Buddhist Vegetarian Stew (Luo Hon Jai)

Ingredients

For the sauce

  •    2-3 cups water
  • 2 Tablespoons  Chinese rice wine (Shaoxing)
  • 2 Tablespoons  vegetarian oyster sauce
  • 1 Tablespoon  light soy sauce
  • 1 Tablespoon  dark soy sauce
  • 1 Teaspoon  sugar
  • 1 Teaspoon  sesame oil
  • 1/4 Teaspoon  white pepper
  • 1/2 Teaspoon  cornstarch

For the stew

  • 8 s  dried black shiitake mushrooms
  • 4 Ounces  dried bean curd sticks
  • 3 Ounces  dried lily buds
  • 1 Ounce  dried black moss (fat choy)
  • 1/2 Ounce  dried black fungus (also called cloud ear or wood ear)
  • 3 Ounces  cellophane noodles
  • 1/2 Cup  raw shelled peanuts
  • 7 Cups  water
  • 6 Ounces  deep-fried tofu squares, halved
  • 4 Ounces  wheat gluten, cut into 1/4-inch-thick pieces
  • 2 Tablespoons  vegetable oil
  • 4 s  slices ginger, smacked with the side of a knife
  • 3 s  cloves garlic, peeled and left whole
  • 1 Tablespoon  red fermented bean curd (nam yee)
  •   large carrot, peeled, halved, and cut into 1/8-inch-thick half moons
  • 1 Cup  sliced bamboo shoot, cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices
  • 1 Cup  sliced lotus root, cut into 1/8-inch-thick half moons
  • 2 Cups  sliced Napa cabbage, cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices
  • 1 Cup  canned straw mushrooms, drained and rinsed
  • 7 Ounces  canned ginkgo nuts, drained and rinsed
  •    Light soy sauce, to taste

Originally eaten by Buddhists in Chinese culture, this dish is served in most Chinese households during the first few days of the new year. There are regional differences depending upon which part of China your family originates from, but most of the dried ingredients remain consistent since they symbolize good luck. A number of the ingredients like the black fungus (fat choy), lily buds (jinzhen), and gingko nuts (bai guo) all symbolize wealth and good fortune. Eating vegetarian the first day of new year also symbolizes purification of the body and upholds the tradition of having no animal slaughter on the first day of the new year.

Authentically, this dish contains 18 ingredients. The number symbolizes wealth and prosperity. The stew requires quite a bit of time for reconstituting, boiling, and braising. Most of the prep time is spent rinsing and soaking dried ingredients and then slowly braising the ingredients until the flavor melds.

Click here to see The Ultimate Chinese New Year Dinner.

Directions

For the sauce

In a small bowl, combine all of the ingredients and mix well. Set aside.

For the stew

Soak the following in separate bowls of hot water for 30 minutes each: shiitake mushrooms, bean curd sticks, lily buds, black moss, black fungus, cellophane noodles, and raw peanuts.

Once the ingredients are reconstituted, drain and rinse each well. Trim the shiitake mushroom stems, cut the bean curd sticks into 3-inch pieces, and tie the lily bud strips into knots.

In a large saucepan, bring 6 cups of the water to a boil. Add the deep-fried tofu squares and wheat gluten and boil for 5 minutes. Drain and set aside.

In a large wok or Dutch oven, heat the vegetable oil over medium heat. Add the ginger, garlic, and fermented bean curd to the pan and stir-fry until fragrant, about 2-3 minutes. Stir in the carrot, bamboo shoot, and lotus root and continue to stir-fry for 5 more minutes. Toss in the cabbage and cook the vegetables for 5 more minutes.

Pour the sauce on top of the cooked vegetables and bring the mixture to a boil. Add all of the reconstituted ingredients, the tofu, wheat gluten, straw mushrooms, and ginkgo nuts. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer the stew for at least 15 minutes.

Once the ingredients absorb all of the water, add the remaining water and continue to simmer until most of the liquid is absorbed, about 10 minutes. If necessary, season with more light soy sauce, to taste, and serve alone or with steamed white rice.

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