Buddha’s Fry (Jai)

Buddha’s Fry (Jai)

This vegetarian dish is one of my favorite parts of a Chinese banquet.  Traditionally, it contains 18 ingredients representing the eighteen Buddhas (Luohan).  In most restaurants, you will see fewer ingredients.  The ingredients with stars next to them may be hard to find except in Asian grocery stores.  The first three ingredients are also common in Chinese hot-and-sour soup, and therefore worth the trip and  purchase.  You can substitute fresh (firm) or baked tofu, tempeh, and other kinds of mushrooms (e.g. canned straw mushrooms, buttons), shelled edamame (soybeans)  for the harder to find ingredients.  You can also make your own deep fried fresh tofu by cutting it into bite-sized triangles and frying it over medium high heat in about ½ inch of oil and then draining it on paper towels.   A good jai will display a lot of variety in looks, tastes and textures and contain ample amounts of vegetable protein.

  • 4 Chinese dried mushrooms
  • ¼ cup dried tiger lily buds*
  • ½ oz dried wood-ear*
  • 1 oz dried bean-curd skin (sheets or knotted)*
  • 1 oz fried tofu*
  • ½ cup fried wheat gluten (comes in a can)*
  • 1/3 cup bamboo shots, drained and rinsed
  • 2 cups mushroom or vegetable stock
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • ½ tsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp cornstarch
  • 1 oz dried cellophane noodles, snipped into 2 inch lengths
  • 3 green onions cut into 2 inch lengths
  • 1 celery stalk, thinly sliced
  • 1 carrot, peeled and thinly sliced on a diagonal
  • 1 cup dark green vegetable (e.g. broccoli, kale) cut into bite sized pieces
  • 2 cups Napa cabbage cut into bite-size pieces
  • 6 baby corn cobs, cut into three pieces each
  • 1/3 cup sliced water chestnuts, drained and rinsed
  • About 1 dozen snow peas, strings removed
  • 1 cup bean sprouts
  • 2 tbsp canola oil
  • 2 tsp minced ginger
  • 2 cloves garlic minced
  • Up to 3 tbsp Chinese oyster sauce (real or vegetarian) (I’m not a true vegetarian so I use the real stuff)
  • 2 tsp Asian sesame oil

 

Put the mushrooms, lily buds, wood ears and bean curd skin in a bowl and cover them with boiling water.  Let them sit for about 15 minutes or until soft.  In a separate bowl, do the same with the cellophane noodles (it’s easier, and less messy to soak them first and then snip them in the bowl with kitchen scissors).  In the meanwhile, collect and prepare the remaining ingredients.  Make sure every can is opened, everything drained, portioned off, washed and/or chopped before you start stir frying, as things will go quite fast.

Drain the mushrooms, etc.  Slice the mushrooms, discarding the tough stems.  Slice the wood ears into pieces about the size of the mushroom slices and if using flat sheets of bean curd skin, tear it into small pieces about the size of the cut-up wood ears (If using knotted bean curd skin, leave it as is). 

In a pot, combine the mushrooms, lily buds, wood ears, bean curd skin, fried tofu, wheat gluten and bamboo shoots with the stock, soy sauce, sugar and cornstarch, heat over medium high heat and cook for about 10 minutes to allow the flavors to penetrate. Drain the cellophane noodles and set them aside.

In a wok over high heat, heat up the oil.  When oil is hot, add ginger, green onions, celery, carrots and stir fry for about one minute.  Add dark green vegetable, Napa cabbage and garlic.  Stir fry for another minute.  Add the corn cobs and water chestnuts and stir fry for another minute.  Add snow peas and bean sprouts and cook just till snow peas are heated through.  They should still be crisp and bright green.  Turn off the heat.  Stir in mushroom mixture and cellophane noodles.  Add half of the oyster sauce and taste.  If necessary add more until seasoning appears right.  Spoon into a serving bowl and squirt sesame oil over the mixture.  Serve at once with or without rice.  Makes 6-8 servings.

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