Back to your roots (chicken and burdock soup).

Okay, I chose a grad school. Leaving Japan in August. The morning after I received the good news, the junior high school I work at was serving sekihan (red rice, eaten on auspicious days) to the students for lunch in honor of the upcoming graduation ceremony. The funny part was, the third year students – the ones who are graduating – were out of school on a mandatory holiday due to influenza, so they couldn’t enjoy the lunch in their honor. I, however, helped myself to a big fat sekihan onigiri and dedicated it to myself.

Because I am a raging narcissist. Okay, back to the cooking blog now.

It’s still cold, despite it being March. I’m also still low on funds, surprise surprise. So let’s make cheap soup that will last for many days and can even be turned into a stew provided you have barley on hand.

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Chicken Root Soup

This soup has a remarkable earthy taste that makes you feel like it could be something your ancestors would have eaten, if your ancestors were crunchy herbal healers. It’s composed mostly of daikon and cabbage, which makes it low in calories, but the chicken, burdock root, and milk add a savory element that makes it filling and warming on a winter’s day.

Burdock root (gobou) is delicious but I don’t cook with it often. Why? Because it’s a hassle to prepare. It is the pomegranate of the root vegetable family. You can buy it pre-peeled and cut for a little bit more. If you buy it whole, you will need to thoroughly rinse it while scrubbing off the peel with a tawashi, or you can use a peeler. Afterward, slice it into diagonally into disks similar to the way you’d slice eggplant. Daikon, which you might know as the 2 foot long white radish that sells for like ¥100 right now, is the other root in the soup. It’s slight tanginess layers well with the earthy flavor of the burdock. It’s also quite healthy.

This recipe produces a ton because I like to make big meals and eat them all week, but you could easily halve the recipe.


  • Cooking oil (¥10)
  • 1 onion (玉ねぎ), finely chopped (¥40)
  • 2 cloves garlic (にんにく), finely minced (¥20)
  • ½ large daikon radish (大根), finely chopped or shredded (¥75 or cheaper)
  • 2-3 cups burdock root (ごぼう), shredded – don’t know how many grams, basically just buy an entire 100 yen bunch at the supermarket (¥100)
  • 2 carrots (にんじん), finely chopped (¥80)
  • About 400g (14 oz) cheap chicken cuts, such as thighs (もも), cut into bite-sized pieces (¥300)
  • ½ head Chinese (白菜) or regular cabbage, shredded (¥75)
  • 100 ml (½ c) milk (牛乳)(¥100)
  • salt, pepper, thyme, paprika, parsley (¥10), (add dill if you have it)


  1. In a large stock pan, sauté the onion and garlic in oil, salt, and pepper.
  2. Add the chicken pieces and sauté for just 1 minute.
  3. Add the daikon, carrots, and burdock root, more salt and pepper, and paprika and thyme to taste. If you buy “exotic” spices at foreign stores like Kaldi, you can add dill here too. Saute 2-3 more minutes.
  4. Add 1000ml water and cabbage. Bring to a boil before reducing to a gentle simmer.
  5. Simmer, covered with the lid cracked, about 30 minutes. You won’t need to stir it much, maybe two or three times during cooking.
  6. Uncover, stir in the milk, and cook about 10 more minutes, or until liquid has reduced and the burdock root is tender.
  7. Turn off the heat. Puree half the soup in a blender (this may take a few rounds) and stir it back in. Garnish with parsley and serve with your favorite grain.*

*Note: After the first day, I cooked a bunch of barley and combined it with the soup. This is the soup –> stew conversion I mentioned above. One bowl is all you need.

Lasts: for one person, this will feed you about 6 hearty portions or 8-10 small portions
Total cost: 800 yen, or about ¥130 per serving. Even cheaper if you trade out the meat for beans or tofu.