Buddha’s delight, or luo han zhai 罗汉斋 (Mandarin), or lo han jai (Cantonese), is a vegetarian dish well-known in Chinese and Buddhist cuisine. The dish is traditionally consumed by Buddhist monks (who are vegetarians), but it has also grown in popularity throughout the world as a common dish available as a vegetarian or healthy option in Chinese restaurants.
The Buddha’s Delight versions you see outside of China (and even many restaurants within China) simply consist of a variety of common vegetables and maybe some tofu. Every place has its own spin on the dish, and you never know what you’ll get but trust me, this Buddhas delight is one of the most authentic Chinese recipes you will find and it’s actually falls into the easy Chinese recipes category as long as you find all of the ingredients.
The version I grew up with is very much Cantonese, to the point where Judy had never heard of or tasted our family’s version before joining our family’s Chinese New Year celebrations. To this day, my grandma on my mother’s side or in Chinese, Lǎo lao 姥姥 (who’s in her 90s, sharp as a tack, and still insists on living on her own) stays at home on Chinese New Year day and cooks a small pot of lo han jai for the traditional mid-morning vegetarian meal. If you visit her early enough, there may just be some left. Needless to say, I try to get there early.
My arrival always begins with Chinese New Year greetings and wishes of health, happiness and long life (and of course a red envelope of lucky money). Long gone are the days when I only used to get red packets from her when I was a kid. Once I married, the roles reversed, and it was the elderly’s turn to receive the lucky red envelopes from me and my sisters.
But some things never change, and heading over to the kitchen for a small bowl of rice with lo han jai still follows. Memories abound whenever I step into that apartment, where she’s lived for over 50 years.
The list of ingredients for Buddha’s Delight is long, and it’s totally up to personal preference which ingredients you choose to use. I figured it would be useful for you all to have a list of ingredients that are typically found in Buddha’s Delight (below). Our recipe only uses 8 of them, but extra ingredients can always be added or subtracted, depending upon availability and preference.
Common ingredients found in Buddha’s Delight:
- Arrowroot(慈菇; cí gū)
- Bamboo shoots (笋; sǔn)
- Bean curd sticks or bean threads (腐竹; fǔ zhú)
- Black mushrooms (冬菇; dōnggū)
- Cellophane or mung bean noodles (粉絲; fěn sī)
- Day lily buds (金针; jīnzhēn)
- Fat choy (Cantonese) or black moss (发菜; fà cài)
- Ginkgo nuts (白果; bái guǒ)
- Lotus seeds (蓮子; liánzǐ)
- Napa cabbage (大白菜; dà bái cài)
- Peanuts (花生; huā shēng)
- Fried tofu (炸豆腐; zhá dòu fǔ)
- Water chestnuts (荸荠; bí qí)
- Fried or braised wheat gluten (面筋; miàn jīn)
- Fried tofu puffs (油豆腐; yóu dòu fu)
- Wood ear or black fungus (木耳; mù ěr)
- Red dates or jujubes (红枣; hóng zǎo)
- Lotus root (藕; ǒu)
- chives (韭菜; jiǔ cài)
- snow pea (荷兰豆; hé lán dòu)
- soy bean sprout (豆芽; dòu yá)
- carrots (胡萝卜; hú luó bo)
- baby corn (玉米笋; yù mǐ sǔn)
- leek (蒜苗; suàn miáo)
Other vegetables often used include leeks, snow peas, bean sprouts, carrots, and baby corn. Let’s talk about how to make our version.
Buddha’s Delight: Recipe Instructions
Heat your wok over medium-high heat, and add the oil and ginger. Let the ginger caramelize for about 30 seconds without letting it burn. Add the red fermented bean curd and break it up with your spatula.
Add the garlic, the white portions of the leeks (reserve to green portion for later), mushrooms, wood ears, and lily flowers. Stir-fry for 1 minute. Add the Shaoxing wine and stir fry for another minute.
Next, add the Napa cabbage, fried tofu puffs, and bean threads, and crank up the heat as high as it will go. Stir-fry for 2 minutes.
Add the remaining green portion of the leeks, sesame oil, soy sauce, sugar and water or vegetable stock. Stir everything together, cover the wok, and reduce the heat to medium. Cook for 6 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Uncover the wok and turn the heat back up to high. Add the mung bean noodles, which should soak up most of the liquid. Keep stirring until most of the liquid has evaporated.
Transfer your Buddha’s Delight to a large bowl and serve with steamed rice!