Have you ever noticed a very distinct, earthy smell as you walk into as Asian grocery? Chances are it’s the fresh bamboo shoots. We have always noticed a signature odor common to most Asian groceries for some time, but it wasn’t until we bought some bamboo for our Lao bamboo soup with quail eggs (recipe follows) that we could pinpoint its source.
Bamboo is probably the most valuable commodity in southeast Asia. As a building material, bamboo has been used for millennia, and its high strength and light weight make it adaptable to today’s modern building design. Bamboo is vital to the southeast Asian ecosystem as well. Virtually all herbivorous wildlife in the region incorporates bamboo shoots or leaves into its diet in one way or another. Humans in cultures from India to Japan make use of bamboo shoots as a food source, incorporating them into a variety of dishes. Here bamboo shoots are combined with yanang extract (a leafy extract available at Asian markets), mushrooms, and hard-boiled quail eggs to make a soup that we won’t soon forget.
Bamboo soup with quail eggs
(adapted from Thai & Lao Food)
- 1 14 oz can yanang extract
- 1 bamboo shoot
- 1/2 cup chopped mushrooms
- 10 quail eggs
- 1 stalk chopped lemongrass
- 1 small shallot lobe, diced
- 1 Tbs short-grain rice
- 2 Thai chilies, sliced
- 1 1/2 Tbs fish sauce
Before we got started we assembled all our ingredients into an attractive, soon-to-be-dismantled centerpiece:
First the bamboo shoot needed to be boiled for thirty minutes:
Once thirty minutes was up the bamboo was removed from the water and diced. While the bamboo was simmering, we prepared the rice, which is used a s a thickener for the soup. First, the rice was put into a bowl:
…and covered with water to soak for thirty minutes:
With the rice soaking and the bamboo simmering, we boiled the quail eggs:
Quail eggs are very small, so the ten-pack we bought fit perfectly into our basket strainer for easy dropping into and removal from a saucepan of boiling water:
While boiling, we left the strainer in the pan so the eggs could easily be scooped out of the water:
Thanks to Simply Cooked, we knew four minutes of boiling would result in a perfectly cooked, just barely set quail egg. After the time was up the eggs were removed from the boiling water and dunked into an already prepared ice bath to immediately stop cooking:
By this time, the rice was close to ready. After it had been soaking for thirty minutes, we drained the rice and put it into our mortar to grind:
Once ground into a coarse paste the rice was reserved.
Next it was time to prepare the lemongrass. Major thanks is due for Pranee Halvorsen’s video tutorial on lemongrass use, without which we would have been stuck on what to do with the stuff. First the outer, tough layers were removed until only tender, whitish lemongrass remained. This was pounded with a handy blunt instrument:
…until the lemongrass was completely broken into narrow strands. These strands were easily minced with a knife.
The minced lemongrass and shallots were put into the mortar to be pounded into a rough paste:
All this work, and we hadn’t even started cooking the soup yet! At this point, though, all the real work was behind us. All that remained was to open the can of yanang extract:
…and mix all the ingredients together in a saucepan and simmer for fifteen minutes, all the while stirring gently to prevent sticking and careful not to break the eggs open:
After the soup was simmered for fifteen minutes it had thickened considerably thanks to the pulverized rice into a light gravylike viscosity.
Our bamboo soup with quail eggs finished, we were ready to eat. Our soup was served with our beef larb and a big bowl of white short-grain rice:
Lao bamboo soup is heavy on the bamboo flavor and came as a surprise to our Western-trained palates. If we ate it frequently enough we could see coming to really love the stuff though. Quail eggs were wonderful in the soup. Even after fifteen minutes of simmering, the quail yolks had a delicate texture more tender than even a perfectly cooked hard-boiled chicken egg. Someday we’d like to try to make a plate of quail eggs into the most tiny, dainty little deviled eggs ever made.
More from our Lao meal: