Life in China 2017: A Picture a Day, March 3 – Today we tried Monkey Head mushrooms by recommendation of my Chinese teacher. They can go by a lot of other names, but the Chinese name “hóu tóu gū 猴头菇” literally translates to “monkey head mushroom.” These are usually found in the dried mushroom section of the Chinese supermarket, and sometimes, if you are in China, you can find them fresh. As you can see by the picture, they look kind of “furry.” They are also used in Traditional Chinese Medicine, for many different benefits! My teacher suggested we try them in soup, so we did, but, I must admit, I wasn’t crazy about them! They had an unusual taste to them, somewhat bitter. Because they are dried, you are supposed to reconstitute them. I thought that since they were going to cook in the soup for a couple of hours that I didn’t need to … wrong! I read afterwards that soaking them, even overnight, can remove the bitterness. The texture was interesting, they were like sponges, holding a large amount of the soup broth. If you decide to stir fry them, be sure to squeeze all of the water from soaking out! We’ll try that next time! We looked at recipes and saw that they can be combined with numerous things, and are often used as a meat substitute. We made our soup with black silkie chicken, celtuce, carrots, some dried daylily buds, and the mushrooms.
Life in China 2016: A Picture A Day, October 10 – Black fungus is a popular ingredient in Asian cooking. It is called “hei mu er” 黑木耳 (literally black wood ear) in Chinese, and is also called wood ear mushroom and cloud ear mushroom. When it grows on mountainous trees, it supposedly resembles an ear. They contain a toxic substance when fresh so are usually dried in the sun and sold, then they must be soaked before cooking. When rehydrating, they should be rinsed until the water is clear. They don’t really have any taste, but absorb the flavor of what you cook them with. They are considered a jelly fungus, and when cooked, although they soften, they keep a nice texture. We like black fungus and have eaten it often in restaurants. We decided to try cooking with it ourselves, saw some fresh and bought it. We didn’t know about it having a poisonous substance when fresh until we got home and looked up how to cook it! We weren’t sure if what we bought was actually fresh or rehydrated, so we soaked it a little and cooked it! We didn’t get sick, but I think we’ll try the dried next time after reading about it!
Black fungus is used for various treatments in TCM; It is very high in iron, nourishes the blood, increases circulation, reduces cholesterol, is good for detoxing digestive system, and is considered good for weight loss.
Life in China 2016: A Picture A Day, July 30 – It’s interesting how many more varieties of mushrooms there are available here in south China compared to the USA. These are “cao gu” or straw mushrooms. They are named that because they grow on straw from rice paddies. We’ve had these before, and the other night we had them again at a Chinese restaurant, so I decided to look them up. They are interesting because when we buy them, they are like little oval balls with squishy tops. When we cut them open, then we see the more recognizable mushroom shape. In reading, I’ve learned that these are in what is called the “egg stage,” before full maturity, and are considered “unpeeled”. They supposedly have more amino acids in this state, so that is how they are preferred. Once they mature, the cap of the mushroom bursts through the “veil” and they look like other mushrooms, they are then considered “peeled” straw mushrooms. The unpeeled ones are supposed to have a much stronger taste also, and if cooked without being cut open, will retain the juices inside until you bite into them. Straw mushrooms are supposed to be available in the USA in Asian stores, either canned or dried, and the packages supposedly say if they are peeled or unpeeled, but as with most canned foods, they have a different taste. We have always mixed them with other foods and thought they were good, but they do supposedly have a unique “earthy” taste form the straw they grow in. Has anyone tried them?