Sat, Apr 14, 2018 - Page 13 News List

Ian’s Table: Monkeying around with mushrooms

An unusual mushroom that makes a convenient addition to the pantry and is an excellent meat-substitute

By Ian Bartholomew  /  Contributing reporter

After soaking, the water will turn a light amber, but with repeated soaking and squeezing, it will gradually clear. Finally, once the water is clear, tear up the squeezed dried mushroom into bite sized pieces. At this point the mushroom can either be marinated with soy and other flavorings or deep fried until crisp before being frozen.

The marinating and frying is all rather a chore and really once the mushroom is reasonably clean and soft it can be put to use. The water need not be entirely clear either, and some cooks, particularly in the preparation of dishes with a stronger flavoring, suggest that the slight bitterness associated with the amber liquid enhances the flavor of the dish. My own mode of operation is that once the mushroom has been through about four soakings and squeezings, it can be stored in fridge or freezer. The ready torn pieces can be easily thrown into a soup or quickly defrosted for a quick meatless stir fry with other vegetables and mushrooms.

Monkey head mushrooms are cultivated in Taiwan but production is very limited and the dried product is most easily available from dried good stores, particularly those specializing in delicacies from China. Dihua Street (迪化街) in Taipei probably offers the best selection of high quality product. While it is not particularly cheap, given that one mushroom can provide adequate material for a dish to serve two (it expands considerably with the extended soaking), it is really pretty economic.

On the health front, monkey head mushrooms boast an almost absurdly long list be possible benefits. Selfhacked.com, a health and nutritional Web site, attributes 24 possible benefits including everything from improved brain function and help against Alzheimer’s to readjusting your circadian rhythms. In Chinese culinary lore the monkey head mushroom is a powerful agent in the enhancement of health and longevity. And thousands of years of cultural heritage can’t be wrong, can it?

Once again, while monkey head mushrooms are unlikely to allow you to live forever, they are likely to do you more good than harm. That they add a nice meaty bulk to vegetarian food is an added plus, but the main thing for me is their convenience (once all the preparation has been done) and their addition to the palette of flavors that can be used for quick weekday meals.

Braised Monkey Head Mushrooms

Recipe

(Serves 4)

A good homemade stock makes all the difference with this dish, which has a rich perfume that pairs easily with all kinds of other flavors. If you have opted to pre-fry the mushrooms before storage, you can simply reduce the frying time accordingly.

Ingredients

2 monkey head mushrooms

6 cloves garlic

8 thin slices of fresh ginger

2 green chili peppers, sliced

8 shoots steamed baby corn

200ml vegetable stock, preferably homemade

2 tbsp rice wine or dry sherry

2 tbsp dark sesame oil

2 tbsp neutral vegetable oil

1 tbsp light soy

4 Chinese red dates

Salt and white pepper

Directions

1. Wash the mushrooms, then soak and squeeze repeatedly three or four times over five or six hours. Break the mushrooms into bite sized pieces. (You can do this with a larger amount than you plan to use, keeping the extra to freeze.)

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