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Vegetarian Jai (Buddha's Delight)

It was 2013 and I was preparing to make my first Chinese New Year dinner for my husband and I. My husband mentioned that growing up, my Mother-In-Law always made Jai (or Buddha's Feast or Buddha's Delight), as part of the Chinese New Year dinner.

Jai (Buddha's Delight)

Jai is a vegetarian dish typically eaten on the first day of Chinese New Year to usher in good luck. Each ingredient represents a wish made for the new year. Though the ingredients vary from recipe to recipe, the most important ingredient in Jai is black moss (which sounds like fat choy = wealth in Cantonese).

After my grandmother passed away in October 2007, one of my regrets was not writing down any of her recipes. I did not want the same thing to happen to the rest of our family recipes so my husband and I started a Google Drive account to document all the family recipes.

Since Jai played an important role in my husband's Chinese New Year celebrations, I wanted to make it a part of our Chinese New Year dinners to carry on tradition.

Given I have never tasted this dish, who better else to ask than Mother-In-Law?

As I expected, my Mother-In-Law subscribed to the Chinese way of cooking. She does not use standardized measurements and cooked by sight and taste. My Mother-In-Law described how she makes Jai and what ingredients she used. With the help of a website she sent me as a starting point, I made my first Jai.

Let me tell you, my first attempt at Jai tasted awful.

It tasted awful solely because I did not wash out my rehydrated dried vegetables thoroughly, which resulted in gritty tasting Jai.

Sediment from the shitake mushrooms: not what you want in your Jai.

When I explained the issue to my Mother-In-Law, she chuckled and kindly explained that I needed to wash each rehydrated vegetable at least 5 to 10 times, sometimes even more. That was why my Jai tasted gritty as the dirt from the rehydrated vegetables was in my dish.

Needless to say, I have learned from my mistake and now wash all my rehydrated dried vegetables very thoroughly. Having made Jai three years in a row, my husband and I are both very excited to eat Jai as part of our Chinese New Year celebrations.

Chinese New Year celebration

1 cup, dried wood ear
1 cup, dried lily buds
1 cup, dried black moss (fat choy)
2 cups, dried Shitake mushrooms
2 sticks of dried bean curd sticks
1 lotus root (about 6 inches in length)
1/2 package, tofu puffs, cut diagonally
5 leaves of sui choy, washed and cut into large bite sized pieces
2 bunches of dried vermicelli noodles
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 inch of ginger, finely minced
2 cloves of garlic, finely minced
3 red bean curd squares and 1/4 cup bean curd liquid
2 cups reserved shitake mushroom liquid, strained (see note below)
2 tbsp light soy sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp sugar

Red bean curd

1. Set out 4 large bowls and place wood ear, lily buds, black moss and and shitake mushrooms into each bowl. Fill each bowl with boiling hot water and cover each bowl with a plate. Soak for at least 2 hours.

Top left clockwise: wood ear, lily buds, black moss, shitake mushrooms

Note: Failure to wash the ingredients thoroughly will result in a gritty tasting Jai.
2. After two hours, take out the rehydrated shitake mushrooms and save the soaking liquid. Wash the shitake mushroom thoroughly, at least 5 times under running water. Make sure to scrub under the gills of the mushroom to wash away any dirt. Squeeze dry. Cut the larger mushrooms in half and set aside.

3. Drain the water from the black moss. Rinse the bowl and fill with fresh water. Wash and massage the black moss. Repeat at least 10 times as the black moss is the dirtiest of all the dried vegetables and the hardest to clean. Squeeze dry and set aside.

4. Wash and scrub the wood ear thoroughly with your fingers under running water at least 5 times. Squeeze dry. Cut off the stem end (tough part) of each wood ear and discard. Cut the rest of the wood ear into large bite sized pieces. Set aside.

Cut off the tough part of the wood ear.

5. Wash the lily buds thoroughly under running water at least 5 times. Squeeze dry and set aside.

6. In a large container, soak the dried bean curd sticks in cold water. Use a plate to weigh the bean curds down and fully immerse them under water for at least 30 minutes or until soft. Cut into large bite sized pieces and set aside.

Rehydrate in cold water until soft.

7. Wash and peel the lotus root. Cut into 1/8 inch thick slices. Rinse under running water and drain. Set aside.

8. Soak the vermicelli noodles in cold water for 15 minutes. Drain.

Top: Lotus root, lily buds, black moss, shitake mushrooms. Middle: wood ear, tofu puffs, sui choy. Bottom: vermicelli, bean curd sticks, red bean curd (in jar).

9. In a large pot over medium high heat, add vegetable oil, garlic and ginger. Saute until fragrant.

10. Add shitake mushrooms and stir fry for 2 minutes.

11. Then add in lily buds and stir fry for 2 minutes.

12. Next, add in wood ear and stir fry for 2 minutes.

13. Stir in the lotus root and stir fry for 2 minutes.

14. Mash the red bean curd squares in a bowl and mix with the bean curd liquid until it forms a thick paste. Add the red bean curd paste to the pot and stir until it is mixed through.

15. Take the reserved mushroom liquid and pour it through a sieve lined with a coffee filter or cheesecloth. (If you don't have either, a clean kitchen paper towel, like Bounce or Sponge Towel will work as well).

16. Pour the soy sauce, sesame oil, sugar and strained mushroom liquid into the pot and stir.

17. Stir in the black moss.

18. Add in the tofu puffs, sui choy and stir until it is well mixed. Cover and bring the mixture to a simmer.

19. Gently stir in the bean curd sticks. Be careful not to break the bean curd sticks when stirring. Bring the Jai to a simmer.

20. Once the Jai reaches a simmer, stir in the vermicelli noodles and turn off the heat. Mix the noodles and cover with a lid.

21. Keep the pot on the stove to cook the vermicelli noodles until al dente. Serve hot with rice.

Any leftovers can be frozen for up to one month. Sadly, we never have leftovers.

Source: Frugal Allergy Mom

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