Bento filler: Parsnip kinpira

When you don’t live in Japan and you try to recreate Japanese recipes, ingredients can be a bit of a problem. I’m not really talking about the basic staples like soy sauce or mirin and so on; it used to be an issue trying to get a hold of those too, but with the growing popularity of Japanese cuisine in particular and Asian food in general, this has become much less of an issue. (Here, I either mailorder from stores in Paris or London, or stock up when we go to Lyon or Geneva.) But fresh ingredients are another matter. Take for example, the classic kinpira gobo, a terrific vegetable standby. It’s crunchy, a bit spicy, and goes well in just about any rice based bento, conventional or otherwise. It’s also very easy to make, freezes well, and is an all-around star. But getting hold of burdock (gobo) roots anywhere but a town with a sizeable Asian population? A bit difficult. Here in sleepy semi-rural France, forget it.

But I’m not complaining. I’ve already adapted the basic kinpira formula to use carrots only, or almost any kind of vegetable that’s suitable. Here’s yet another variation that uses a vegetable that you will not encounter in Japan, parsnips. I must admit I only encountered parsnip in the last decade or so of my life, after moving to Europe. I don’t think they are that common in U.S. supermarkets nationwide either, unlike the ubiquitous carrot or broccoli. But they should be! They’re naturally sweet, roast up beautifully, and make interesting purées or mashes. And, they have a crunchy fibrous texture that is quite similar to gobo.

So, here they are in kinpira form.


Because of their natural sweetness, no additional sugar or mirin is required, although you can add some if you like of course. A little bit of pre-treatment as it were is needed to counteract the texture, but it only adds a few minutes to your cooking time.

Recipe: Parsnip kinpira

Makes about 2 cups

  • 2 medium to large parsnips, scrubbed well and peeled (you can skip the peeling if the skin is not so tough and bumpy)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon light cooking oil such as light olive oil or canola oil
  • 1 tablespoon toasted dark sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon sesame seeds
  • 1/8 teaspoon (or to taste) dried red chili pepper flakes, or use ichimi togarashi instead
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce

Cut the parsnips into thin matchsticks. This is a bit tough on your hands, especially if the parsnips have large cores, but it will be worth it!

(Note: You can skip this next step if your parsnips are young and tender and go straight to the stir fry step.) Heat up a large frying pan and put in the water. When the water is boiling, add the parsnips and put on a lid. Let it steam-cook for about 3 minutes. Open the lid and either drain off any remaining moisture or just let it evaporate.

Add the oils to the pan and stir fry the parsnips, 2-3 minutes. They should still be crisp but just about turning soft. Add the sesame seeds and chili pepper flakes and toss around well. Add the soy sauce and toss to coat everything well.

As with all kinpiras, this freezes very well. Just divide into individual portions and wrap in plastic, or use a freezer container. One way to make bento packing very convenient is to freeze kinpira in little divider cups; use disposable ones, or reusable silicone ones, whichever you have. To pack, just stick one in a bento, where it will defrost in plenty of time for lunch in most cases. (Although as with all kinpiras, in our household this rarely makes it to the freezer before it’s all devoured.)

Kinpira pasta?

This is something The Guy came up with the other day, after I’d been experiementing with parsnip kinpira. Some of it didn’t quite turn out right (I over- or under-did the parboiling part) but it still tasted good. He just boiled some linguine, added it and the kinpira to a pan and sautéed it a bit. It was spicy and crunchy and delicious. If you’ve made extra kinpira (any of the kinpira recipes on this site should work) give it a try!

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Re: Bento filler: Parsnip kinpira

Never thought about using parsnips for kinpira. Thank you for giving me a great idea. I have made broccoli stalks kinpira and green peppers kinpira. They are good!

Whole Foods in the US sells Gobo, but they look so dry. I have never purchased one.

Re: Bento filler: Parsnip kinpira

I remember you wrote about going to school in England. Didn't you get those roasted parsnips as part of your school dinner? They looked exactly like chips (fries) and we would all be delighted until we bit into them and realised they were parsnips! I think that's quite a common experience among British people who had school dinners, and is probably responsible for putting quite a lot of people off parsnips in later life, myself included. But I must admit, we these seasonings, this recipe looks delicious.

Re: Bento filler: Parsnip kinpira

Nah, I somehow missed out on parsnips in my youth, probably because we lived right next door to my school in England and I went home for lunch every day. I would have loved to eat lunch at school but they didn't have enough capacity, so pupils living nearby had to go home. Oh, the cultural depravity! But, I still managed to encounter Marmite early enough in life. ^__^

Re: Bento filler: Parsnip kinpira

Have you ever tried to use celeriac (the big fat celery root)?
I like it sliced in all sort of stir-fry and similar recipes, and I suspect it could be yummy prepared kimpira-like.
I looked at the link to other vegetables in the article above, but found only mention of celery...

Re: Bento filler: Parsnip kinpira

Celeriac works too, though it is not as crunchy as I'd like it to be. (I probably didn't write about celeriac in the 'forgotten vegetable kinpira' post because celeriac is still rather obscure in the U.S., and if available tends to be a bit pricey.)

Re: Bento filler: Parsnip kinpira

It needs to cook rather short if you want it too keep a crunchy bite, shorter than carrots, but it might depend on the variety.

Talking about root vegetables, when you where in Switzerland did you come across "Küttigen carrots"? They are white carrots, and look a lot like a parsnip, but are much more "solid". They are at best cooked (actually they are a bit too hard to eat raw).
Yummy and very carroty taste, nice and cruncy even when cooked in soups or stewed.
I miss them over here..(I used to grow them in the vegetable garden, it was one of the few things that grew very well in the heavvy, clammy soil we had).
Sorry for the OT ;-).

Re: Bento filler: Parsnip kinpira

I enjoy parsnips a lot. My favorite way to make them is in a mash, like a potato but less starchy, then panfried as croquettes. For US readers: I have not had difficulty getting parsnips at my regular grocery store. They are typically groupled with the other root vegetables and they look like white carrots.

I made your celery kinpira the other day since I had leftover celery from making soup. It's a tasty way to have veggies. I'll try it with the carrots or parsnips. They are good and reasonably priced year-round.

Re: Bento filler: Parsnip kinpira

Try mashing them together with carrots! It's a standard New Zealand vegetable dish, and many kids hate it because old parsnips can be a bit fibrous down the middle and if you get any stringy bits in your mouth it does make it pretty horrible. Lovely young parsnips and carrots though, boiled together until well cooked, drained, dried, then puréed with butter and black pepper - delicious. About a 2-1 ratio of parsnips to carrots is my fave. Passing through a sieve completely removes any stringy bits too.

Re: Bento filler: Parsnip kinpira

Have you ever tried black salsify (scorzonera) for kinpira? I will do so next weekend but I am not yet sure about the combination with japanese condiments...

Re: Bento filler: Parsnip kinpira

I tried by chance, mistakenly assuming that burdock was a sort of salsify, and I liked it a lot.

Re: Bento filler: Parsnip kinpira

Hi Maki,

A lot of these "obsure" root veg are actually quite easy to find these days in the US. Granted, I live in NYC but I also go to Kentucky and California to visit my parents and siblings and I can find parsnip, celeriac and other root veg, especially at farmer's markets, which are sweeping the nation! There are so many interesting varieties of carrots these days at farmer's markets. Have you tried the purple kind? Amazing. If you're ever in LA, the Culver City farmer's market is HUGE and a lot of the farmers are asian, so they grow tons of asian veg! Gobo is very commonly found in asian markets in NYC. Can you give a few tips on what to look for when purchasing? I've picked it up several times but never actually bought it.

Re: Bento filler: Parsnip kinpira

I agree! I wouldn't consider these vegetables obscure at all. Especially not parsnips, which are so ubiquitous that they get a label of mundane and are often unappreciated.

They sell burdock (gobo) where I shop in Princeton, NJ. It's just a local farmer's market/health food type place, it's not Asian oriented. I've not had the guts to try it since my midwife made me a disgustingly bitter tea with it years back.

Purple carrots are amazing! I love how you get an entire rainbow of color in one sweet and delicious vegetable.

Re: Bento filler: Parsnip kinpira

JustBento readers are all over the world, so as much as possible, I do try to stay with the vegetables that are most commonly available. You may be able to get burdock in New York or California, but the rest of the country may not. (And I do have some gobo recipes on here and Just Hungry anyway, including the classic kinpira gobo mentioned above). I was reminded of just how global the JB/JH readership is the other day when I got a cry for help from someone who was trying to make my Japanese curry recipe and couldn't find canned tomatoes. I thought canned tomatoes were ubiquitous, but apparently not in every country! You live and learn.

Re: Bento filler: Parsnip kinpira

You are correct, of course! It is just strange for me to hear about parsnips talked about as an obscure European vegetable when I've grown up with them here in the States. I've lived in many places in the U.S. and they've always been around. Then again, so have tomatoes!

I am lucky to live in a "melting pot" sort of place where many ingredients that are exotic and unattainable to many are readily available. It's all too easy to take it for granted.

Re: Bento filler: Parsnip kinpira

That's right! I had so much trouble finding canned tomatoes in Korea. Sometimes I'd find them in department store food halls at high prices, as if they were some sort of luxury item. I ended up bringing a few cans back from Japan after a weekend trip. I'm not saying this to criticise the Koreans, but just by walking into a grocery store you can tell how less rich and developed Korea still is compared with Japan. The sheer quality and variety of food in a basic Japanese store like MaxValu was very difficult to find in Korea. As for burdock root, I've lived in various countries, including the US, and never found it in stores.

Re: Bento filler: Parsnip kinpira

I tried this last night with some parsnips I happened to have on hand. I used your cooking times and pre-boiling with half of them and they turned into complete mush (mashed potato texture). The other half I just fried up with the carrots and they took the same time (about 4 minutes) and turned out great.

These guys were pretty small as far as parsnips go. They were about the same size as a large carrot. I think the size of the parsnip makes a huge difference as far as woodiness and the little ones don't need the extra boiling step.

I love parsnips and they are always easy to find here in New Jersey. They can be grown locally well into winter, so they are a cold weather staple for us.

Re: Bento filler: Parsnip kinpira

You are right, if the parsnips are young and tender the steam-cooking step can be skipped. I've noted that now in the recipe. (For us here it is rather rare to get young parsnips from the farmer's markets. They seem to like to grow 'em big.)

Re: Bento filler: Parsnip kinpira

I've always been able to find parsnips in the grocery stores I go to locally (Delaware, Pennsylvania, Maryland, New Jersey). My parents are English so we always had them growing up, but I've met a lot of people who haven't ever tried them.

I really miss the "rainbow carrots" bag you used to be able to get at Trader Joe's! Purple, red, orange, yellow and white carrots. It would have made beautiful kinpira, but they stopped carrying it before I found Just Bento. Curses! (Their "Savory Thin Mini Crackers", made of rice meal and sesame flour, are excellent with bentos though.)

It's funny this recipe should come up the day after I made a big batch of carrot and parsnip kinpira, I like the tastes together as well as the colors. If you can only find large parsnips with woody cores, you can always cut the core out as you julienne. That's what I do.

Re: Bento filler: Parsnip kinpira

I have to chime in with the rest that I've never had any trouble finding parsnips at all and I've lived all over the US in Oregon, Washington and now Florida. The notion that they are uncommon makes me chuckle. :) I grew up eating them in rural Oregon and my family was not particularly culinarily adventurous in any way. I can find them at even the cheapest grocery market. Burdock is a bit of a different story, but it is obviously available in the PAC NW states (which have large Asian populations) but it is also available here in Tampa at Asian markets and even a couple of general grocery stores.

Re: Bento filler: Parsnip kinpira

Uhm, I was wondering if anyone could describe what a parsnip tastes like? >< I'm a little scared t try it after the "Radish Incident" when I was younger... *Shiver* I will never, ever eat a radish again!

Re: Bento filler: Parsnip kinpira

It's a lot like carrot, but with more of the aromatic parts of the carrot flavor -- it's hard to describe, but definitely worth giving a try.

Re: Bento filler: Parsnip kinpira

Why have I not thought of this? I love kinpira in my bentos, and I adore parsnips...

Now I'm thinking of all my other favorite root vegetables -- anyone tried doing a kinpira with young beetroot?

Re: Bento filler: Parsnip kinpira

It did this and it was amazingly delicious but I used peanut oil not sesame seed and used parsnips broccoli and carrots

Re: Bento filler: Parsnip kinpira

What a brilliant idea! Two things I love combined! Will definitely try this. Here in the Pacific NW parsnip is quite common and can be found in any supermarket. Gobo is readily available in all Asian supermarkets too. But when I lived in Kuwait I always made just plain carrot kinpira. Good to experiment!

Re: Bento filler: Parsnip kinpira

Great recipe! I never know what to do with parsnips (I guess because I didn't grow up eating them). I've lived in MD for about 15 years and have always found parsnips in grocery stores and especially farmer's markets. It's common(-ish) to grow them in kitchen gardens in this area since colonial times.

I'm also lucky enough to be a military wife- the military Commissary keeps a lot of odd and random foreign food in stock. If you have a military friend, they may be able to find a Japanese ingredient you can't find at a normal grocery store (and it's usually a little less pricey than some asian markets). Just a thought!

Re: Bento filler: Parsnip kinpira

At last, something to do with parsnips! I love them, my husband hates them, so they never get added to anything he might eat. He also doesn't like anything remotely spicy. I'm planning on making this for my lunches though, so I dont have to worry about his (rather bland) tastes.

Parsnips are available everywhere in Ontario, although I don't actually know many people who eat them. I also love the rainbow carrots, and stockpile them whenever I find them, as they are not easy to find. The dark purple (black) ones turn everything purple when mixed with other ingredients.

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