them in the marinade. Stir well and let them sit, stirring occasionally and trying not to finish the bowl as you test to see if they are pickled enough before you serve them. Adjust the sour, sweet and salty to your taste, if need be.

They will keep for days in the fridge for nibbling purposes.

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3 Comments

  1. “It was cold and clear. Above the dirty, semi-dark streets, above the black roofs, stood the dark, starry sky. Only looking at the sky did Pierre not feel the insulting baseness of everything earthly compared with the height his soul had risen to. At the entrance to Arbat Square, the huge expanse of the dark, starry night opened out to Pierre’s eyes. Almost in the middle of that sky, over Prechistensky Boulevard, stood the huge, bright comet of the year 1812–surrounded, strewn with stars on all sides, but different from them in its closeness to the earth, its white light and long, raised tail–that same comet which presaged, as they said, all sorts of horrors and the end of the world. But for Pierre this bright star with its long, luminous tail did not arouse any frightening feeling. On the contrary, Pierre, his eyes wet with tears, gazed joyfully at this bright star, which, having flown with inexpressible speed through immeasurable space on its parabolic course, suddenly, like an arrow piercing the earth, seemed to have struck here its one chosen spot in the black sky and stopped, its tail raised energetically, its white light shining and playing among the countless other shimmering stars. It seemed to Pierre that this star answered fully to what was in his softened and encouraged soul, now blossoming into new life.”

    This is the final paragraph of Volume II (page 600) of War and Peace as translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, and I think it proves the excellence of burdock root for literary inspiration.

  2. Can’t wait to try this as I have always enjoyed it at Japanese restaurants. Why is it so bright orange there?
    When I was having lots of skin breakouts at one point, I steamed my face with yellow dock and it was helpful.
    Can’t you just watch the old PBS version of War & Peace with Anthony Hopkins as Pierre and be done with it?

  3. War and Peace was the book that made me want to have my first dinner party. I guess now I’m on the team with the other one- does that make it 3?

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