Growing up, bamboo shoot was always popular among the adult members in my family. My mom brought it home like some edible treasure, and the way that everyone would simply explode in tearful joy over it, you’d think she’d found a bargain on Kobe beef. But as I’ve grown up and learned, in fact, for such a humble ingredient, it can be just as good.
I’m not sure if it was the way my mom cooked it, braised in a soy sauce based broth and sprinkled with bonito flakes, but I had never learned to fully appreciate the taste and texture of bamboo shoot until about ten years ago. During one muggy summer evening back in Kansas, my Japanese roommate made Thai green curry. We drove around town, looking for the only ingredient that was missing--bamboo shoot. We finally found it-- canned. But her curry turned out so good, green and fiery and yet still very palatable, thanks to the bamboo. That night shifted my perception of bamboo shoot. It was no longer that subtly strange smelling, oddly boring colored, slightly softer-than-cardboard vegetable. It was simple, healthful, and uniquely tasty.
Just over a year ago when I visited Tokyo and Kyoto, nearly every restaurant I went to, high-end or casual, served bamboo shoots. April and May are the peak of bamboo shoot season. The word Takenoko (bamboo shoot) is even used in Haiku as a symbol of spring. I guess my family wasn’t particularly crazy, because the whole of Japan goes crazy over takenoko, and yes, it is a BIG deal. It was braised, grilled, steamed, added in salad, rice, and soup. I had it in all different ways imaginable. Some were completely tender with a silky smooth mouth feel while others left the slight yet pleasant crunchiness. This was the first time I really enjoyed bamboo shoot prepared in Japanese style, which was to highlight this underplayed ingredient, giving it a starring role, rather than a supporting one.
On Saturday, I was at Berkeley bowl and found takenoko that didn’t come in a can. I got carried away (just like my family would) and bought two. I’ve been cooking something with bamboo everyday since. I cooked it with shiitake mushrooms and shungiku, added into my homemade ramen noodle soup, and today prepared it with brown rice and shiso.
This rice is seasoned, but it’s not meant to be eaten by itself. So it may taste kind of plain and some people might think it’s bland, but it’s intentionally made this way, so that you can substitute this with plain steamed rice in your meal. Last night, I made a similar version of this and served it with lightly cooked shungiku salad with homemade miso & sesame mustard dressing, braised root vegetables and grilled pork with ginger and soy sauce. Just simply adding bamboo shoot raised our regular meal to the next level. Because it doesn’t have a strong flavor, it’s so easy to be incorporated into a dish. Bamboo is known to be one of the fastest growing plants. It can grow over 100 cm (about 39”) in day, so I’d assume it’s pretty sustainable. What a healthy way to add it to your diet!
Recipe of the Day - Bamboo Shoot & Shiso Rice
Ingredients (serves 3-4) :
1 1/2 cups (or 2 rice cooker cup) short grain brown rice
1 young bamboo shoot, steamed, packed in water
3-4 fresh shiso leaves
1 1/2 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp mirin
1 tsp dashi powder
Rinse brown rice with cold water at least three times. Cut bamboo shoot in half, lengthwise. Slice thinly, crosswise. Add bamboo shoot to the rice in the rice cooker. Add soy sauce and mirin and fill up water up to the line indicating 2 in the rice cooker. Cook rice according to the instructions. Just before it’s ready to be served, mix in freshly chopped shiso leaves.