The Teacup Chronicles

Category: Herbs

Japanese style pickled burdock

In the past several years, I have become addicted to preserving things. I can’t seem to help myself. The thought of all those little jars full of goodness accumulating in my pantry  fills me with the warmest feelings of happiness and contentment. It’s like having money in the bank, those jars. Things to look forward too. I find myself mapping out the year in what preserves I will make – rhubarb jam in May, Strawberry in June, bread and butter pickles in July.  I have an endless list.

And I’ll tell you, that deep down, what I’m really drawn to about the whole thing is the idea that somehow, I can capture time in a jar. Does that sound mad? I believe it though. There is more than just strawberries in my jam. There is June sunshine, long lazy days of blue skies, lightning bugs and warm muggy afternoons when the thunderheads roll through. All of that is in there too.  When you preserve something,  you also  preserve a little bit of time, a memory, a thousand sensations. And then you open it up months later and all that is there to taste. June sunshine on a dull February afternoon. It’s a thought that makes me happy.

I was making my spring list of things to pickle, jam and capture in jars, when my good friend Iris called. Iris is one of those truly remarkable people that seem never to be phased by anything. While I am panicking and worrying and over-reacting to just about everything that is ridiculous and unimportant , she goes about in her gentle and easy way, handling the most horrendous of happenings as though they were nothing at all.  This is saying something too, as she is a single mother and the owner of her own herbal products company, which she runs single-handedly.  A remarkable person, as I said. Just being in her presence makes one calm, as though the world has just slowed down a few paces and grown far less complicated than it was before.

Anyhow, Iris called me up to ask me if I might like to collaborate with her again on her seasonal herb share program. We did one back in the winter – packed with elderberry syrup, echinacea, immune soups and the like – which turned out quite a success. So she wanted to keep going with a spring theme this time. I want you to make something that falls more into the food category she said (doesn’t she know me well?). Maybe something with spring greens, or something rooty. It just has to be shelf-stable. 

Well, it didn’t take long for me to pick. Burdock pickles. I make them every year in early spring, and they, along with all my other favorite must have jams and pickles, are an important marker in the succession of the year. There is burdock pickle time just as there is tomato sauce time and canned peaches time. It’s a time of shoots rising, leaves unfurling, damp earthy soil and roots to be dug.

Burdock, to give you a little background,   is a common garden and wayside weed with remarkable medicinal qualities. Herbalists like to call it a “tonic” because it does just that – gently tonifies and strengthens the body, from the digestive tract and liver to the immune system and lymphatics, when used over a period of time. For this reason, I love to consume a little burdock each day at the change of the seasons (spring and fall) to support my body as it adapts to the seasonal transition. In Japan it is touted not just for its medicinal benefit, but as a delicious food as well – a crisp, nutty root with a distinctive sweet flavor that can only be described as burdock. These pickles are my favorite way to get my daily burdock dosage and savor its delicious and unique flavor.

So burdock pickles it was. I headed out with my shovel for an afternoon of root digging, root scrubbing, root chopping and root pickling that ended in a half a dozen glittering glass jars packed with burdock roots, ginger, chile and garlic. Four of them went off with Iris for the  spring herb shares (and to be sold at the Montpelier farmer’s market this Saturday – look for the Grian Herbs booth) and two of them have joined the many other jars of deliciousness in my pantry. And of course, burdock isn’t all you’ll find in those jars.  The damp earthiness in the air, the feelings of mud between your fingers, the unfolding of leaves, the rising up of shoots. It’s all there too. You just have to open it up and taste it.

Pickled Burdock Root

You can also find burdock (or Gobo) in Asian markets or well stocked grocery stores, if you haven’t the chance to go dig some up yourself.

  • 4-5 medium-sized burdock roots
  • 3 garlic cloves, sliced thinly
  • a two-inch piece of ginger, sliced into thin strips
  • 1 red chili sliced thinly (or 1 – 2 tsp red chili flakes)
  •  apple cider vinegar
  •  tamari
  •  sake

Scrub the roots well to remove any dirt and then peel away the rough outer skin. On larger roots, the outer layer can simply be peeled away by hand though on smaller roots you will need to use a vegetable peeler.

Cut the roots into 1 inch long segments, and then julienne them into matchstick size strips. Alternately, you can slice the roots into thin rounds, about 1/8 inch thick if you prefer a larger sized pickle.

Place your prepared burdock into a pan and just cover with water. Bring the water to a boil for 2-3 minutes (just enough to soften the roots slightly) and then remove from heat. Remove the roots using a slotted spoon and place them in a clean bowl, reserving your cooking liquid.

Add the ginger, garlic and chili to the burdock and mix well. Then divide this mixture into 2 or 3 sterilized pint size mason jars, filling them to about an inch from the top. In each jar, you will fill 1/4 of the volume with apple cider vinegar, 1/4 with tamari, 1/4 with the burdock cooking liquid and 1/4 with sake. Cap tightly. At this point you can refrigerate until ready to use, or place them in a pressure cooker or water bath to seal and make them shelf-stable.

Warm salad for a chilly spring day

I can’t explain to you how this happened, but somehow, April and March have switched places. March, normally drizzly and cold and still struggling to escape the grasp of winter, was full of warm days with bright sunshine – some days that were even positively hot and summery. Grass grew and leaves unfurled, plants sprouted, flowers bloomed. Rather than anxiously awaiting the appearance of those first tender little dandelion leaves and the first sweet tasting wild ramps as I usually am in March – I was past all that before it even began, thinking it must be about time for strawberries, rhubarb and asparagus. It was eerie.

But now that we are moving into April, it is for all respects, March again (or March as it should’ve been). Each day is as cold and overcast as the day before. Snow flakes fall and sometimes threaten to stay around like unwanted house guests. Warm weather seems distinctly out of one’s grasp. The very thought that in March I was wearing sandals and summer dresses, that we ate crisp salads every day out in the sunshine, and that – dare I say it, I was sometimes even hot and near to cursing the warmth – seems like a dream that could not possibly have happened. Those thoughts are more like visions of the future than they should be memories held under the domain of March. It seems I have gone backwards in time rather than forwards.

But it is back to cool and careful spring again, so here we are. Doesn’t it seem like all those plants who came rushing out of their shells in that summery sunshine are now frozen in mid-step, holding their breath and hoping that winter won’t see them – won’t know how easily they were seduced by the warm caress of spring? I feel a little like them too. I can’t seem to go back to the idea of my winter self – but just the same I’m not quite ready for all the crisp radish and fresh mint that I was craving in that early spring heat. I need something half way between.

This salad embraces that idea I think – lots of vibrant vegetables barely wilted so they retain a bit of bite – smothered in a warm garlic and chile infused oil with earthy olives, tempeh and caramelized onions tucked in to keep one grounded and not sprouting out too prematurely. The top gets a little breath of freshness though – a hint of the bright sunshine and warm days to come – with a little lemon zest. The best part is that this salad utilizes one of the very first spring wild harvests to come to the table – little tender baby dandelion leaves – sweet and bitter both. The ability, after months of cold and snow and brown parched earth, to walk out and eat something growing right out the back door has always felt like a miracle to me, just in the way that warm breezes, bird songs and all the other forgotten spring treasures do when winter begins its retreat.

You’ll notice that many of the things growing this time of year have a hint of bitterness to them. Bitterness awakens the digestive tract and helps to move out stagnation – so whether the plants do this purposely for us or not I can’t say – but there could be no flavor more perfectly suited for adapting us to spring. I wrote an entire article on just how imperative bitterness is to our health that you can read here if you like. Anyhow, if you haven’t graced your palate with this neglected flavor before, I urge you try it now on these cold spring days, when it could never be better suited. It satisfies deeply, like it were nourishing you to the very depths of your roots.

I hope you have a delightful Easter – I like to think about it being a celebration of re-birth in the widest sense – a celebration for spring. In some ways, I’m glad that the cold has come back for a little while yet, because it really emphasizes the miraculous tenacity of those first spring flowers, of those tender little green shoots emerging from the earth.

A Warm Salad of Bitter Greens, Broccolini and Tempeh with Garlic Oil

Adapted from a recipe in Skye Gyngell’s A Year in my Kitchen. Use wild dandelion greens if you have access to them, if not organically cultivated dandelion greens can usually be found in most well-stocked grocery stores.

  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 large red onion, sliced thinly
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • pinch of sugar, salt and black pepper
  • 1 bunch broccolini
  • 1 small head radicchio
  • a few good handfuls of dandelion leaves
  • 1/3 cup kalamata olives
  • finely grated zest and juice of 1 lemon

For the tempeh:

  • 8 oz tempeh, sliced into thin rectangular strips
  • 2-3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2-3 tablespoons tamari, or to taste

For the garlic oil:

  • 2 garlic cloves, finely minced
  • pinch of red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Start by preparing the garlic oil. Warm the olive oil in a saucepan and then add the garlic and chili. Let it sizzle for about 30 seconds and then turn off the heat. Let sit for at least 30 minutes before using. You can re-heat just before serving.

While the oil is infusing, prepare your onions. Heat the olive oil in a medium skillet over moderate heat. Add the balsamic vinegar, the pinch of sugar, salt and pepper, and stir well. Let the onions cook for a good 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until they are a glossy deep purple and sticky sweet.

While the onions are cooking, bring a well salted pot of water to boil (for the broccolini) and begin to prepare your tempeh. Heat another skillet over moderate heat and add the olive oil. Once the oil is hot, add as many strips of tempeh as you can fit so that they are not overlapping. Splash a tablespoon of tamari over the tempeh and then roll the pan around so that the liquid is evenly distributed. Cook for several minutes, then flip and cook on the other side until well browned. Continue with the rest of the tempeh.

Meanwhile, trim up the broccolini by cutting off the woody base of the stems and trimming any larger pieces into smaller bits. When the water has come to a full boil, plunge the broccolini into the water and cook for 2 minutes.

Drain the broccolini and place in a bowl with the dandelion greens and radicchio. Drizzle a little of the warmed oil in and toss with a little salt and pepper to coat the greens. Scatter over the tempeh, olives, caramelized onions and a little salt and pepper. Drizzle over the remaining oil along with the squeeze of lemon juice and garnish with the lemon zest. Serve at once on warm plates.

Chocolate avocado love tart

I can hear the howling of coyotes coming from somewhere out in the darkness. It’s an eerie sound, one that makes you draw your sweater tighter around you and go and double-check the doors to make sure they are locked. But once I get over the initial hair-raising reaction and stop to listen, I think its sort of beautiful too – a desperate sounding song full of wildness and hunger and longing. In the next room, there is a roast in the oven – a pork loin sitting on a bed of apples and onions, and sprigs of thyme tucked in. The sounds of the oven clicking on and off are comforting against the back drop of coyote song.  There is a bouquet of pink and red tulips on the table, the table is set for two – and in the fridge sits the tart you see above.

This tart is one of those things that looks horribly sinful and decadent, but in reality is quite wholesome. It’s raw – meaning nothing is cooked and that everything is in its whole, unprocessed glory. Loaded with good fats from avocados and nuts, sweetened with honey and dates, and spiced with chocolate, vitality building “aphrodisiac” herbs and spices, it leaves you feeling absolutely radiant after you eat it – like you are just glowing. I can’t think of many other cakes that will do that. I think it’s the perfect  way to celebrate that sense of awakening we all start to feel about now (which is what I think Valentine’s is all about). I think that must be what the coyotes are singing about too, come to think of it.

Chocolate Avocado Love Tart

Feel free to leave the herbs out if you like – just add in 25g extra cocoa powder.

For the crust:

  • 150g each pecans and almonds
  • 100g pitted medjool dates, cut into pieces
  • 1 tsp sea salt

For the filling:

  • 3 ripe avocados
  • 85g virgin coconut oil
  • 125g cocoa powder (raw if possible)
  • 10g maca powder
  • 10g muiri puama powder
  • 5g cardamom powder
  • 175 mls honey
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • pinch of sea salt
  • powdered rose petals and whole rose petals for garnishing

Lightly grease a spring-form pan (a cake pan with a removable side) with coconut oil.

In a food processor, combine the nuts, dates and sea salt until they begin to clump up in the machine and form a ball.

Press the nut mixture into the base of the spring-form pan using your fingers or the back of a spoon so that it extends over the entire base and has a fairly even texture.

Combine all the filling ingredients (except the rose powder and petals) in the food processor and process until smooth. Taste and adjust for sweetness if desired – adding a tiny bit more honey if you like. I tend to like chocolate on the less sweet side. Scoop the filling on top of the nut mixture, and smooth evenly over the top, extending to the sides of the pan. Place in the fridge for at least one hour before serving to chill.

When ready to serve, remove from the springform pan – you may need to run a knife around the edge first. Dust the top with powdered rose petals (you could also use cardamom, cocoa powder or cinnamon if you can’t locate the rose powder) and then sprinkle dried rose petals over the top.