Ear fungus -- a Chinese mushroom unrelated to aural infection -- gets its name from the literal Chinese-to-English translation. Likewise, hair seaweed is not a particularly hirsute type of algae. Though its purplish-black strands do resemble the fallout from Star Trek commander Patrick Stewart's comb, these taste-free threads of seaweed are prized for their slippery texture. As is Mr. Stewart. The Cantonese name for this unusual veg is fat choy. Because it sounds similar to the Chinese New Year's greeting, "Gung hei fat choy," the rubbery seaweed is thought to bring prosperity. You can find this interesting stuff -- also known as black moss -- in larger Asian supermarkets dried and cellophane-packaged.
Soak an ounce of dried hair seaweed in water briefly before using it in this recipe for Chinese Buddhist seaweed soup. Soak half a cup of Chinese mushrooms in water, remove their stems, and cut the 'shrooms into strips. Heat a teaspoon of sesame oil in a wok over high heat and stir in the mushrooms as well as 10 sliced button mushrooms, a drained 14-ounce can of bamboo shoots and the rinsed hair seaweed. Add 6 cups of veggie stock, 3 tablespoons of rice vinegar, 1 tablespoon of Chinese cooking wine, 1/2 teaspoon of soy sauce, 1 teaspoon of salt and 1 teaspoon of sugar to the wok and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a medium simmer and mix in a combination of 3 teaspoons each of powdered tapioca and water. Once thickened, remove from heat and garnish the soup with fresh parsley or coriander.