One of the great things about living in Japan is that the foods we eat are so closely tied to the seasons. Early spring is when the snow starts to thaw in the mountains, revealing a forest floor that's literally bursting with edible plants poking their way through the detritus. I took the shot below in early March, in Nagano where some locals had foraged a plethora of mountain delicacies including wild onions, watercress, perilla, butterbur, mountain asparagus, and a variety of mushrooms.
Takenoko (竹の子, literally "bamboo child") is another springtime treat, and it's a far cry from the stringy fluorescent yellow strips often included in stir-fries at Chinese-American restaurants in the US. When prepared fresh, it's tender with a mild crunch and a fragrant earthy aroma that's simply sublime. While there's not much wild bamboo growing in the US, I've seen fresh bamboo at Chinese grocery stores.
If you do decide to prepare your own fresh bamboo, be sure to read my post on preparing fresh bamboo as it contains a potent toxin that needs to be neutralized before it can be safely eaten. For those that are less adventurous, you can find whole bamboo pre-boiled and vacuum packed in plastic at Japanese grocery stores, they're not quite the same as the fresh ones, but they're still far better than the canned variety.
Because bamboo isn't particularly high in umami producing amino acids, I like to cook the bamboo and rice in dashi stock. This infuses the rice with a smoky savory flavor that goes beautifully with the fresh bamboo. A few fresh pickles and a bowl of miso soup are all you need to round out this delightful spring meal.
- Put the rice in a strainer and wash under cold running water, while agitating with your hand, until the water runs mostly clear. Drain well and add to the bowl of a rice cooker, or into a heavy bottomed pot with a lid.
- If you're using a rice cooker, you add the sake, soy mirin and salt and then add dashi until it reaches the 2 cup marker. Add the bamboo on top (don't mix it in) and cook according to the directions for your rice cooker.
- If you're using a pot, add the washed rice, sake, soy sauce, mirin and salt to a pot and measure out the dashi. Add the bamboo on top (don't mix it in). Bring the mixture to a boil over high heat. Turn the heat down to low, cover with a lid and let the rice cook for 15 minutes. If it starts sounding like it's sizzling before the 15 minutes are up, your heat may have been too strong, or your lid may not have created a good seal. If the 15 minutes are mostly up, you can probably just turn off the heat and let the rice steam off the heat a little longer and you should be okay. If you still had a ways to go, you may want to add a bit of water and continue cooking the rice.
- Once the rice is done, let it steam off the heat for at least 10 minutes.
- After it's done steaming, mix everything together with a spatula and serve.