One of the most famous vegetable-based dishes in Chinese and Buddhist cuisine is Buddha’s delight, or lo han zhai (罗汉斋) in Mandarin, or lo han jai in Cantonese. Traditional Buddhist monks eat the meal, but it has also become a popular dish in Chinese restaurants worldwide as a healthy or vegetarian choice.
Beyond China, and even in many Chinese restaurants, Buddha’s Delight is a simple dish of ordinary veggies and tofu. This Buddha’s delight is one of the most authentic Chinese dishes you’ll find, and if you can find all of the ingredients, it’s one of the simplest Chinese recipes, as long as you can find them.
To the point where my friend had never heard of or tasted our family’s version before joining our Chinese New Year celebrations, the version I grew up with is very Cantonese. My grandma still makes the traditional mid-morning vegetarian lunch on my mother’s side, who, despite being in her 90s as sharp as a tack, still insists on living alone, and she still does it every year on Chinese New Year. Visit her as soon as possible to see if any are remaining. I always attempt to arrive early.
- 2 tbsp. of canola oil
- 3 slices of fresh ginger
- 3 tbsp. of red fermented bean curd (hong fu ru)
- 3 cloves of garlic (sliced)
- 1 medium leek (2-inch cut)
- 5 pcs. of dried shiitake mushrooms (soaked in warm water and sliced)
- ¼ cup of dried wood ears (soaked in warm water; yields about 1 cup)
- ¼ cup of dried lily flowers (soaked in warm water with the tips cut off)
- 2 tbsp. of Shaoxing wine
- 3 cups of Napa cabbage (cut into 2-inch pieces)
- 1 cup of fried tofu puffs
- 2 sticks of dried bean threads (soaked in warm water and cut into 2-inch pieces)
- 1 tsp. of sesame oil
- 2 tbsp. of soy sauce
- 2 tsp. of sugar
- 1 cup of water or vegetable stock
- 1 small bundle of mung bean noodles (soaked in warm water, drained, and cut into shorter pieces with kitchen shears)
- Add the oil and ginger to a hot pan and cook for a few minutes until fragrant. Keep an eye on it, and don’t allow the ginger to burn for around 30 seconds. Break up the red fermented bean curd with your spatula as you add it to the pot. Leeks (white and green) are added with garlic, mushrooms, wood ears, and lily petals. 1-minute stir-fry. Another minute of stir-frying is required once you’ve added the Shaoxing wine.
- Adding the napa cabbage, fried tofu, and bean threads, turn up the heat to its maximum setting, and cook for about 5 minutes. 2 minutes of stir-frying is the recommended minimum. Add sesame oil, soy sauce, sugar, and water or vegetable stock to the leeks. Lower heat with the lid on the wok is ideal for this dish. In six minutes, stir occasionally and cook.
- Turn the heat back on in the wok and remove the lid. Toss in the mung bean noodles, which will take up most of the water and thicken the soup. When the liquid has evaporated, continue stirring.
- Serving suggestion: Serve with steaming rice!