The Teacup Chronicles

Category: garlic

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.

Cold weather hash for a lazy Sunday morning

Lately I’ve been thinking more about how I’d really like to spend my time. Like, if I knew my life were ending in six months, what would I do with my days, then? What wouldn’t I do?

I try to ask this question every couple of months, because I think it’s a good way to check in with myself, to ensure that I’m living my life the way I want to be, and not just the way I think I should – to ensure that I’m not getting too complacent.  Of course, we can’t all go running off to Paris tomorrow, or stop cleaning the toilet, or expect Johnny Depp to show up and feed us chocolates. Things must be tended to, children must be fed, tomorrows considered. But, I think we owe it to ourselves to try and listen, now and then, to what our heart is beckoning of us. We owe it to ourselves to live our lives, first and foremost, according to that.

As for me, if I treated the hours of my life a little more preciously, I’m sure I’d spend far less time checking my email, scrolling through Facebook feeds like a spaced out droid, or being on the computer at all really. I’d try and see more sunsets, I’d look at the stars more, I’d go for more walks in the woods. I’d call up old friends and ask them important questions, like how they are, I’d send more letters. I’d spend more time writing. I’d travel more, I’d go to the ocean, I’d visit the places I’ve always wanted to go.  I’d try and notice things more, try and savor them. And, I think I’d try to spend more of my days like a Sunday morning.

This may sound terribly boring, but think of it. The most precious hours of my life could not be better spent than sitting at the table with the morning sun streaming in, a warm mug of tea, husband and cats in tow, and that blissful sense of having nowhere to be and nothing to do, with the possibilities of an entire day stretched before me. I am never happier than in those moments. Usually there is something on the stove top, or in the oven, cooking away (because for once there is time!), while we read each other snippets from the newspaper or magazine articles, or listen to the radio. Sometimes we chat about our week, sometimes just sit comfortably in the silence of our own thoughts.

I’m sure there are more exciting things than Sundays, things that would stand out in one’s memory more vividly, but none I should think, as deeply satisfying and serene. I love Sunday mornings.

So in the name of spending more days in this way, here is a lovely stove top hash that is just perfect for a lazy morning of doing nothing more than just enjoying being. It cooks slowly over a low flame, with an occasional stir, and is ready by the time you’ve finished day dreaming and reading all the good bits in the paper. You could of course steam the vegetables first so that they will cook faster, but that would defeat the purpose, and not be nearly as good. Enjoy.

Cold Weather Hash

I like to serve this topped with a good organic egg, cooked how you like it, and a side of organic, pasture raised bacon – which is the best bacon you’ll ever have. Yes it costs more, but that goes to show that bacon is a treat, and for treats that involve your health, an animals health, and the health of the environment,  no expense should be spared. Feel free to substitute other root veg you might have on hand. Serves 4.

  • butter or oil
  • 1 red onion
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 small sweet potato
  • 2 potatoes
  • 2 medium or 1 large beet
  • 2 cups brussels sprouts, larger sprouts halved
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • a dash of hot sauce, or a 1/4 teaspoon of hot chili flakes
  • black pepper

Dice the onion, sweet potato, potatoes and beets into 1/4 – 1/2 inch pieces (the smaller you cut, the faster they will cook).

Heat your butter or oil in a large skillet over medium heat. When the pan is nice and hot, add the onion with a pinch of salt and pepper, and cook until the onion is just turning translucent. Add your garlic and cook for a minute more, then add the remainder of your ingredients.

Stir every 5 minutes or so, adding more butter or oil if needed, until the vegetables are tender and well browned – almost caramelized on the edges (which is why cooking hash this way is sooo good).  Check for seasoning and add a little more spice or salt if necessary.

Serve topped with more hot sauce, chili pepper chutney or a bit of good ketchup.

Spicy Soup Noodles

Hello, my darling readers. Hope you’ve been well?  Here on the East coast, we’re enjoying the first of the season’s snowfall – everything dusted in white, with those last little hints of yellows and rusts peaking through. I’ve been enjoying the snugness of it all, the quiet, that blissfully cozy feeling one gets seeing the snow falling through the window. Mostly, though,  I’m just enjoying being somewhere other than in bed,  after being down all week with the most horrible flu bug known to humanity.

It all started Tuesday with a little sniffle and a scratch in my throat. I took my Echinacea, had some tea and went to bed early, like a good girl. Skip ahead to 3:30 that morning, where you find me shivering so badly that my teeth are actually chattering in my head, tossing back and forth, and moaning incoherently. This was just the beginning.  Soon after, the nausea set in, followed by the inevitable next step in this sequence. When that was over, the full on body ache began. I never got out of bed that day once, if you can believe it.

The worst thing about this flu, was that at the end of the day, I’d start to feel better. I’d think, “hey I bet tomorrow I’ll be able to go back to work.” But this flu had other things in mind. Each day, I’d awake with some horrible new affliction – completely different from what I’d suffered the day before, but just as awful. From nausea, aches and pains and chills, I went to can’t even swallow it hurts so bad sore throat. Then came the runny nose, the cough, the feeling as though my head was several hundred feet below sea level. And finally, just to really go out with a bang, I woke up on Friday with pink eye. Yes, pink eye. 

Today  I’m just happy to being sitting up, feeling mostly normal, able to see and not looking like the living dead. The snow is an added bonus to all of this, so I’m feeling pretty spoiled at the moment. Goodness,  it’s nice not to feel awful!

Anyhow, when my appetite came back this morning (and with a vengeance, I might add), I had visions of noodle soup fill my head. Back when I lived in Seattle, there was the most delicious little Asian restaurant down the street from us, The Teapot Vegetarian House. They had a dish called  “soup noodles” – which was more or less like chicken noodle soup (sans the chicken) with a spicy Asian flair to it. Soooo good. Whenever I was sick, I’d crawl out of bed and drag myself there in rain or shine, and I think this soup saved my life many a time.

So, naturally, whenever I find myself under the weather, I crave those noodles like you wouldn’t believe. But having no Teapot round the corner to go to, I’ve had to figure out how to make my own. It isn’t hard to do at all, just requires some chopping, some boiling of water, and you’re done. But I tell you, once you’ve got a little of this inside you, you know you’re on the road to recovery.

Before I share my recipe with you, however, I just want to share a few of my strategies for getting better quick – as they are so fresh in my mind!  This is just a quick summary, and if you’d like to read more  detail, or learn more tips about surviving cold and flu season, I’d suggest you visit my post on the matter: fending of winter illness. In short, here are my tips:

  • Drink as much fluid as you can, preferably hot. Hot water with lemon; a vegetable or meat stock with a little miso; your favorite cold and flu tea. The body gets dehydrated easily due to higher body temperatures, so replenishing those fluids is paramount, as is replenishing electrolytes and nutrients. The extra fluids help to remove waste products from the body as well, boosting your recovery rate. (I make a tea called Breathe which I drink gallons of this time of year.)
  • Take hot baths (or showers). Baths are nice in a variety of ways when your feeling less than great – they warm the body and facilitate the immune system; enhance circulation – helping to relax stiff, achy muscles; support lymphatic movement which helps to clean up the site of infection; and the hot steam helps to break through congestion and soothe irritation. A nice hot bath is also just the thing for promoting my next tip.
  • Sleep. Your immune system works far better when you’re asleep than when awake. So if you feel drowsy, don’t fight it. Tuck yourself in and rest away, and you’ll be going a long way towards helping your body recover.
  • Eat soup. There simply isn’t any better food for when you’re unwell. Fluid, soothing warmth and nourishment all in one. Everybody feels better after a bowl of soup. (But no cream soups here – stick to brothy soups loaded with vegetables and small amounts of protein from meat or legumes). 

 Spicy Soup Noodles

As a note, you’ll want to keep any left over noodles separate from your soup. Otherwise, they will get mushy when you reheat.  By all means, eat this also when you’re feeling well, especially on a chilly day.  Serves 2-4, depending on portion sizes. 

  • 1 package soba or udon noodles (I used buckwheat soba)
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 2 -3 teaspoons freshly grated ginger (or to taste)
  • 2-3 garlic cloves, finely minced (or to taste)
  • 1 hot red chile pepper, deseeded and minced (or 1/2 – 1 teaspoon chile flakes)
  • 1 bunch scallions, ends trimmed off and sliced on the diagonal into thin strips
  • 8 – 10 shiitake mushrooms, stems removed and cut into thin strips
  • 1 medium or 2 small carrots, either thinly sliced or cut into matchsticks
  • 1 medium head of pok choi, sliced into thin shreds
  • 1/4 head of green cabbage, sliced into thin shreds
  • 6 oz tofu, lightly pan-fried or leftover chicken or pork, shredded (optional)
  • 1 quart of stock: vegetable, chicken or beef
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce

To serve (optional):

  • Lime wedges
  • Toasted sesame oil
  • Soy sauce
  • more fresh scallions or sliced red chile

Place a pot of water on high heat for the noodles. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a medium sauce pan and then add your garlic, ginger and chile pepper. Stir frequently to prevent sticking, for about 1 minute, then add the scallions and heat for a minute more. Add the carrots, mushrooms and stock, and bring to  a boil before reducing to a gentle simmer. Simmer for no more than 10 minutes, then add the greens and soy sauce and taste for flavor. 

Cook the noodles according to package instructions, then drain and rinse under cool water.  Place a heap of noodles into each bowl, top with a good ladleful of soup, making sure you get plenty of broth and veg, and serve with whatever toppings you choose.