Thursday, November 25, 2010

Snow fungus

I continue to be fascinated by these Chinese soup ingredients.  Here's a new one: snow fungus, also called silver tree ear or cloud ear.  My friend Fi says this comes in two types: the slimy kind and the chewy kind.  She prefers the slimy kind.  This, however, is the chewy kind.

Dried, as in the picture to the left, it's kind of like a sponge, very crisp; you could easily crack it up into pieces.  But I didn't.  For my first experiment, I was following this recipe, sort of, and also verbal directions from Fi.

First, you soak the snow fungus for an hour or so.   It turns into this:

You can't tell sizes in this photograph, but it's about three times the size of the dried.  Could I eat all this in a "dessert soup"?  I guessed not, so I set half of it aside for later.  The soaked snow fungus is very chewy.  The WiseGeek article about it is hilariously ambivalent.  The author obviously finds it really gross but is trying to be open minded.  Yes, been there, done that!  Actually, though, I'm pretty sensitive, and I didn't mind the texture at all.  A single dish made of snow fungus?  Okay, no thanks, especially since it has little discernible taste, but as an ingredient in other dishes it's perfectly acceptable, in my opinion.  The saga continues.

For the dessert soup recipe--which, I read pretty much everywhere that snow fungus is discussed, is stupendously healthy, an anti-cancer agent that also keeps your skin looking very young--all you do is add the soaked snow fungus to water with some red dates and dried longan, and simmer for 50 minutes.  Fifty minutes!  It looked ready after about ten; however, I wasn't doing anything important so let it steep, and in fact, after about 40 minutes the soup began to smell quite delicious, though it never did develop much of a taste.  Then you add rock sugar, and serve warm or cold:

Well, it wasn't great, taste-wise, like sugar water with an attitude.  (Fi, next day: "Well, of course it has no taste!"  Will I ever understand Chinese cuisine?).  'Kay, it's a medicinal soup.  My skin is suffering in the dry cold so I'm hoping it will have an effect.  For now, though, I was in search of an actual tasty dish.

I took the remainder of my soaked snow fungus and created what was probably the best hot pot I've ever made.  Not because of the snow fungus, I don't think, but it was a genius, memorable hot pot.  Here's how it started.  Well, no, it started with a stock that I made from scraps, onion, celery, lettuce, and carrots, but here's the hot pot, stage one (and yes, that is kimchi you see over on the far right; this is a fusion hot pot):

You can see how the snow fungus--whose texture will not really alter through cooking, adds a kind of delicate prettiness.  If it really has even one of the awesome health benefits claimed for it, there's truly no reason not to cook with it frequently, since taste-wise it's innocuous-to-pleasant and in texture quite similar to reconstituted yuba sticks.

But there was a stage two to this hot pot, which is what elevated it to stratospheric hot pot heights:

These are the protein elements: seitan dumplings (from the freezer), Buddha's chicken, deep fried tofu, and silken tofu.  Looks good, and honestly tasted even better.  I wish I had it to eat all over again...


  1. I'd eat that hot pot for dinner any day!

  2. Snow fungus. Interesting. Perhaps I'll look for some so I can have smooth skin, too. I'll definitely want the chewy kind, but how will I know?

    BTW, raw butternut is not in the least fibrous, but it seemed, dare I say, a bit slimy, and I won't be making it again.

  3. Thanks, Fanny, so would I--now any hot pot without Buddha's chicken is going to seem wanting...

    Andrea, word on the chewy kind. When I figure out the difference, I'll let you know. Fi just makes hand signals which I can't interpret into visual clues ;-)

    P.S. Sorry about the squash salad...

  4. What a beautiful fungus. I love wood ear mushrooms. These look like albino wood ears.