Many Chinese begin the morning of Lunar New Year with Buddha’s Delight or Lo Hon Zai (simplified Chinese: 罗汉菜; traditional Chinese: 羅漢菜). As it’s a mixed vegetables dish, commonly known as chap chai (literally: mixed vegetables in Chinese).
This dish is named as such because it is traditionally eaten by Buddhist monks who are vegetarians. Various vegetables are cooked in soy-based seasoning until tender. In Nyonya chap chai, fermented soy bean paste (tau cheong) is used and often added with prawns.
Commonly used ingredients
According to wikipedia, these are the commonly used ingredients (source). Pick and choose ingredients that you and your family likes.
- Arrowhead (慈菇; pinyin: cí gū)
- Bamboo fungus (竹笙, pinyin: zhúshēng or 竹荪; pinyin: zhúsūn)
- Bamboo shoots (simplified: 笋; traditional; 筍; pinyin: sǔn)
- Bean curd sticks (腐竹; pinyin: fǔ zhú; also called “tofu bamboo”
- Black mushrooms (冬菇; pinyin: dōnggū)
- Carrot (traditional: 胡蘿蔔; simplified: 胡萝卜, pinyin: hú luóbo; or traditional: 紅蘿蔔; simplified: 红萝卜, pinyin: hóng luóbo)
- Cellophane noodles (粉絲; pinyin: fěn sī; also called “bean threads”)
- Daylily buds (金针; pinyin: jīnzhēn; also called “golden needles”)
- Fat choy (traditional: 髮菜; simplified: 发菜; pinyin: fàcài; a black hair-like cyanobacteria)
- Ginkgo nuts (traditional: 銀杏; simplified: 银杏, pinyin: yín xìng; or 白果, pinyin: bái guǒ)
- Lotus seeds (蓮子; pinyin: liánzǐ)
- Napa cabbage (大白菜; pinyin: dà báicài)
- Peanuts (花生; pinyin: huāshēng)
- Snow peas (traditional: 荷蘭豆; simplified: 荷兰豆; pinyin: hélándòu)
- Fried tofu (炸豆腐; pinyin: zhá dòufǔ)
- Water chestnuts (traditional: 荸薺; simplified: 荸荠; pinyin: bíqí)
- Fried or braised wheat gluten (traditional: 麵筋, simplified: 面筋; pinyin: miàn jīn)
- Wood ear (木耳; pinyin: mù ěr; also called black fungus)
Glass noodles represents longevity
For the purpose of Chinese New Year celebration, I chose nine ingredients which number represents longevity. Each of the ingredients are auspicious, and which gives the dish both colour and texture.
- Leek – Wealth
- Chinese (pak choy, 白菜) – hundreds of prosperity
- Carrot – Red represents good luck
- Shitake Mushrooms – Longevity
- Wood Ear Fungus – Longevity
- Golden lily buds (金针; jīnzhēn) – Wealth
- Fried tofu puff (豆腐, dòu fǔ)- Fulfillment of wealth and happiness
- Bean curd sticks (腐竹; fǔ zhú) – Blessing the house
- Glass noodles – Long, unbroken noodles symbolise long life
Leeks (蒜) sounds like ‘count’ in Chinese, hence represent wealth
Authentic Buddha’s Delight. Keeping it strictly vegetarian.
Traditional Buddha’s Delight must not have garlic or leek. Pungent herbs – such as leek, onion, garlic – are avoided in some vegetarian diet. They are considered to be ‘hot’, and are believed to increase lust and anger (source: Bodhisattva Precepts)
On Five Pungent Herbs
A disciple of the Buddha should not eat the five pungent herbs — garlic, chives, leeks, onions, and asafoetida. This is so even if they are added as flavoring to other main dishes. Hence, if he deliberately does so, he commits a secondary offense.
Pungent herbs: “They are: leek, onion, garlic, and a few other such herbs such as asafoetida, an ingredient common in curries etc. Eaten raw they are believed to incite people to anger and disputes; eaten cooked they increase one’s sexual desire.” Buddhist adepts are advised to avoid them, as their consumption tends to disturb the peacefulness of the mind. “According to the [Surangama Sutra], garlic, three kinds of onions, and leeks are the five forbidden pungent roots. ‘If eaten raw, they are said to cause irritability of temper, and if eaten cooked, to act as an aphrodisiac; moreover, the breath of the eater, if reading the sutras, will drive away the good spirits.'”
Garlic and leeks are not typically used in authentic Buddha’s Delight
You can omit garlic, leek and even fermented beancurd if you like. In that case, instead of frying garlic and fermented bean curd, start with frying shittake mushroom to compensate the flavour. Mushrooms, like garlic, contain glutamate (a compound in MSG) which gives a good umami taste.
However, the addition of garlic and especially red fermented beancurd adds another dimension to the dish. Do include them if you’re not particular about making traditional Buddha’s Delight; it’s so much more delicious!
Active time: 15 minutes
Total time: 1 hour 15 minutes
To fry aromatics:
Vegetable oil 3 tbsp
Red fermented bean curd 3 cubes
Garlic 3 cloves
Leek 1, medium size
Shittake mushrooms 5 dried
Dried wood ears fungus 1/4 cup (10 g)
Dried lily flowers 1/4 cup (20 g)
Chinese cabbage 1 small (350 g)
Dried bean curd sticks 3 sticks
Fried tofu puff 1/2 cup
Carrot 1, large
Glass noodles x 1 small (20 g)
Sugar 2 tsp
Sesame oil 1 tsp
Soy sauce 2 tbsp
1 cup water 1 cup
Wok + spatula
Knife + chopping board
Mixing bowls to soak vegetables
Small bowls to wash and place cooking ingredients
Teaspoons (to crush beancurd/ mix seasonings)
Nine auspicious ingredients used in our version of Buddha’s Delight
- Soak dry ingredients. Soak the fungus, mushroom, lily buds, beancurd sticks and glass noodles in water for 15 minutes, or until soft. Drain
- Mince garlic.
- Make seasonings. In a bowl, add 2 tsp of sugar, 1 tsp of sesame oil and 2 tbsp of soy sauce.
- Chop Chinese cabbage. Wash Chinese cabbage and chop into 2 inch pieces.
- Leek. Chop leek and soak into 2 inch horizontal pieces. Separate the white and green portion.
- Chop fungus. Remove hard bits from the black fungus. Tear bigger ones into small pieces.
- Tie Lily Buds Snip off hard tips from lily buds and tie a knot in the middle of each strand.
- Cut dried beancurd. Chop beancurd into 2 inch length.
- Slice mushrooms. Cut off hard stems from mushrooms. Slice thinly.
Cabbage (pak choy, 白菜) sounds like hundreds of luck.
- Fry aromatics. Heat 3 tbsp of oil in medium fire. When oil sizzles, add the red fermented bean curd, garlic and the white portions of the leeks (2 min)
- Fry mushrooms. Then fry mushrooms, wood ears, and lily flowers. Stir-fry until fragrant (2 min)
- Fry vegetables and tofu. Next, add the carrots, cabbage, leek and fried tofu. Turn on heat to the highest and. Stir-fry until everything is fragrant (4 min)
- Add water to braise vegetables. Add 1 1/2 cup of water and dried beancurd. Gather all vegetables in the middle of the wok to ensure they are soaked in the water. Cover the wok with a lid, and reduce the heat to medium. Cook until vegetables are soften and stir occasionally (5 min)
- Add glass noodles. Remove the lid, the glass noodles and turn on heat to its highest. Stir until most of the liquid has evaporated (3 min).
- Dish out and serve. Dish out to a large plate and enjoy!
Do you normally have the strict Buddhist version of this dish?