Aug 30, 2014

Black Wood Ear Mushrooms

Black Wood Ear Mushrooms
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Black Wood Ear mushrooms got their name because they look like ears growing out of oak, yang, and scholar trees in China. They have numerous aliases including black fungus, tree ear, and Judas' ear.

Most people in the United States haven't tried these little dried mushrooms because they are lost in the Asian section of our grocery stores (see package photo below, sometimes called Chinese Black Fungus). Because of an increase in population of Asian communities in the U.S., Wood Ear mushrooms can now be found both fresh and dried. When they are fresh, they are thick and smooth-skinned, but when dried and re-hydrated in warm water, they become more crunchy, but retaining their black ear-like appearance.

I first started using these little black mushrooms in hot & sour soup (see recipe below), one of my favorite Chinese soups. They added a nice contrast in color and texture to a soup, a soup that is already full of many other Asian ingredients.

I like cooking with black Wood Ear mushrooms for a couple of reasons, they have an unusual black contrasting color, a nice crunchy texture, and they are good for you. Wood Ear mushrooms have long been used for their medicinal benefits. They are used in Oriental medicine to prevent heart disease. They also contain anticoagulant substances that act like blood thinners creating effects similar to that of aspirin.
Dried Black Mushrooms
$1.25 at Misakis
and Friendly Market

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The truth is that this little mushroom is nearly void of flavor, but mushrooms are like little sponges that take on the flavor of whatever they are cooked with. Wood Ear mushrooms may be marinated, sautéed, braised, baked or roasted. Add to soups, stews, risotto, and grilled meats. Pair Wood Ear mushrooms with other wild mushrooms, mild cheeses, fresh pastas like stroganoff, or steamed vegetables. Cook them for only a short time. In fact, if allowed to stand with food for any length of time, these mushrooms lose their firmness. For soups, stir-fried dishes, or salads, add these mushrooms as the last stage of food preparation. 

To store any kind of fresh mushrooms, place in paper bag or between paper towels; refrigerate. Do not store in plastic. Use within two to three days for optimum quality.

When using dried Wood Ear mushrooms, you will have to soak them in warm water for about 30 minutes to re-hydrate them, but do it in a large bowl with lots of water because they will more than double in size. Some of them get so large that I have to cut them into bite-sized pieces, or cut them into thin strips. Be adventuresome, go out and buy a little package of dried Wood Ear mushrooms, and give one of these recipes a try. Who knows, you might find another creative way to use them.

Wood Ear Mushroom Salad
This is a simple Sichuan Chinese salad made with marinated Wood Ear Mushrooms, carrots, red bell peppers, green onion or cilantro, and for a little optional spice, chili oil. This salad would be wonderful served with hot and sour soup.

.5 ounce bag of dried Wood Ear mushrooms (makes about 2 cups of re-hydrated mushrooms)
1/3 cup red bell pepper, diced to 1/4 inch
12 thin slices from a large carrot, cut into flower shapes or matchsticks
1/3 cup of thinly sliced green onion or cilantro leaves, chopped
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds for garnish

Ingredients for the marinade:
1 teaspoon salt
4 teaspoons Tamari sauce
3 teaspoons sesame oil
5 teaspoons seasoned rice vinegar
5 drops of Asian chili oil, or to taste (optional)

Soak dried Wood Ear mushrooms in a medium bowl of warm water for 30 minutes. Then remove and rinse under clean water, drain.

Bring water to boil in a large pot and add the mushrooms and carrot slices. Cook for 4 minutes. Drain the water, then rinse in cold water. Put mushrooms and carrots in a bowl, set aside to cool.

Mix all the marinade ingredients together. Add the Wood Ear mushrooms, carrot slices, and red bell pepper and gently mix together, refrigerate. When ready to serve, mix in the sliced green onion or cilantro leaves and garnished each serving with toasted sesame seeds. Makes 4 small servings.

Hot & Sour Soup
This is one of my favorite soup recipes. I would like to suggest that you make this soup a day ahead of time to let the flavors meld, then heat and serve. If you can't wait, go for it!

1/2 pound boneless pork, or chicken, cut into 1/4-inch-thick strips
6 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon red chile paste, such as sambal oelek, or Sriracha* 
8 dried lily buds*
4 dried Chinese dried Wood Ear mushrooms*
4 dried shiitake mushrooms
1/2 cup canned sliced bamboo shoots*
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
6 cups chicken broth
1/4 cup white vinegar
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 carrot, cut into thin matchsticks (julienne)
8 ounce square of firm tofu, drained and sliced in 1/4-inch strips
1 tablespoon cold water
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon sesame oil*
2 eggs, beaten
1/3 cup thinly sliced green onion (to garnish)

*Available at Asian food markets, or in the Asian section of your supermarket.

Cut pork or chicken into 1-inch thin strips. Sprinkle strips with 1 tablespoon of soy sauce and 1 teaspoon chili paste. Meanwhile, in three bowls soak lily buds, and Wood Ear mushrooms, and shiitake mushrooms, in enough warm water to cover for 30 minutes, then drain. Cut off and discard tough stem end of lily buds and shiitake mushrooms. Slice each lily bud into 1-inch lengths. Throughly rinse Wood Ears and shiitake mushrooms under running water; drain well. Cut off and discard mushroom and Wood Ear stems. Cut mushrooms and Wood Ears into thin strips.

In a wok bring chicken broth to boiling; stir in pork, the remaining soy sauce, lily buds, mushrooms, Wood Ears, bamboo shoots, ginger, vinegar, pepper, garlic, and carrot sticks. Simmer, covered, 10 minutes. Add tofu strips to soup. Simmer, covered, 3 minutes more. Blend cold water into cornstarch. Stir into soup with sesame oil. Pour eggs slowly into hot soup in a thin stream, beating constantly with fork till egg cooks and shreds finely. Cook soup till slightly thickened and bubbly. Remove from heat. Serve with thinly sliced green onions. Makes 6 to 8 first course servings.

Crispy Shrimp Tempura with 
Edamame-Wood Ear Mushroom Salad
Ingredients for salad:
1/4 cup (.5 ounces) dried Chinese Wood Ear mushrooms (also called black fungus)
1/2 cup shelled edamame, thawed if frozen
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons Tamari sauce, or soy sauce
2 teaspoons sesame oil
1 1/2 tablespoons seasoned rice vinegar
1 tablespoon mirin (Japanese sweet cooking rice wine)
1 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds for garnish

Ingredients for shrimp tempura:
8 jumbo shrimps, peeled and deveined (with a knife, make 3 small slices on the bottom of each shrimp to keep them from curling while cooking)
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup sparkling water (club soda)
1 tablespoon sesame oil
2 cups canola oil for deep-frying

Soak dried mushrooms in plenty of warm water for about 30 minutes or until soft, then drain (they will more than double in size, so use a bowl that will accommodate that). Boil water in a large pot with a teaspoon of salt. Add the mushrooms and edamame and blanch for 3 or 4 minutes. Drain and run under cold water to stop the cooking. Set aside.

Make the marinade by combining salt, Tamari sauce, sesame oil, seasoned rice vinegar, and mirin, in a medium bowl. Add the mushrooms. Chop most of the edamame, leaving a few whole for garnish. Add the chopped edamame beans to the marinade. Stir to coat everything with the marinade, then let sit in the refrigerator to chill, while you fry the shrimp. When ready to serve, garnish the top of each salad with whole edamame and toasted sesame seeds.

In a wok or large heavy-bottomed saucepan, pour in vegetable oil. Heat over medium heat until a deep-frying thermometer, inserted in the oil, reaches 375˚F. While the oil is heating, in a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and baking soda. Add the club soda and sesame oil. Stir until just combined and still lumpy. Dip the shrimp in the batter and fry, 3 or 4 at a time, turning the shrimp until the batter is golden and crispy, about 1 1/2 minutes. Drain on paper towels. Serve tempura shrimp with a sweet chili dipping sauce like Mae Ploy brand, or (see recipe index under sauces) with the marinated mushroom salad on the side.

Note: If you like, add a splash of Hawaiian chile pepper water or hot sauce to the mushroom marinade instead of the mirin, for a spicier salad. Serve with a bowl of Jasmine rice, cold beer, or hot tea. Makes 2 servings.

Stir Fried Kabocha Squash
Chicken & Wood Ear Mushrooms
Kabocha Squash
Kabocha squash is a Japanese pumpkin with dark green skin and a sweet orange colored flesh. It is wonderful in soups, stir fries, or cooked with rice. It's sort of like sweet potatoes, but more of a squash texture. This recipe is easy to make and is a real Asian comfort food.

1 tablespoon of canola oil
2 cloves of garlic - crushed and chopped fine
2 chicken thighs, skinned, debone and cut into thin strips
2 cups of peeled and diced Kabocha squash cut into 1/2" X 1/2 cubes
3 or 4 big pieces of Wood Ear mushrooms, soaked for 30 minutes in warm water, then and cut into strips

Ingredients for chicken marinade:
1/2 tablespoon of oyster sauce
a dash of ground white pepper
1 tablespoon of chinese cooking wine
1/4 teaspoon of corn starch

Ingredients for thickening:
1 teaspoon of corn starch
3 tablespoons of water

Marinate the chicken for about 10 minutes. Heat a tablespoon of canola oil in a wok or large skillet, when the oil is hot, add in the chopped garlic and the marinated chicken. Stir fry until half cooked, about 4 minutes. Add in the pumpkin cubes and Wood Ear mushrooms and continue to stir fry for a few minutes. Add in 1/4 cup of water and slowly simmer till the pumpkin and chicken are cooked through. Add in the corn starch mixture, and when it thickens, taste for seasoning. Add a little salt to taste if desired. Turn off the heat and serve. Makes 2 servings.

Pork with Eggs and Mushrooms
1/2 cup dried Chinese Wood Ear mushrooms
6-8 ounces pork fillet
1 head bok choy
1/2 cup drained bamboo shoots
2 scallions
3 eggs
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup canola oil
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry
few drops of sesame oil

Rinse the mushrooms thoroughly in cold water and then soak in warm water for 30 minutes. Rinse thoroughly again and discard the hard stalks, if any. Dry the mushrooms and shred thinly. Cut the pork fillet into matchstick-size shreds and set to one side. Thinly shred the bok choy, bamboo shoots and scallions. Beat the eggs with a pinch of salt. Heat a little oil in a wok, add the eggs and lightly scramble, but do not make too dry. Remove from the wok. Heat the remaining oil in the wok and stir-fry the pork for about 1 minute or until the color changes. Add the vegetables to the wok and stir-fry for 1 minute. Add the remaining salt, the soy sauce and wine. Stir for 1 more minute before adding the scrambled eggs. Break up the eggs and blend well. Sprinkle with sesame oil and serve. Makes 4 servings.

Chicken Stir-fry with Wood Ear Mushrooms
and Chinese Long Beans

1 cup of fresh Chinese long beans cut 3 inches long
1 1/2 tablespoons canola oil
2 inches ginger (peeled and cut into thin strips)
4 skinless & boneless chicken thighs (cut into thin strips)
1 1/2 teaspoons oyster sauce
2 teaspoons Tamari sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon fermented soy beans
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tablespoons water
8 to 10 pieces dried Wood Ear mushrooms (softened in warm water for 30 minutes)
3 green onions (cut into 1 inch length)

Heat a small pot of salted water to boiling. Blanch the long beans for 3 minutes or until just tender, then remove and run cold water over them to stop the cooking. Set aside.

In a wok or large skillet, heat the canola oil and stir fry the ginger strips until aromatic. Now Stir-fry the chicken for 4 minutes, then add in oyster sauce, Tamari sauce, fermented soy beans, sugar, garlic, and water. Stir all ingredients together. Add the mushrooms, long beans and green onions, stir-fry for 2 or 3 minutes. Serve with, or on top of steamed Jasmine rice. Makes 4 servings.

Black Wood Ear Mushroom Stir-fry
with Shrimp
1 ounce dried black wood ear mushrooms, rehydrated
2 tablespoons each of sesame and peanut oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon grated ginger
1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 green onion, sliced
2 carrots, very thinly sliced
1/2 cup each green peas and bamboo shoots
3 tablespoons dry white wine
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon oyster sauce

Rinse the mushrooms thoroughly in cold water and then soak in warm water for 30 minutes. Dry the mushrooms and cut them thinly into strips. Heat sesame and peanut oils. Add garlic and ginger, stir over medium heat. Add shrimp, black wood ear mushrooms and green onion. Remove mixture when shrimp are opaque. Add the carrots, bamboo shoots, green peas and stir for a minute. Add wine, soy sauce and oyster sauce. Stir-fry for 2 minutes. Return shrimp mixture and heat through. Serve with bok choy with oyster sauce, and white rice. Makes 4 servings.

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