Monday, January 30, 2012

Buddha’s Delight – Jâai - 斋

First of all, better late than never, I wish you all a Happy and Prosperous New Year - Góng Hèi-Faat-Choi - 恭喜发财, and most of all to be in Good Health.

One week ago we celebrated the year of the dragon: we visited relatives, exchanged greetings (wishing everyone fortune and prosperity, and most importantly excellent health), gave lai see (red packets filled with money) to the young ones, and ate turnip pudding, new-year cake, candied fruits (lotus seeds, lotus roots, carrots, melon), watermelon seeds (gwâ-jí 瓜子), etc.

Daffodil in bloom

Candy box

A-gùng*, my husband’s grand-father, used to prepare a special dish to celebrate the Lunar New Year called jâai** which means vegetarian* as it is prepared with vegetables and vegetarian ingredients. Another name for this dish is Buddha’s Delight.

The first time I celebrated the Chinese New Year was in 1987 and I still remember very well when on the 2nd day of the lunar year – níhn-chò-yih - we went to visit my husbands’ grand-parents in Tai Po to wish them a happy and healthy new year and I ate for the first time A-gùng’s jâai.

* The grand father is usually called a-yèh (paternal) and a-gùng (maternal). For whatever reason, my husband called his paternal grand father “a-gùng” and his paternal grand mother “a-pòh” (instead of a-màh).

** Jâai means vegetarian. This is the term used by people who can eat fish and seafood products. Another term, sou , is used for those who don’t eat fish and seafood products.

Buddha's Delight - Jâai

Here is a-gùng’s Buddha’s Delight’s recipe:

  • 30g dried black fungus
  • 8-10 dried oysters  
  • 1 tbsp Shaoxing rice wine
  • 6 dried Chinese mushrooms
  • 60 g mungbean vermicelli
  • 12g dried lily buds/blooms
  • 2 small napa cabbage
  • 100 g carrot
  • 12 fried gluten balls / sàang-gàn 生根
  • ~100g snow (sugar/snap) peas
  • 12 fresh straw mushrooms  
  • 16 chestnuts
  • 2 slices ginger
  • 2 shallots, sliced
  • 2 tbsp fermented red bean curd
  • 1 pinch of salt
  • 30 ml vegetable oil

Dried oysters
Fried gluten balls - sàang-gàn - 生根

Straw mushrooms - chóu-gû

  • 30 ml Shaoxing rice wine
  • 2 tsp sugar
  •  1 ½ tbsp salt
  • ¼ tsp ground black pepper

  1. Soak the oysters in warm water for 15 minutes. Drain, place in a heatproof dish, add rice wine and steam for 15 minutes. Allow to cool.
  2. Rinse the dried mushrooms, black fungus and daylily buds. Place in a bowl of warm water and leave to soak until soft. Squeeze the water. Strain the soaking liquid through a fine sieve and reserve the liquid.
  3. Cut the stems from the mushrooms. Cut the caps into ½ cm strips.
  4. Remove the hard knob at one end of the lily stems.
  5. Cut the black fungus into ½ cm strips. 
  6. Wash, soak and drain the mungbean vermicelli. Cut them into 5 cm length.  
  7. Wash the fried gluten in warm water and squeeze excess water with your hands.
  8. Wash the straw mushrooms. Make a cross with the knife on the top and blanch in boiling water. Drain and cut in half.
  9. Wash and cook the chestnuts until tender. Drain and peel.
  10. Slice the ginger and the shallots.
Cooking steps:
  1. Heat oil in large saucepan and sauté the ginger and shallots till fragrant.
  2. Stir in the fermented red bean curd and a pinch of salt.
  3. Add oysters, Chinese mushrooms, straw mushrooms, dried black fungus, lily buds, and chestnuts. Mix well.
  4. Sizzle the seasoning and add the liquid used to soak the mushrooms, black fungus and daylily buds.
  5. Bring to a simmer; lower the heat and cook for 45mins to 1 hour. Add water if the mixture gets too thick.
  6. Add fried gluten and mungbean vermicelli and simmer for another 5-10mins.
  7. Taste for seasoning.

Vegetarian stew
This dish is best prepared a few days in advance. Let it cool down and store in a tight container in the fridge.

Other ingredients such as fried tofu / dauh-bôk 豆卜, gingko nuts/ baahk-gwó 白果, hair moss / faat choi 发菜 an edible algae (whose pronunciation is the same as prosperity 发财), dried lotus seeds / lìhn-jí 莲子, etc can be included.

On the day you want to eat the dish:
  1. Peel, wash and slice the carrot. Wash and cut the cabbage in 5cm length.  Wash and trim the snow peas.
  2. Reheat the vegetarian stew.
  3. Heat oil in a large frying pan and stir-fry the vegetables.
  4. Once cooked add the vegetables to stew.
  5. Serve hot with a bowl of steamed rice. Enjoy!

Vegetarian stew

Jâai - vegetarian stew - Buddha's Delight
I prepared my jâai 2 days before chò-yât (1st day of the lunar year) and had just to reheat it and toss the stir-fried vegetables in.  It was delicious.

Chinese candy box (chyùhn-háahp 全盒) filled with candied fruits, sweets,
dried watermelon seeds and pistachio.

Again I wish you all a Happy, Prosperous and Healthy Year of the Dragon!

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