Recipe: Buddha’s Delight (罗汉斋)

In traditional Cantonese households, Buddha’s Delight (罗汉斋 luo han zhai, pronounced “lwuh hun djai”, rhymes with eye, literally: 罗汉 = Arhat, which means an enlightened being in Buddhism, 斋 = the name of the dish, literally “vegetarian food”) is eaten on the first day of the Lunar New Year. This year, it’s February 19. Many Chinese Buddhists stay vegetarian on the first day of the Lunar New Year. Many Chinese Buddhists, when eating “vegetarian”, are allowed to also eat oysters, mussels, and/or clams. That’s why this dish is called “vegetarian food” in Chinese even though it is not vegetarian in the Western sense. For a totally vegan recipe, skip the dried oysters and replace the oyster sauce with vegetarian “oyster” sauce (made from mushrooms).

By the way, I recommend you to watch Nyonya Cooking’s video recipe here for a version of this recipe with much fewer hard-to-find ingredients 🙂

This recipe uses many hard-to-find ingredients. You can find all the dried ingredients in Wing Hop Fung if you live in the LA area, and Chinatown markets if you live in SF or NY. (I’ve never been there but I know you can find it!) These ingredients are all explained below. If you can’t find some or choose to skip some, it is fine! 🙂 You can use a little bit more of the other ingredients then. I recommend you to use at least half of the ingredients though!

Napa Cabbage (白菜 “white vegetable” in Mandarin, but this means bok choy in Cantonese which is called 青菜 “green vegetable” in Mandarin, so they call napa cabbage 黄牙白 in Cantonese) is very easy to find in Asian stores and now can also be found in non-Asian stores. The ones in Korean supermarkets are better quality, but any is OK.

Dried Oysters (干蚝 “dry oyster”) can be found in the refrigerated dried seafood section of Wing Hop Fung next to dried shrimp. Chinese supermarkets should carry them next to dried shrimp too if they have this. Skip for a vegan dish.

Dried Cloud Ear Mushrooms (云耳 “cloud ear” or 木耳 “wood ear”, but DO NOT buy packages labeled 木耳 because they are a different type of dried mushroom even though most Mandarin speakers call the cloud ears “木耳”. long story short, please buy “云耳”) can be found in any Chinese grocery store but I recommend a dry goods store like Wing Hop Fung because it’s usually better quality and cheaper, also they have GIANT bags for people who cook Chinese food often. They are usually labeled “dry auricularia” which is a ridiculous name in my opinion. Actually auricularia is the scientific genus name for this mushroom but it still sounds funny.

Dried Tiger Lily Flower Buds (黄花菜 “yellow flower vegetable” in Mandarin and usually labeled 金针菜 “gold needle vegetable” which may be the Cantonese name) can also be found at most Chinese supermarkets near the dried cloud ears and dried shiitakes.

Dried Shiitake Mushrooms (冬菇 “winter mushroom”, but I recommend you to buy them labeled 花菇 “flower mushroom”) can be found in Chinese grocery stores in the dried mushrooms/vegetables section. I recommend 花菇 which have pretty patterns on top and are better quality as well as better presentation. I recommend the smaller kind, but not the super tiny ones (sorry for confusing you!), which I saw at Wing Hop Fung today. So get the medium size kind.

Hair Vegetable AKA “Black Moss” (发菜 “hair vegetable”) sounds like 发财 “to become prosperous”, so it is considered a lucky food to eat. As a result, it costs too much. Seeing it’s very high price ($18.88 when ON SALE from $23 for quite a small package), I decided to not buy it. Besides, it’s made from colonies of bacteria that grow in the desert of Inner Mongolia. Seriously. Usually it is labeled “seaweed” or “black moss”, which most Chinese people think it is. Really, seaweed from the Mongolian deserts!? I call it the literal Chinese translation of “hair vegetable”. Note that “vegetable” in Chinese means something more like “non-animal product used in cooking”, and it doesn’t have to be a plant. Anyways, when dried it looks exactly like Chinese people’s black hair. Exactly like it! I can find it at Wing Hop Fung but it might not be found at many Chinese supermarkets.

Dried Mung Bean Starch Noodles AKA “Cellophane Noodles” (粉丝 “powder thread”) are made from mung bean starch and are transparent. They are found in 3-packs or 6-packs wrapped together in a pink net, in any Chinese supermarket. They are also very inexpensive! They are often labeled and called “vermicelli”, which is actually a kind of Italian pasta XD Actually I didn’t know this until I searched vermicelli on the internet. Most Asian people just think vermicelli means mung bean starch noodles..

Dried Tofu Skin Sticks (腐竹 “curd bamboo”) are made this way: a pot of soymilk is heated, a skin forms on top, and it is removed. This is fresh tofu skin. Then it is folded into rectangular sticks and dried. The sticks look like bamboo, so that’s why they are called curd bamboo in Chinese. They aren’t really tofu but I call it that since the “curd” is short for “bean curd” which is tofu. These have a great texture and taste very delicious. I found them at Wing Hop Fung but are also found in dried food sections of Chinese supermarkets.

Fried Tofu Puffs are shaped like cubes and are found in the refrigerated tofu section of the Chinese grocery store. They are very puffy, like sponges, and absorb the sauce of the dish.

Gingko Nuts (白果 “white fruit”) are found in refrigerated sections of the produce area in Chinese grocery store, and next to the dried shrimp, refrigerated, in Wing Hop Fung. Just measure out about 1/4 cup, not much. Get the ones with shells!

Red Fermented Tofu (红腐乳 “red curd milk” or 南乳 “south milk”, not sure why they are called “milk” though. FYI the “milk” is an archaic character still used in Japan but not modern Chinese. In modern Chinese, milk is called 奶) are found in the sauce section of Chinese grocery stores. I recommend Wang Zhi He brand, either Traditional or Rose is good. My mom prefers the rose kind.

Oyster Sauce (蚝油 “oyster oil”) is very easy to find! I recommend the Lee Kum Kee brand’s Premium version. It has real oyster in it, while the cheaper Lee Kum Kee Panda Brand doesn’t. If you want a vegan dish, use vegetarian “oyster” sauce which is made from mushrooms.

Yay! We are finally done explaining the ingredients. The only other ones you need are ginger and oil, which you should be familiar with. Time to start cooking! This dish is labor intensive because it requires LOTS of preparation prior to cooking. Let’s go!

Recipe Adapted from: Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen by Grace Young. This book contains lots of delicious and traditional Cantonese recipes.

Ingredients:

4 large napa cabbage leaves (8 oz)

1 carrot, peeled (optional to peel), and julienned (Using the carrot is optional but it adds a colorful ingredient and more textures.)

8 dried oysters

1/4 cup or about 1 small handful dried cloud ear mushrooms (they expand a lot so don’t worry if it looks like too little)

1/4 cup packed dried tiger lily flower buds

8 dried shiitake mushrooms

1/4 cup packed dried hair vegetable

1 tsp + 3 tbsp cooking oil

3 1/2 oz dried mung bean starch noodles

2 sticks dried tofu skin (about 1 1/2 oz)

6 fried tofu puffs, cut in half

1/4 cup gingko nuts (with shell)

3 slices ginger (each slice 1/4 inch thick), finely julienned

3 cubes red fermented tofu, mashed with some of the juice (about a tbsp or so) in the container*

3 tbsp oyster sauce*

*Decrease these for a less sodium version. I would use maybe half or 2/3 of both amounts 🙂

water

“cold” water = about room temperature

Directions:
1. Rinse and dry napa cabbage leaves.
2. Wash oysters in cold water. Soak in 1 1/2 cups cold water for 3 to 4 hours. Drain and squeeze dry, reserving the soaking liquid.
3. Put cloud ears, lily buds, and shiitake in 3 separate bowls, and soak the first two in 1/2 cup cold water each, and the shiitake in 1 cup hot water, for 30 minutes. Longer for shiitake if necessary. Or soak shiitake in cold water overnight. Put a plate over the shiitake to cover and press down. After soaking, drain and discard the cloud ear and lily bud liquid, but reserve the shiitake liquid.
4. Remove hard parts of cloud ears if any. You can cut into smaller pieces like halves if necessary. Remove hard end of lily buds (I forgot to do this and had to pick through while eating 😦 ), and tie each one into a knot (optional because it takes forever and I don’t see the purpose). Squeeze dry the shiitake (reserve the liquid with the drained liquid!), then cut off the stem and halve the caps. The stems could be minced to add to recipes like tofu fritters or a stock. You could also keep them on if you don’t mind. They are more chewy than the rest of the mushroom. Or add the stems sliced thinly to this dish.
5. Put the hair vegetable in a bowl and cover with cold water. Add 1 tsp oil and soak 15 minutes, drain and discard liquid.
6. Put the starch noodles in a bowl, cover with cold water, soak 15 minutes, drain and discard liquid. (Don’t oversoak or else they could overcook easier! Also make sure you drain well so they don’t absorb too much water!)
7. In a pot, bring 3 cups water to a boil.
The rest of this step is edited from the original: The original says to break tofu skin sticks into 2 inch pieces. This is not really possible because the tofu sticks are too brittle and easily shatter into millions of pieces. So, just add them to the boiling water one side at a time. Or break in half if it doesn’t fit. Then boil for 2 minutes. Then boil the other side. Make sure they are soft. It may take a while because part of the tofu sticks (the part where they are bent!) are very hard and do not soften easily after a while! If these hard parts are still a little hard, it’s okay because we will boil them later. Once mostly soft, take out the whole sticks into a bowl and cover with cold water to cool down. Then cut into 2-inch long pieces.
8. Add fried tofu to the boiling water (same water that was used to boil the tofu sticks) and boil 1-2 minutes. Drain and rinse under cold water, then squeeze with hands. Discard the water.
9. Crack the shells of ginkgo with a hammer or pestle (or rolling pin, just do it hard). Then remove the shells. Bring 1 cup water to a boil in a small pot. Blanch 1 minute. Drain and rinse under cold water. Remove skins.
10. Trim the ends of the napa cabbage leaves 1/4 inch and discard. Stack and cut into 1/4 inch strips.
11. Heat a wok or pan, add 2 tbsp oil and ginger. Stir-fry 30 seconds.
12. Add napa cabbage and carrot if using and stir-fry 2-3 minutes until just cooked. Transfer to a plate.
13. Add 1 tbsp oil to the wok or pan and add dried oysters, fermented tofu, and shiitake. Stir-fry 30 seconds. The fermented tofu splatters though, so you could also add in the next step.
14. Add tofu skin sticks, fried tofu, ginkgo, and hair vegetable. Stir-fry 1 minute.
15. Add mushroom and oyster soaking liquids. (If making a vegetarian version, add 1 1/2 cups vegetable stock or just water instead of the oyster soaking liquid.) Bring to a boil.
16. Cover and simmer on low for 20 minutes. Check from time to time and add up to 1 cup water if it is dry.
17. Add starch noodles, cloud ears, lily buds, napa cabbage, and oyster sauce, as well as all the accumulated liquids. Return to a boil over high heat.
*Tip! I actually added everything except the starch noodles and boiled first to cook more. This way, it makes sure everything is cooked because the starch noodles could be overcooked easily.*
18. Cover, and simmer over medium heat for 5 minutes. The starch noodles should be cooked through.
*Tip! Check often. The starch noodles may be cooked faster and overcooking makes them not nearly as tasty. Also, they absorb lots of water so make sure there is water. Add extra water if the wok gets dry. We want the dish to have a little sauce. Since so much water is soaked up, the wok easily dries so add more water when this is about to happen, or else it will burn!*
19. Serve immediately, with cooked rice and other dishes if desired. Enjoy! It’s really good!

Here’s my version! I skipped ginkgo, hair vegetable and oysters. I also added a julienned carrot with the napa cabbage 🙂

IMG_0227

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9 thoughts on “Recipe: Buddha’s Delight (罗汉斋)

  1. WOW, WOW. WOW
    Hope you don’t get a cramp chopping
    And prep’ing.
    If your comfortable, please post a picture of your finish dish.
    ‘Hair Vegetable’ so if you’ve tasted
    before in some other dish, what could it possible taste like?
    What is the taste of Ginko nut/fruit?
    There are so many bags of dried shiitake in the store. As discussed in earlier conversations I know to pick nice looking, medium, flowery looking tops etc,,,does a certain brand use the word ‘Flower Mushroom’?
    Hope you have/had a great meal!!!

    1. Not much chopping but much soaking. The word is removed a lot though after I skipped the hair veg, ginkgo, and oysters. It’s extremely tasty and has so many textures! Yum! I love the flavor!!
      I posted it cause I just finished, hehe
      hair veg tastes like nothing, but soaks up the flavor. Same with the cellophane noodles and much of the ingredients. The shiitake and fermented tofu and oysters are the source of the flavor 🙂
      No, it just says flower mushroom in Chinese (at least what I’ve seen). The English just says “mushroom” LOL
      Thank you! Yum yum yum!

      新年快乐!恭喜发财!
      (xin nian kuai le! gong xi fa cai!
      say: “seen nyehn kwai luh! gohng see fah tsai!”)
      新年快乐 = Happy New Year (used for both western and lunar new years)
      恭喜发财 = literally two verbs put together: “to congratulate” and “to become prosperous”, it is a common greeting during new year’s.
      Americans often say the Cantonese “gung hay fat choi” but pronounce it wrong hehe

    1. You’re welcome 🙂
      Happy Year of 羊! (= sheep, goat, or lamb)
      All 3 animals have the same name in Chinese but they can be differentiated by putting an adjective before it 🙂

    2. BTW do you like my Staub “perfect pan”? I know how many Chinese are total traditionalists and don’t like flat bottom and enameled woks, but it’s a really good wok. It costs a lot but I got a Williams Sonoma coupon, hehe.

  2. Of course I like the pan!! 🙂 😉
    What are its dimensions?
    looks to be a large size.
    It’s a good brand and should last you
    FOREVER.

    Your meal looks very delicious.
    Hope you enjoyed you meal!!
    I think I might of liked it

    1. 🙂 I love the brand. I have a cocotte as well as a flat pan I use as a skillet.
      It’s 12 inches diameter on the top and 6 inches diameter on the bottom. Great size for a wok. Wok shape is really a perfect pan because it can really do anything!

      Thank you! It was very very tasty. It is very tasty and quite healthy because of all the vegetables and mushrooms and tofu. And it’s pescatarian (it becomes vegan without oysters and oyster sauce) so it’s very healthy after meat heavy New Year’s Eve feast. It has very umami flavor from shiitake, red fermented tofu, and oysters/oyster sauce (if using). It also has many tasty textures from slightly chewy cellophane noodles, just cooked napa cabbage and carrot, gelatinous cloud ear mushroom, meaty shiitake mushroom, and other tasty ingredients. Although some of the ingredients are quite Chinese (I skipped hair vegetable though, hehe), I think Americans might like it. It depends though because some Americans don’t like red fermented tofu flavor (some Americans don’t like anything that says “fermented” on it XD). I’m gonna update the post with some tips I got from actually cooking the dish 🙂

    2. I’ve also got a Cocotte by Le Creuset.
      (Full size, so very heavy) I just love it.
      I don’t recall you ever mentioning ‘Red
      Fermented Tofu’ ( if you did mention it, my apologies). Why must it be Red vs for example using pressed Tofu?
      Answer when you have time. I’m guessing you maybe tired. :))

      1. Staub and Le Creuset are very good brands. The pans all last forever 🙂

        Reread the end of the Ingredients section, it’s the most important seasoning ingredient (it adds most of the sodium). I think it’s the second last ingredient I discussed in the post. Tofu has many ways of preparation. For eating at as a main ingredient in a recipe, it can be plain, or dried, deep-fried, frozen, or pressed. It can also be fermented into a condiment used in small amounts. Fermented tofu is a salty condiment made by fermented tofu in a salty brine for a pretty long time until it gets very soft and salty. Do NOT confuse with “stinky tofu” (which is also made in a similar way but smells horrible!! Anyways, fermented tofu does not smell bad, so don’t worry. It is used in seasoning in many Cantonese dishes and also eaten with congee as seasoning. It has a salty and umami flavor. The red fermented tofu has powdered red yeast rice in its brine. It has a dark red color. Actually, you could possibly have it at home already (I remember your picture). Check my stocking Chinese pantry post for a link to the picture somewhere. Or look up “Wang Zhi He Red Fermented Tofu” on Google Images.
        Thank you 🙂

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