These bamboo buns came with Grandma from China. First we look for food, then we cook

All Things We’re Cooking is a series with family recipes from you, our readers and listeners, and the special stories behind them. We’ll continue to share more of your kitchen gems throughout the holidays.

For Kaitlyn Hennacy and her family, the arrival of spring always means a trip to the bamboo forest, followed by an afternoon of bamboo bun baking.

This has been the case for as long as Hennacy can remember — a tradition that began when her mother and grandmother discovered wild bamboo growing near the University of Maryland campus where her mother was studying in the early 1990s. Hennacy said her grandmother, Yuehua Zhang, immigrated to the United States from Niansanli, China, where she often cooked with bamboo.

“My grandma adapted recipes from China … and it became a tradition every year — getting bamboo from the bamboo forest and putting it in these buns,” said Hennacy, who lives in Columbia, Maryland, not far from the university. “It’s a really great way to take something that’s considered some kind of weed in the United States and turn it into something really tasty.”

The trip to collect bamboo usually occurs in late April, when the bamboo begins to sprout from the soil in small cones about 12 inches tall.

Each person in the group must fill their own bag while spinning each cone out of the ground. But no one picks bamboo more than Grandma Zhang. The whole process of picking the bamboo and baking the buns reminds Hennacy of how hardworking her grandma is – and inspires her own work ethic.

“She turned 80 this year and she’s still hiking up a hill that’s very muddy at times,” Hennacy said. “And she fills a heavy sack with bamboo, which she carries on her back. And she doesn’t complain or give up.”

The family makes several dishes with the bamboo, but the buns are made first, Hennacy said, as they taste best with fresh bamboo. But you can freeze it too.

The bamboo needs to be cleaned and blanched, then it is diced and mixed with the other ingredients for the filling. Hennacy learned how to bake the buns by watching her grandmother, but she had to struggle to measure and write everything down because her grandmother cooks by heart.

Grandma Zhang is a master of the process, Hennacy said, and loves making these for her family.

Hennacy said she and her family are happy to have Grandma Zhang living with them. She knows everyone’s favorite foods and regularly prepares healthy meals – she’ll even pack them for takeaway if someone needs to travel out of town.

“That’s how caring she is,” Hennacy said. “She shows her love through cooking.”

bamboo bun

Recipe submitted by Kaitlyn Hennacy
Columbia, Md.

ingredients for the dough

  • 4 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon instant yeast
  • 1 1/4 cups water

ingredients for the filling

  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon hoisin sauce
  • 1/2 pound poached bamboo shoots, thawed if frozen
  • 2 teaspoons chopped ginger
  • 1 teaspoon rice cooking wine
  • 2 tablespoons chicken broth
  • 1 tablespoon Chinese pickles (optional)

Additional ingredient

  • Tasteless oil for frying

directions

Mix flour and yeast. Add the water and stir to incorporate.

Knead the dough until smooth, adding more flour or water if necessary. It should be firm but not dry. Cover and let rise for 1 hour until doubled in volume.

Prepare the filling by dicing the bamboo and tossing it with the remaining ingredients for the filling.

Knead the dough on a floured work surface. Shape it into a long, smooth stem. Cut or tear the stem into 20 pieces and roll each into a rough ball shape, about 1 1/2 inches in diameter.

Taking one ball of dough at a time, flatten it so that the edges are thinner than the center and you have a 3-inch diameter circle. Place about 2 tablespoons of filling in the center of the circle, then pinch the edges around the filling to enclose it.

Place the packet, seam-side down, on your work surface and flatten it into a 1-inch (2.5 cm) thick disk with the palm of your hand. Repeat with each piece of dough.

Heat 2 tablespoons cooking oil in a large rimmed skillet over medium-high heat. Place as many bamboo-filled packets as possible in the pan, making sure there is at least 1/4 inch space between each one.

Add 1/2 cup of water to the pan and place a lid on the pan. Cook until water evaporates, 5-7 minutes. Flip each bun and bake an additional 1-2 minutes until both sides are golden brown.

Repeat with the remaining buns.

Recipe makes 20 rolls.

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