Chinese Black Mushrooms
These are the dried mushrooms you'll often find sold in bins in Asian grocery stores. The name is a bit of a misnomer, since Chinese black mushrooms can be light brown, dark brown, and even gray. They are frequently speckled. Chinese black mushrooms range in price from moderate to quite expensive. The more costly ones are often called "flower mushrooms" as they have a thick cap and nice curl. However, the cheaper brands are perfectly acceptable for use in soups and stir-fries.
When it comes to cooking, while fresh black mushrooms may be available, it is better to use dried mushrooms, as the drying process gives them a stronger flavor. At home, store the dried mushrooms in a container at room temperature. Before using, remove the stems and rehydrate the dried mushrooms need to be rehydrated by soaking in warm water until softened. You might also want to strain them through a sieve to remove any sand or dirt. Vegetarians, take note: the soaking liquid makes a nice alternative to using plain water as a substitute for chicken broth in recipes.
Although valued for their rich flavor, black mushrooms are also believed to have numerous health benefits. Besides helping to reduce cholesterol and lower high blood pressure, they contain polysaccharides that are thought to boost the immune system and inhibit the growth of tumors. On a lighter note, the Chinese believe black mushrooms are an aphrodisiac. Nutritionally, they are loaded with protein, and contain vitamins B2 and B12.
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