Sunday, December 18, 2016

Spicy, sour Sichuan wood ear mushroom salad. Vegan, foraged wild mushrooms

We are officially in the middle of December and Texas mushroom hunting is still going strong. . . though it's a little more complicated than it was in November. This week we saw temps in the 50s, with cold rain, then a drop to 34! Finally the week ended with a spell in the low 70s. I've been harvesting winter mushrooms: oysters, velvet foot, and wood ear like crazy. Most has been going into the dehydrator, but I've been enjoying stir fries, mushroom sauces, soups. . .and this amazing salad.

Wood ear mushrooms are a staple of Chinese cuisine, where they are appreciated not just as food, but as natural medicine. Western science has recently validated wood ear as effective against tumors, as an anti-coagulant, hypoglycemic, among others. Wood ear mushrooms are mild in flavor (they absorb whatever they are cooked in), and gelatinous and somewhat chewy in texture. Marinated wood ears are a popular cold appetizer in Sichuan (Schezwan) Chinese cuisine. They are spicy and sour, slightly sweet, and served with cilantro, chilies and bell peppers. The resulting dish is crisp (from the peppers), chewy (from the mushrooms), and refreshing (from the cilantro).

Given that it's the holiday season, and overeating is kind of hard to avoid, I've been trying to eat healthier whenever I possibly can. With that in mind, I used the marinated mushrooms as a topping for a very unique and tasty salad; and I made extra of the marinade to use as a dressing. It's a fantastic mix of flavors, textures and colors, a feast for both eyes and palate. Though the taste is rooted in traditional Sichuan, I've played around with mixing up a lot of different recipes.

Mushrooms soaking up the marinade/dressing

Sichuan marinated wood ear mushroom salad

Serves 3-4

1 cup dried wood ear mushrooms, or 4 cups fresh
Salad greens
2 red, orange or yellow bell peppers, thinly sliced
1 bunch of cilantro, leaves roughly chopped
1 jalapeño or serrano pepper, thinly sliced, with seeds
1 bunch of scallions, white and green parts thinly sliced
3/4 cup black vinegar
3/4 cup light soy sauce, use gluten-free for gluten-free
1/4 cup seasoned rice vinegar
1/4 olive oil
2 tbs. chili oil (more or less, depending on your heat level)
Sesame oil
1 tsp. kosher salt
Cool water* (only if using dried mushrooms)
1 tbs. chilli garlic sauce* (only if using dried mushrooms)

  1. If you're using dried mushrooms, start by soaking them in water for about 2 hours.  Since the mushrooms absorb flavor, add some chili garlic sauce, soy sauce and sesame oil. The mushrooms will about triple in size, so make sure that they are covered by quite a lot!
  2. Once the mushrooms are reconstituted (or if you're using fresh), add the mushrooms with their reconstituting liquid to a large saucepan. Bring to a boil, and cook for 20 minutes. Once they have cooked, drain, and run under cold water. Slice your mushrooms into bite-sizes strips.
  3. Mix together the salad greens, bell pepper slices, and cilantro. In a separate bowl, mix the mushrooms, vinegars, olive oil, soy sauce, salt, 1 tbs. sesame oil, 2 tbs. chili oil, jalapeño slices and scallions. Allow to sit for 15 mins, so the flavors come together. 
  4. Serve up each plate of salad with a generous helping of the mushroom mix--plus some extra dressing!
The finished salad is just so cheery with the bright colors and mix of textures.

Anyone else out winter foraging? If so, what are you finding, and how low (in temperature) are you willing to still go out? I usually cut it off at just around 50 degrees fahrenheit, depending on wind chill. I'm really enjoying this elongated Texas foraging season!

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