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Add pepeiao to stir-fry to soak up flavor and add crunch

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In Hawaii, when rain hits decaying wood stumps followed by warm sunshine, fungus grows. One of the edible jelly fungi in Hawaii is pepeiao, or ear fungus, sometimes referred to as wood ear, cloud ear or tree ear mushrooms.

Fresh pepeiao has a convex shape to its smooth, sometimes wrinkly surface. Its color can be purply gray brown. The texture is a little rubbery, but when you slice it into strips and stir-fry it, pepeiao’s crunchiness is delicious. Its blandness is also desirable as it takes on the flavors of what you’re cooking.

Most of us don’t have fallen logs in our backyards, nor can we depend on the right growing conditions for pepeiao. But it is cultivated on the Big Island at Hama­kua Mushrooms. Find it at the Kapiolani Community College Farmers’ Market and look for it at supermarkets. Use fresh pepeiao in recipes that call for dried wood or cloud ear mushrooms, mostly in the Asian repertoire of foods.

This week at the KCC Market: Biwa, or loquat, is in season, a small fruit resembling an apricot with a sweet, tart, cherrylike flavor and pale yellow flesh. It’s not your everyday fruit, and it hasn’t been available for a few years. It comes to Oahu from Hashi­moto Farm in Kula, Maui, and available at the Made in Hawaii booth.

Hawaii food writer Joan Namkoong offers a weekly tidbit on fresh seasonal products, many of them locally grown. Look for "Fresh Tips" every Wednesday.
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