In the traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) 5-element system, spring corresponds to the Wood element. If you think of Wood as bamboo, and not an oak tree, it’s a bit easier to see how wood’s correspondences make sense: the wood element exhibits characteristics of upward movement and flexibility, birth and new growth and it’s color is bright green. Those little buds at the tips of branches these days, or all the tulip and daffodil bulbs shooting upwards out of the chilly soil — that’s the wood element busting onto the scene. TCM posits that changes exhibited outside of us in nature manifest within us as well, so in spring we are also budding with new growth, soaring upwards out of the retreating which happened in the cold winter months. If all goes well, we burst forth in spring, ready to take on the new projects which we conceptualized over the winter. But, in reality, it can be a little too much, too fast. Think about spring cleaning: you know how your apartment gets messier before it gets cleaner again because you took out everything from your closets at the same time? That’s what’s happening within your body. Everything – your ideas, your plans, your thoughts – all jump out at once, which can wreak havoc on the smooth flow of your emotions and body. Especially when things get cut short – think of the buds that come out, but then a frost rolls in. Spring is often associated with frustration, as wood energy appreciates follow-though and seeing tasks to completion. But have no fear, there’s a productive solution: don’t get frusterated – get chopping!
According to TCM, metal balances the wood element. Literally, metal chops wood. So turning to your kitchen knife is a great way to hone wood’s intensity, while satisfying wood’s determination. Side note: It’s also a great time to make sure your knives are sharpened. I like to get my knives sharpened twice a year (useful fact: they often offer knife sharpening at shoe cobblers), and I use the metal and wood seasons (fall and spring) as reminders.
What to chop? In general, anything, but specifically in this case, I was inspired to make this salad after picking up some burdock root at a local Asian market last week. You can’t miss this thing – with it’s light brown skin and 3-foot skinny length. It definitely sticks out of the vegetable crowd. Herbal traditions throughout the world have used the whole burdock plant, from the root to the leaves to the seeds, to treat conditions ranging from rashes to sore throats to weakness to dandruff. One of my favorite herbalism books originally published in 1938 states, “It is impossible to exaggerate the usefulness of every part of this plant, both as a food and medicine.” So while this salad can definitely be made with just carrots and celery if you don’t have access to burdock root, it’s definitely worth seeking out, since using it will increase the therapeutic aspect of the dish as well as impart a wonderful earthy flavor. Burdock should be peeled well before using. I tend to break the long roots into more manageable lengths, peel with a carrot peeler, then cut into the ultimate length of my julienne, about 3-inches. Burdock root tends to oxidize quickly after peeling, so as soon as you remove the skin, place directly into a bowl with cold water plus a dash of either lemon juice or white vinegar to prevent the browning.
Now onto the wood-restraining knife skills: To julienne, take each 3-inch piece of peeled root, and slice a bit off one side, then roll so the cut side is sturdy on the cutting board. Then, continue slicing into strips, then lay the strips into stacks of two or just cut them into long matchsticks. The chopping really allows my mind to fucus on the task at hand…Ahhhhh, so satisfying!
Continue to julienne the carrots the same as the burdock, and slice the celery thinly on the bias. I had chives in the fridge, so I added them, too. Any fresh herb would be nice in this dish, as the freshness of the herb corresponds to the vibrancy of spring.
The chopped vegetables were tossed with a simple dressing made with sesame oil, rice wine vinegar, tamari and a dash of lemon juice; then the mixture marinated for about an hour. I sautéed the whole thing in olive oil over medium heat until the vegetables darkened and softened substantially. It’s important to keep a bit of the crunch of the vegetables, so don’t cook that long. When pulled off, I drizzled with a bit more sesame oil and garnished with a hefty dose of black sesame seeds. Let me tell you, not only did chopping up this dish really focus me and help calm my frustrated wood energy, but eating it really satisfied! It’s a win/win!