Buddha’s Delight (Jai, Chinese Vegetarian Stew)

A classic and festive vegetarian dish made easy. The vegetable stew is great tasting, very flexible, and quite practical for home cooking on a daily basis - Buddha’s Delight (Jai, Chinese Vegetarian Stew) | omnivorescookbook.comA classic and festive vegetarian dish made easy. The vegetable stew is great tasting, very flexible, and quite practical for home cooking on a daily basis.

{long post alert}
This is a very long post with detailed instructions on how to create your own version of Buddha’s Delight.

You can go to the recipe directly and start cooking.

To jump to each part of the post:
Why this recipe
Ingredients you can use
Cooking process for your own version of Buddha’s Delight

What is Buddha’s Delight?

Buddha’s Delight (罗汉斋) is also called lo han jai in Cantonese and luo han zhai in Mandarin. Jai or Zhai literally means the Buddhist cuisine, which is basically a vegetarian diet that uses very simple seasonings and minimal oil. Among all the Jai dishes served in temples, Buddha’s Delight is the most famous, and is even well-known outside of China. It is said the unabridged version of Buddha’s Delight contains 18 vegetables, or even more. However, for family cooking, people usually use fewer ingredients.

In southern China, there is a tradition to serve this dish on the first day of the Chinese New Year. One theory says it’s derived from Buddhist practice and represents self-purification. Some people believe it brings good luck. And some say it’s great for digestion, after eating tons of meat and protein on New Year’s Eve.

In northern China, we don’t call this dish Buddha’s Delight, but we enjoy cooking a vegetarian stew that uses very similar ingredients and seasonings. When a reader requested this recipe (Thanks, Linda, for sharing this idea! :)), I did some search on the original version. From there, I developed this recipe, incorporating some of the cooking techniques that my mom uses into the original.

Here is my northern style Buddha’s Delight – a delicious, comforting, and healthy way to enjoy various vegetables.

A classic and festive vegetarian dish made easy. The vegetable stew is great tasting, very flexible, and quite practical for home cooking on a daily basis - Buddha’s Delight (Jai, Chinese Vegetarian Stew) | omnivorescookbook.com

Why this version?

The combinations of ingredients that can be used to make Buddha’s Delight are countless. If you look at the list given on Wikipedia, there are 34 commonly used ingredients and 11 seasonings. Among them, a few of the items are not even vegetarian.

The version I cooked today is vegetarian. I chose the vegetables below, because I wanted to create a dish that is great in taste, good in appearance, and relatively easy to cook.

Why is it “relatively” easy? If you check the recipe for the complete version, you’ll find that cooking this dish is extremely time consuming, because you need to prepare so many different kinds of vegetables and cook each one separately. It’s the kind of dish that you would only cook once a year.

After a few modifications and adjustments to the ingredient list, I created this version. This recipe is very flexible and quite practical for home cooking on a daily basis.

A classic and festive vegetarian dish made easy. The vegetable stew is great tasting, very flexible, and quite practical for home cooking on a daily basis - Buddha’s Delight (Jai, Chinese Vegetarian Stew) | omnivorescookbook.com

Ingredients you can use in Buddha’s Delight

In this dish, the ingredients can be generally separated into 3 groups.

Group A – Ingredients that are crucial for flavor

Group B – Ingredients that add texture, mouthfeel and absorb flavor well

Group C – Ingredients that add color, and / or nutrition but won’t absorb a lot of flavor

Group A (core ingredients) Group B (great choices) Group C (optional)
dried lily flower*
dried shiitake mushroom*
deep fried tofu
fried gluten ball*
baby bok choy
napa cabbage
dried wood ear mushroom*
fresh mushrooms
bamboo shoot
water chestnut
dried tofu skin*
bean thread noodles*
dried black moss*
carrot
snow peas
ginkgo
lotus seed
lotus root
peanuts
baby corn
red jujubes

(* indicates the item that needs to be rehydrated first)

Buddha’s Delight (Jai, Chinese Vegetarian Stew) Ingredients | omnivorescookbook.com

When you understand the difference between the 3 groups, you can create the combination of this dish depends on what do you have at hands.

The rules are as below:

(1) Group A is a must.

You can use any of them, but I recommend you choose at least two.

When rehydrating dried lily flowers and dried shiitake mushrooms, the re-hydrating liquid will become a perfect vegetable broth. It’s very strong in flavor and has a special aroma. Use at least one of them (although I strongly recommended dried lily flower, because it has a very special and strong aroma), and doing so will eliminate the need to use vegetable / mushroom stock.

Deep fried tofu and fried wheat gluten balls are quite greasy and very delicious. They add extra fat to the dish and make the rest of the ingredients tastier. They also absorb flavor very well, and almost taste like meat once cooked (we call them vegan meat in Chinese cooking). By using them, the dish will become more fulfilling. I suggest choosing at least one of them.

Buddha’s Delight (Jai, Chinese Vegetarian Stew) Four Important Ingredients | omnivorescookbook.com(2) Choose at least two items from group B

Because they are delicious and add great texture. In this recipe, I used six items from group B. But you can use just two or three, to make the dish simple and tasty.

I suggest you choose at least one of: bok choy and napa cabbage. They add liquid to the dish and make the dish moist and comforting.

The rest of the items are all optional. Bamboo shoots and water chestnuts add crispness. Mushrooms add meaty texture and umami. Dried tofu sticks add a firm and meaty texture.

(3) One more word about bean thread noodles

In this recipe I added them at the end to absorb the broth, so the finished dish wouldn’t be so watery and the noodles would be full of flavor.

If you don’t use bean threads, you could choose to add cornstarch water to thicken the broth. You can use the ratio: 1 teaspoon cornstarch : 1 tablespoon water. Whisk the cornstarch water to dissolve the cornstarch and slowly swirl it into the stew at the end of cooking (you can start by adding 1 tablespoon of the mixture). Stir to mix well and see whether the broth is thick enough. You can add more until the broth is thickened.

(4) Group C is optional

You can use carrots or snow peas to add color, but you can also skip group C entirely. These items are added in order to add nutrition to the dish, but they don’t absorb flavor very well. If you decide to add them, keep the amount small (much less than the items from group B).

By the way, I used a lot of ingredients in this recipe and it almost filled a 14-inch wok. You should be careful not to exceed the total volume of veggies given in this recipe.

A classic and festive vegetarian dish made easy. The vegetable stew is great tasting, very flexible, and quite practical for home cooking on a daily basis - Buddha’s Delight (Jai, Chinese Vegetarian Stew) | omnivorescookbook.com

Cooking process for your own version of Buddha’s Delight

The rules are super simple.

(1) You will need some time to get the ingredients prepared. Pay attention some of the items that need time to rehydrate (marked as * in the chart above).

(2) Infuse oil with fresh ginger and green onion (very important).

(3) Stir fry the items according to texture. Add ingredients by the order of time needed to cook through.

(4) Season with light soy sauce to add flavor, dark soy sauce to add color, and sugar (optional).

(5) Add vegetable stock (or re-hydrating liquid) and cover, to steam until cooked through (but not too mushy).

(6) Adjust the flavor by adding salt.

(7) Thicken the broth by adding bean thread noodles or cornstarch water.

(8) Drizzle some sesame oil to enhance flavor (optional).

Sound easy enough? OK, let’s get cooking!

A classic and festive vegetarian dish made easy. The vegetable stew is great tasting, very flexible, and quite practical for home cooking on a daily basis - Buddha’s Delight (Jai, Chinese Vegetarian Stew) | omnivorescookbook.com

If you cook this recipe or create your own version of Buddha’s Delight, don’t forget to take a picture and post on my Facebook fan page. I love to see your photos!


5.0 from 6 reviews
Buddha’s Delight (Jai, Chinese Vegetarian Stew)
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
The prep time includes marinating time. If you are creating your own version of Buddha's Delight, please refer to the notes in the post above. Be careful, when you pick your own ingredients, try not to exceed the total volume of veggies given in this recipe.
Author:
Recipe type: Side
Cuisine: Chinese
Serves: 6 - 8
Ingredients
Seasonings
  • 1 and 1/2 tablespoons peanut oil (or vegetable oil)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped green onion
  • 2 slices ginger
  • 3 tablespoons light soy sauce
  • (Optional) 1 teaspoon dark soy sauce
  • (Optional) 1 teaspoon sugar (*see footnote)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup re-hydrating water from the lily flower and dried mushrooms (or vegetable stock)
  • (Optional) 1 teaspoon sesame oil
Instructions
Two hours before cooking
  1. Rinse dried lily flowers with tap water. Place in a medium sized bowl and pour boiling water on top. Mix well and let rehydrate for 2 hours (up to overnight). After 1 hour, mix the lily flowers again, to make sure all flowers are soaked in water. After lily flowers turn soft, snip the tough ends by hand, and cut in half lengthwise. Drain and set aside. Save the re-hydrating water for later use.
    Buddha’s Delight (Jai, Chinese Vegetarian Stew) Cooking Process | omnivorecookbook.com Buddha’s Delight (Jai, Chinese Vegetarian Stew) Cooking Process | omnivorecookbook.com
  2. Rinse shiitake mushrooms with tap water. Add to a small bowl and cover with tap water. Let sit for 2 hours, until the mushrooms turn soft. Gently squeeze the water from the mushrooms and transfer them to a plate. Save the re-hydrating water for later use.
    Buddha’s Delight (Jai, Chinese Vegetarian Stew) Cooking Process | omnivorecookbook.com Buddha’s Delight (Jai, Chinese Vegetarian Stew) Cooking Process | omnivorecookbook.com
  3. Add dried wood ear mushroom in a small bowl and warm water to cover. Let sit for 2 hours, until the wood ear mushrooms turn soft. Gently rinse with tap water and drain. Cut into bite size.
    Buddha’s Delight (Jai, Chinese Vegetarian Stew) Cooking Process | omnivorecookbook.com Buddha’s Delight (Jai, Chinese Vegetarian Stew) Cooking Process | omnivorecookbook.com
Thirty minutes before cooking
  1. Use a knife to slice each fried gluten ball, so it absorbs water faster. Place all the gluten balls in a large bowl and add water to cover. Place a cover (or a plate) on top of the bowl, so the gluten balls will be submerged in water. After 20 minutes, stir and mix with water again, to make sure all the gluten balls are soaked in water. After all the balls turn soft, squeeze water out and set aside. Discard the soaking water.
    Buddha’s Delight (Jai, Chinese Vegetarian Stew) Cooking Process | omnivorecookbook.com Buddha’s Delight (Jai, Chinese Vegetarian Stew) Cooking Process | omnivorecookbook.comBuddha’s Delight (Jai, Chinese Vegetarian Stew) Cooking Process | omnivorecookbook.com Buddha’s Delight (Jai, Chinese Vegetarian Stew) Cooking Process | omnivorecookbook.com
  2. Chop vegetables and prepare the seasonings.
    Buddha’s Delight (Jai, Chinese Vegetarian Stew) Cooking Process | omnivorecookbook.com Buddha’s Delight (Jai, Chinese Vegetarian Stew) Cooking Process | omnivorecookbook.com
  3. Place bean threads noodles in a bowl and add warm water to cover. Let sit for 5 minutes, until the noodles turn soft. Drain and set aside.
    Buddha’s Delight (Jai, Chinese Vegetarian Stew) Cooking Process | omnivorecookbook.com Buddha’s Delight (Jai, Chinese Vegetarian Stew) Cooking Process | omnivorecookbook.com
To cook the stew
  1. Heat oil in a wok over medium high heat (or high heat on an electric stove). When oil is warm, add ginger and green onion. Stir a few times until fragrant. Add carrot. Stir and cook for 1 minute.
    Buddha’s Delight (Jai, Chinese Vegetarian Stew) Cooking Process | omnivorecookbook.com Buddha’s Delight (Jai, Chinese Vegetarian Stew) Cooking Process | omnivorecookbook.com
  2. Add lily flowers and dried shiitake mushrooms. Stir and cook for 1 minute.
  3. Add bamboo shoots and wood ear mushrooms. Stir and cook for 1 minute.
    Buddha’s Delight (Jai, Chinese Vegetarian Stew) Cooking Process | omnivorecookbook.com Buddha’s Delight (Jai, Chinese Vegetarian Stew) Cooking Process | omnivorecookbook.com
  4. Add fried gluten balls and fresh mushrooms. Stir and cook for 1 minute. Add light soy sauce, dark soy sauce, and sugar. Stir to mix well. Pour about 1 cup of re-hydrating water from the lily flowers and dried mushrooms (or alternatively, vegetable stock).
    Buddha’s Delight (Jai, Chinese Vegetarian Stew) Cooking Process | omnivorecookbook.com Buddha’s Delight (Jai, Chinese Vegetarian Stew) Cooking Process | omnivorecookbook.com
  5. Add bok choy and stir a few times. Add napa cabbage. Stir to mix a few times. Cover and let cook over medium heat for 3 to 5 minutes, until the vegetables are cooked through.
    Buddha’s Delight (Jai, Chinese Vegetarian Stew) Cooking Process | omnivorecookbook.com Buddha’s Delight (Jai, Chinese Vegetarian Stew) Cooking Process | omnivorecookbook.com
  6. Add salt and mix well. Taste the vegetable and add more salt to adjust seasoning if necessary.
    Buddha’s Delight (Jai, Chinese Vegetarian Stew) Cooking Process | omnivorecookbook.com
  7. Add bean thread noodles and let them soak in the liquid. Stir and cook for another 30 seconds until the liquid is almost absorbed (or alternatively, use cornstarch water to thicken sauce - more information in the post above).
    Buddha’s Delight (Jai, Chinese Vegetarian Stew) Cooking Process | omnivorecookbook.com Buddha’s Delight (Jai, Chinese Vegetarian Stew) Cooking Process | omnivorecookbook.com
  8. Stop heat. Drizzle with sesame oil and stir to mix well.
  9. Serve warm over white rice.

The nutrition facts are calculated based on 1 of the 8 servings generated by this recipe (it doesn’t contain the dried lily flowers and bean thread noodles due to lack of information).

Buddha’s Delight (Jai, Chinese Vegetarian Stew) Nutrition Facts | omnivorecookbook.com

The recipe teaches you all the tips to create your own version of this healthy delicious vegetable stew - Buddha’s Delight (Jai, Chinese Vegetarian Stew) | omnivorescookbook.com

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Meet Maggie

Born and raised in Beijing, Maggie now calls Texas home. She’s learned to love barbecue, but her heart belongs to the food she grew up with. For her, Omnivore’s Cookbook is all about introducing cooks to real-deal Chinese dishes, which can be as easy as a 30-minute stir-fry or as adventurous as making your own dim sum. Recipes, step-by-step photos and video are the tools she uses to share her knowledge—and her enthusiasm for Chinese food.

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10 thoughts on “Buddha’s Delight (Jai, Chinese Vegetarian Stew)

  1. Thalia @ butter and brioche

    Maggie you have totally exceeded all my expectations here! Wow what an incredible dish.. I can only imagine how flavoursome it must be. I definitely will be getting my hands on all of the ingredients in group A, B and C – so I can try it out for my vegetarian family!

    Reply
  2. Bam's Kitchen

    Maggie this is such a beautiful dish and your step by step instructions laid out into 3 categories was extremely helpful. I don’t think I have ever tried Buddhas delight before. I love the texture of wood ear mushrooms and can’t wait to give this a try. Sharing, of course!!!

    Reply
  3. [email protected] Eats

    I love the name of this recipe! And your very clear instructions on “musts” vs “optionals” is fabulous! I wish all recipes could be written like that – imagine that! This is so awesome Maggie! PS Can’t rate 5….so haven’t rated at all so I don’t drag the average down! 🙂

    Reply
  4. J-Mom

    I came across your recipe because I was hungry for Buddha’s delight. After I saw your recipe, I realized that I had another one. But yours was really good. I like the lilies and mushrooms so this was great.

    Reply