A popular ingredient in Szechuan cooking, wood ear, is also known as the tree ear, Jew's ear or cloud ear mushroom. It owes that name to its flat earlike shape.
People overlook its nutritional value because wood ear is such an inexpensive food for cooking. Actually, it has more protein, iron and vitamins than white fungus. Similar to white fungus, wood ear also makes good nourishing food. Wood ear has the reputation of "meat among the vegetables". It helps to prevent various forms of bleeding, for example, blood in feces, hemorrhoid bleeding, excessive menstrual flow, etc.
Its translucent brownish beige flesh is gelatinous but firm, crunchy and relatively tasteless. They absorb the liquid in which they are cooked and take on the taste of the other ingredients.
The Shanghainese Hot and Sour Soup must include shredded wooden ear to have the right texture. Adding wood ear to braised meat dishes enhances the flavor. Using wooden ear in vegetarian dishes adds an extra shine to the dish, thickens the sauce and makes everything more flavorful.
Wood ears are often sold fresh in Asian specialty food stores. They are also available dried. Store fresh wood ears unwashed in the refrigerator. Although they keep for up to a month, it is best to use them within a week. To prepare for use in recipes, wash the fresh mushrooms quickly in cold water and remove the sticky parts. As for dried wood ears, soak them in warm water for ten minutes. Drain them, change the water, and let them soak for a further 10 to 15 minutes or until soft. They will expand to up to five times their initial dry size. Then rinse off any dirt carefully.
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