Growing up in an Asian household, I would sometimes celebrate Chinese festivities, but could hardly keep track of everything. This year, to get more hype to cook, I decided to learn more about Chinese New Year, particularly the food aspects. I’ve been told that Jai is a common food dish to eat, so I called upon my grandma and mom for more knowledge!
Jai is most commonly known as Buddha’s Delight. Although there are many variations, they are all vegetarian, simply because in Buddhist culture, they value vegetarianism. But around Chinese New Year, Jai is known as the food you eat on the first day of the new year. The night before, you pig out on heavy foods and meats, but in a way, to cleanse yourself for the year ahead, you eat as a vegetarian. And then resume eating meats on the second day of the new year. But given the fact that some ingredients are fried and the whole dish is a giant stir-fry, quite a lot of oil is used compared to most dishes, so I cannot vouch for the true health aspects of this dish, haha. But it is incredibly delicious, possibly because oil brings out the best flavors.
Okay, so what’s in Jai? Any vegetable? Not quite, but definitely a heavy dose of leafy greens and fungi/mushroom. Plus bean curd and glass noodles, essential to the core of Jai! Like any good stir-fry, it’s essential to cook nearly each ingredient separately and then start combining them together. So choose a nice big wok or pan to stir everything in. Jai is meant to last at least a couple meals, so this is a great meal prep recipe if you’re into that.
First things first. The “deep fry”. It’s not really deep, just add enough oil to full coat the bottom of the pan. We fry the bean curd and glass noodles in small batches. Tongs or chopsticks are great to help with flipping the pieces around so they get all puffy. The result should have a puffy look, like puffed popcorn. The key is to start with dry ingredients. DOn’t soak them like you would normally. Once puffed and cooked, set that aside to let the oils drain off. The bean curd especially takes on a lot of oil. We use bean curd because it’s called foo jook, which sounds like luck!
Next, the “aromatics”. We start bringing out the flavors of the dish, by first sautéing mushrooms with a simple soy sauce marinate. Then we add the cloud ear fungi, red dates, and garlic. The fungi adds a nice almost-crunch texture and the red dates add a lovely sweet note. Cloud ear fungi might be sold as black fungus, but there’s actually at least 2 types. Cloud ear and wood ear. Wood ear is stiffer and takes much longer to cook, as you can imagine by the two names. And grandma told me very specifically, Do not use wood ear fungus. You hear? You absolutely cannot use wood ear. You must only use cloud ear. Okay grandma, got it.
An essential Cantonese component to Jai is fat choy, or black hair moss fungi. You might notice that those words look like something you’d say during new year, gong hei fat choy. It actually means wishing you a good fortune, although most people seem to say it as if it means happy new year. Rather, the translation for happy new year is sun leen fai lok in Cantonese and xin nian kuai le in Mandarin.
I digress. Fat choy the fungi sounds a lot like fat choy in terms of wealth and good fortune. And the chinese love a good superstition and play on words. So that goes in. And then add back the fried ingredients to let the cook and get soft. Adding more vegetables as you choose, we used baby corn, cabbage, and gai lan. But you could also use things like kale or bok choy if that’s more accessible to you. Give it all a good toss, add some oyster sauce to taste (or soy sauce if that’s all you have), and ta da, that is your Jai!
Pretty simple, right? Mix and match whatever you have on hand (except not the wood ear fungi because that’ll take forever to cook!), and you’ve got yourself a hearty vegetable dish to last you days!
Jai (齋) Vegetable Dish
- 1/4 cup cooking oil (plus more)
- 1 bundle (2 oz) dry bean thread noodles
- 3 oz dried bean curd sheet, lightly broken up to about 2 in x 8 in strips (about 2 loose cups worth)
- 2 large dried shiitake mushroom, soaked
- 1 tsp soy sauce
- 1/2 tsp sugar
- 2 cloves garlic, smashed
- 1/2 cup cloud ear fungus, soaked
- 1/2 cup dried black moss (fat choy) soaked
- 1/4 cup dried red dates (jujube) soaked and pitted
- 1 can baby corn, drained and sliced lengthwise
- 1/4 cup water
- 1/2 head green cabbage (about 2 cups) chopped
- 10-12 stalks chinese broccoli (gai lan) washed and chopped
- 3 Tbsp oyster sauce
- 1 tsp salt
- Start by prepping all the ingredients because the cooking process is fast.
- Drain the mushrooms. Slice them, discard the stems. Marinate them with soy sauce and sugar.
- Heat the cooking oil in a deep pot or pan over medium-high heat. Meanwhile, you can prep the noodles and dried bean curd by separating them out into small batches. Once at the steaming point (oil should show signs of steam vapor), add in the bean thread noodles a little at a time. It should take a few seconds for the noodles to start puffing up and sizzling. When the noodles are mostly puffy, remove from the pot and set aside. Repeat until the noodles and bean curd are all fried. Take care not to burn or over fry the bean curd. Continue to more oil to the pan between batches, as necessary.
- Add oil to a large pan and set it on medium-high heat. Reuse the oil from previous if any left.
- Add the mushrooms and let them cook for 2 minutes. Then add the garlic, cloud ear fungi, hair moss and red dates. Give it a good stir.
- Add the fried bean curd and noodles. This will help them to fully cook and absorb more liquid. Add the baby corn and 1/4 cup water and cover. Cook on medium for about 5 minutes, until everything starts to take up less volume.
- Then add the leafy greens, ingredients that take less time to cook. First add the green cabbage. Cover the pan again and cook for another 3-4 minutes. Add a couple more tablespoons of water as it evaporates and gets absorbed by the vegetables. Stir it around every minute or so to help evenly cook the cabbage.
- Lastly, add in the chinese broccoli. Cover and cook for 3 minutes, until the leaves appear dark green and lightly wilted. Stir to mix everything together. Add oyster sauce and salt to taste. Plate and enjoy!
- You can definitely mix and match amount of ingredients, as long as you make sure to taste test as you go!
- Bean curd sheets are also sold as tofu skins and is a soy product
- Dried shiitake mushrooms often have more flavor than fresh. It takes about 15 minutes to really soak them back to life
Did you make this recipe?
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