Most people call this vegetarian dish, “jai,” but you might know it as lo han jai, Monk’s food, or Buddha’s delight.
People eat jai all year long, but it’s especially enjoyed on the first day of Chinese New Year. Starting the year with this delicious dish is said to bring good luck all year. The tradition is based on an old Buddhist belief that a vegetarian diet for the first five days of the new year purifies the body and ensures that no animals are harmed.
Aside from preparing the dried ingredients (soaking, rinsing, slicing), actual labor at the stove isn’t intensive at all. The ethnic food section in grocery stores will have some jai ingredients, but you’ll have the most luck shopping in Chinatown or a specialty grocer.
Here’s my version of jai, which is probably different from your nainai’s or popo’s or even your mom’s.
2 oz. black mushrooms
3 oz. dried bean curd stick
1 oz. black fungus
2 oz. dried lily flower
1 oz. bean thread
3 cups water
1 Tbsp. shoyu
2 Tbsp. sugar
2 Tbsp. fermented red bean curd
1 Tbsp. Hawaiian salt
8 oz. can sliced water chestnut, drained and rinsed
14 oz. can straw mushroom, drained and rinsed
Medium head Chinese cabbage, sliced 1-inch (4-6 cups)
1 carrot, peeled and sliced into rounds
1 Tbsp. sesame oil
In separate containers, soak black mushrooms, bean curd stick, black fungus, lily flower, and bean thread in water to cover for 1 hour. Drain and rinse.
Black mushrooms: Remove stems and discard. If mushrooms are large, cut in half.
Dried bean curd stick: Slice in 1-inch pieces.
In a Dutch oven, combine water, shoyu, sugar, red bean curd, and salt. Add black mushrooms and lily flower and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and cook 20 minutes.
Stir in black fungus, bean curd stick, bean thread, water chestnut, and straw mushroom. Bring almost to a boil, reduce heat, cover and cook 20 minutes.
Add Chinese cabbage and carrot. Stir to combine well, then cover and cook 10 minutes. Drizzle with sesame oil.