You don’t stumble upon your heritage. It’s there, just waiting to be explored and shared. ~ Robbie Robertson
The period of celebration for the Lunar New Year is over, culminating with a gathering over Glutinous Rice Balls 汤圆 ‘Tang Yuan’ with Black Sesame Paste. Buddha’s Delight is a vegetarian dish that is cleansing and easy to prepare and stores well for a day or two. Best of all, it eases our consciences toward a healthier diet especially after all the New Year pastries and candies (ahem!).
Traditionally eaten on the 1st and 15th day of the Lunar New Year, this dish takes its name from Buddhist monks who are vegetarian. No prizes for guessing – the dish is typically 100% vegetarian. Though an old Buddhist practice as a way of self-purification, the observance of avoiding meat during the New Year is still observed by many Chinese households as a cultural tradition regardless of religious beliefs .
Although ingredients vary between Asian regions and families, a few seem to be staples. Mum always reminded that there should be an even number of ingredients with at least 8 items. 10 or even 18 items is not uncommon especially in larger families. Each item is chosen carefully, often with auspicious significance. Some examples include:
- Bean curd, dried 豆腐 (‘dou fu’) – wealth and happiness (dried bean curd is yellowish in colour, not white which is avoided)
- Bean curd sticks 腐竹 (‘fu zhu’) – blessings on the home
- Black fungus/Wood ear fungus 木耳 (‘mu er’) – longevity
- Black moss 发菜 (‘fa chai’) – wealth
- Cabbage 白菜 (‘bai chai’) – 100 ways of prosperity and fortune
- Carrots 红萝卜(‘hong loh bok’) – red colour for luck
- Gingko nuts 銀杏 (yin sin) or 白果 (‘bai guo’) – silver and wealth
- Glass noodles 粉丝 (‘fen si’) or 冬粉 (‘dong fen’) – silver chains for wealth
- Lily buds 金针 (‘jin jen’, ‘golden needles’) – wealth, and knotted together for harmony and union
- Snow peas 荷兰豆 (‘her lan dou’) – unity
This year we diverged slightly from a completely vegetarian diet. To simplify the meal preparation and save on time, I snuck in shrimp (虾 ‘sia’- for lots of laughter, in even numbers, of course) and crab (蟹 ‘see-eh’ – for harmony and excellence) into our Buddha’s Delight instead of presenting separate seafood dishes. It’s true, some restaurants serve it up with abalone (鲍鱼 ‘bao yu’ or 鳆 ‘fu’ – for ‘guaranteed’ good fortune). In any case, leave these out for a classical Buddha’s Delight.
Anyway, it’s easy to make and very adaptable. Use as many or few ingredients as you wish. Others that go well include mushrooms, fried bean curd, glass noodles, bamboo shoots and lotus roots. The key ingredient is fermented red beancurd which can be an acquired taste. However, the amounts used in in the dish only imparts a mild taste and the braising process mellows it out a lot.
Most of the time is spent in rehydrating and preparing the dried ingredients, which means a lot can be done in advance! The actual cooking time should take no more than 10 minutes, and another 5-10 minutes to simmer. I make this dish throughout the year with leftover veggies, especially since many of the dried ingredients are often in my pantry.
- Bring the family around the kitchen table and make some Glutinous Rice Balls 汤圆 ‘Tang Yuan’ with Black Sesame Paste symbolizing unity and togetherness.
- For another Lunar New Year tradition, steam up a Turnip Cake ‘Loh Bok Gau’.
- If you like glass noodles, try Fried Tang Hoon for a light, gluten-free and vegetarian stir-fry.
- See that pretty clay pot in the photo? I love the delicate colors in the glaze. This one was specially handed down from my mother, and so this hardy little fella migrated across the Pacific and now continues to nourish our family. You can get one from Amazon here or below.
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Meanwhile, here is what I just borrowed from the local library about the amazing strength of the bond between man and dog and the resilience of people with challenges that most cannot truly imagine: A Dog’s Gift: The Inspirational Story of Veterans and Children Healed by Man’s Best Friend
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- ⅛ cup black fungus, rehydrated and chopped
- Couple lily buds (lily flowers), rehydrated and knotted
- 2 pieces dried bean curd, soaked in hot water to soften and cut into thin strips
- ½ carrot, sliced
- ½ cabbage, shred to pieces
- ½ cup ginkgo nuts
- 1/2 cup snow peas
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 Tbsp shallots, minced
- ½ cup shrimp (omit for the traditional recipe and vegetarian version)
- ½ cup crab meat, cooked (omit for the traditional recipe and vegetarian version)
- 1 piece of red fermented beancurd, available in Asian grocery store.
- Stir fry garlic and shallots with 2 Tbsp oil in a wok or pot till fragrant.
- Add fermented beancurd, stir and break up to dissolve.
- Add the following in order, allowing to cook for about 10 seconds between each ingredient: shrimp, carrots, black fungus, lily buds, ginkgo nuts, snow peas, bean curd, cabbage and cooked crab meat.
- Taste and add some salt if necessary.
- Add 1 cup of hot water, bring to a boil and simmer for 5 - 10 minutes. The cabbage should have softened and snow peas still bright green in colour.