Last year I mentioned an impressive blog and cookbook that I came across, Food from Northern Laos: The Boat Landing Cookbook, by Dorothy Culloty. The book itself is by far the most detailed introduction to Lao food that I am aware of (in any language), and I rate it as the most important work towards understanding Lao food since the published writings and recipes of chef of the royal Lao court, Phia Sing (see here for links to some of that collection’s recipes, along with an image of Sing’s original manuscript). To put it bluntly, if you are devoted to learning to cook Lao or Isaan food, Food from Northern Laos would be an important investment for you. Here is a link to a preview of the book, that should give you some idea why.
One of the cookbook’s many recipes (and one which is published online here by the authors) is Bamboo shoot stew with pork (ແກງໜໍ່ໄມ້ໃສ່ຊີ້ນໝູ). Bamboo soups (แกงหน่อไม้) are very popular in Thailand and Laos, and there is a key flavoring ingredient that is paired with bamboo in Thai/Lao cooking: Yanang leaves ใบย่านาง/ໃບຢານາງ.
I used to think we only had this available in extract form, either canned or frozen, but I found this recently in [frozen] leaf form. I used the thawed leaves to make a bamboo soup, and the result was delicious. Again, the distributor responsible for this import is the Gusto company, which I previously mentioned (rotten bean sheets, snakeskin gouramy) as making available a range of specialty Thai/Lao/Burmese food items.
Another very unique ingredient in this soup is acacia fronds (usually known as “cha-om” ชะอม in Thai). I can also find this at my local Cambodian market, where it is labeled as “saom”. These fronds are kind of smelly, and even plastic wrapped, you can smell them when you open your refrigerator. Xinfully has a great introduction to this item with a post called “Cha-om: leaves with an offending smell, but the power to please”. Also there, you can find one of the most well-known recipes with this ingredient, the cha-om omelette.
Below I’ll share some images from my attempt at the bamboo soup. Again, the full recipe can be found at the Food from Northern Laos blog.
To start, wash yanang leaves and soak in a big bowl. Rubbing the leaves together and squeezing them will give up a dark green juice:
Fry meat (if using), onions, halved bird’s eye chiles, and garlic. I used meaty short-cut pork ribs. Prepare mushrooms (more commonly oyster mushrooms, I used more common mushrooms):