Wednesday 28 January 2009

Wild Food Guide 'J'

Wild Foods Guide 'J'

This is the tenth of my series of 26 postings on wild foods. Each post will deal with a separate letter of the alphabet ('J' today) and will describe a wild food beginning with that letter as well as presenting a classic recipe incorporating that wild food.

Today I'm dealing with the letter 'J', the tenth letter of the English alphabet, which includes foods such as Jack-by-the-Hedge, Japanese Knotweed, Juniper Berries, Japanese Rose, Jew's Ear Fungus and many others. Today, however I am going to devote this page to Japanese Knotween and Jew's Ear Fungus.

The Japanese Knotweed (also known Polygonum cuspidatum, Reynoutria japonica, fleeceflower, Huzhang (Chinese: 虎杖; pinyin: Hǔzhàng), Hancock's curse, elephant ears, donkey rhubarb (although it is not a rhubarb), sally rhubarb, Japanese bamboo, American bamboo, and Mexican bamboo (though it is not a bamboo)), Fallopia japonica, is a member of the family Polygonaceae (kotweed or smartweed). It is a large, herbaceous perennial plant, native to eastern Asia in Japan, China and Korea. It has been extensively introduced into the U.S.A. and Europe where the species has been very successful and has become very invasive in several countries.

The young stems are edible as a spring vegetable, with a flavour similar to mild rhubarb. In some locations, semi-cultivating Japanese knotweed for food has been used as a means of controlling knotweed populations that invade sensitive wetland areas and drive out the native vegetation. When the shoots are young they can be used in just about any recipe that call for rhubarb or asparagus.

Here I present a classic modern Asian-inspired fusion recipes for a curry of lentils and Japanese knotwed :

Lentil Curry with Japanese Knotweed and Sweet Potatoes

150g dry red lentils
1 large sweet potato, peeled and sliced
1 tbsp ghee
180g young Japanese knotweed shoots, diced
1 tbsp honey
1 tbsp curry powder
1 tsp ginger, grated
1 tbsp hot red chilli powder
salt and freshly-ground black pepper, to taste
45g freshly-grated coconut

Wash the lentils thoroughly then add to a pan. Add water to cover then bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Stir-in the sweet potatoes then cover with a tight-fitting lid and simmer until soft (about 50 minutes) — check the water levels and top-up as needed.

At this stage remove the lentil and sweet potato mix from the heat, drain and set aside. Meanwhile, add the ghee to a pan and once hot stir-in the Japanese knotweed. Stir-fry for 1 minute then reduce the heat and continue cooking for about 15 minutes, or until tender. Stir-in the honey and spices and cook for 1 minute more. Mash together the lentils and sweet potatoes with a fork then stir into the rhubarb mix.

Turn the mixture into an oven-proof dish and transfer to an oven pre-heated to 200°C. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until lightly browned on top and hot through. Garnish with the grated coconut and serve.

This recipe is reproduced, with permission, from the Lentil Curry with Japanese Knotweed and Sweet Potatoes Recipe from the Fusion Recipes collection of the Celtnet Recipes Collection.

If you are interested in recipes for Japanese Knotwed then you can find a range of Japanese Knotweed recipes.

Jew's Ear Fungus Auricularia auricula-judae, (also known as: also known as: Judas's ear fungus, jelly ear fungus, wood ear fungus) is a member of the family Auricularaceae (literally the 'ear-shaped' fungus). Indeed, all these fungi are conspicuously ear-shaped. These fungi are native to Europe and Asia and are often used in Asian, particularly Chinese cooking, where they are known as 'wood ear' or 'tree ear'. It is one of the few fungi available all year round.

These fungi typically grow on decaying elder tree branches (though in China they are commercially grown on rotting oak) and they are immediately recognizable. However, their shapes, colours and clammy nature do not immediately point to them as being an edible species. However, gathered young (whilst still soft and moist) they make excellent eating. The easiest way of harvesting is to cut them from the host tree with a sharp knife, discarding any stems. As the fungi age they become tough and all-but inedible though even the old Jew's Ear fungus can be dried and ground for use as a flavouring and thickener for soups and stews. Even young versions of this fungus need long-term cooking and have to be boiled for 45 minutes or more in stock or milk before being eaten. But the flavour is almost beyond compare, hence their value in Chinese soups.

The recipe presented below is for a classic Chinese recipe for a stir-fry of chicken and Jew's ear mushrooms with vermicelli.

Vermicelli with Chicken and Wood Ear Mushrooms

120g dry vermicelli pasta
750g boneless chicken breasts, thinly sliced
100g spring onion greens, chopped
1 carrot, julienned
30g fresh coriander, chopped
3 tbsp garlic, minced
2 onions, diced
freshly-ground black pepper
1 bay leaf
80g wood ear mushrooms, soaked in water for 20 minutes
20g annatto seeds
850ml chicken stock
3 tbsp cooking oil
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp oyster sauce
salt, to taste

Heat a wok and add the cooking oil. When the oil begins to smoke add the annatto seeds and continue frying until the oil turns a bright red. Remove the annatto seeds with a slotted spoon at this point. Now add the garlic and cook until golden brown before adding the onions. Fry until soft and transparent then add the chicken, soy sauce and oyster sauce. Stir-fry until the chicken is lightly browned then season and add the vegetables. Stir-fry for 15 seconds then remove from the wok and set aside.

Add 250ml of stock to the wok and bring to a soft boil then press the vermicelli into the hot liquid. Lower the heat, cover the wok and allow to simmer for 5 minutes. When it dries out add another 250ml of stock. Add the wood ears then stir-in the chicken mixture. Cover and simmer for another 5 minutes. Test the pasta for doneness and if not ready add some more stock and continue cooking. When the vermicelli is tender and all the stock has been absorbed add the spring onion greens and the coriander.

Stir-fry for a few minutes then serve.

This recipe is reproduced, with permission, from the Vermicelli with Chicken and Wood Ear Mushrooms Recipe from the Celtnet Eastern Asian Recipes Collection.

If you are interested in recipes for Jew's ear fungus then you can find a range of Jew's ear fungus recipes.

This guide is brought to you in conjunction with the Celtnet Wild Food Recipes collection.

You can find more wild foods beginning with the letter 'J' on the Wild Food Guide for the letter 'J', part of the Celtnet Wild Food Guide.

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