BUDDHA’S DELIGHT (for eight as part of a Chinese meal)
This recipe is an easier version of the traditional Jai made for Chinese New Year by generations of Chinese. The ingredients here are more readily available in American markets than some of the traditional components: lotus, lily pods, lily bulbs, dried chestnuts, dried oysters, sea moss, cloud ear fungus mushrooms, fried tofu and fermented tofu, to name a few. Each of these items is essential to the traditional recipe because each represents something wanted for the coming year. It is eaten at midnight New Year’s Eve and for each of the three meals during the first day of the New Year, and is often accompanied by sweetened chrysanthemum tea. Gung hay fat choy!
12 large dried black mushrooms (3 ounces)
5 cups boiling-hot water plus more for soaking dried bean curd skins
2 dried bean curd skins (2 ounces total)
½ pound fresh or thawed frozen large bamboo shoots
4 ounces very thin sai fun (Chinese bean threads, also known as cellophane, glass or mung bean noodles)
one ½ pound firm fresh tofu cake, or ½ cake from a 14 to 16 ounce package, rinsed and drained
2 tablespoons vegetable or peanut oil
one ½ inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and very thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, chopped
½ cup peeled shelled fresh or frozen ginko nuts
1/3 cup vegetarian oyster sauce
¼ cup light soy sauce (preferably Pearl River Bridge brand)
¼ cup Chinese rice wine (preferably Shaoxing) or medium-dry Sherry
¾ teaspoon sugar
2 cups fresh soybean sprouts (¼ pound)
2 romaine hearts, trimmed and quartered lengthwise, then cut into 2 inch pieces (6 cups)
1. Soak mushrooms in 5 cups boiling hot water in a bowl, keeping them submerged with a small plate and turning the mushrooms over occasionally, until softened and cool enough to handle, about 30 minutes. Squeeze excess liquid from caps back into bowl and reserve liquid, then cut out and discard stems from mushrooms. Cut caps into 1 inch wedges.
- While mushrooms soak, carefully break bean curd skins in half crosswise, then halve each portion crosswise again. Transfer to a bowl, then add enough boiling hot water to cover and soak, turning occasionally, until softened, about 30 minutes.
- If using fresh bamboo, trim bottoms of shoots, then halve shoots lengthwise with a sharp heavy knife. Pull off and discard leaves from shoots, then remove any blemishes with a sharp paring knife (don’t worry about the natural dotted pattern along base of shoots).
- Cover fresh or frozen bamboo with cold water by 1 inch in a 2 quart saucepan and bring to a boil. Boil 2 minutes, then drain in a colander and rinse under cold water. Repeat boiling and rinsing, then arrange bamboo halves, cut sides down, on a cutting board and cut bamboo lengthwise into ¼ inch thick slices.
- In a bowl soak the noodles in hot tap water to cover for 20 minutes, drain them, cut them into 3 to 4 inch lengths and transfer them to a bowl.
- Drain bean curd skins in colander. When cool enough to handle, squeeze dry and cut crosswise into 1 inch pieces.
- Halve tofu lengthwise, then cut each half crosswise into ½ inch thick slices.
- Heat oil in a 5 to 6 quart wide heavy pot over moderate heat until hot but not smoking. Add ginger and garlic and cook, stirring, 30 seconds. Add mushrooms, bean curd skins, bamboo and ginko nuts and cook, stirring, 2 minutes. Stir in oyster sauce, soy sauce, rice wine, and sugar and simmer 1 minute. Add reserved mushroom-soaking liquid and bring to a boil. Gently stir in tofu and soybean sprouts, then reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, 15 minutes. Gently stir in noodles and simmer, covered, 5 minutes. Add romaine hearts (pot will be full) and turn to coat, then simmer, covered, until romaine is tender, about 5 minutes.
NOTE: Mushrooms, bean curd skins, and noodles can be soaked (but not drained) 1 day ahead and chilled in their soaking liquid separately, covered. Drain (reserve mushroom soaking liquid) before using. Bamboo shoots can be cooked 1 day ahead and cooled completely, then cut and chilled in cold water, covered. Drain before using. Buddha’s Delight, without romaine, can be made 2 hours ahead and kept at room temperature, uncovered. Bring to a boil and proceed with recipe.