January 27, 2020

Red Fermented Bean Curd Buddha’s Delight Luohan Zhai 南乳炆齋

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This vegetarian Red Fermented Bean Curd Buddha’s Delight Luohan Zhai 南乳炆齋 is a classic traditional Chinese New Year’s dish, generally to be served up to your hungry family on the first day of the new year.  We have posted before on the Buddha’s Delight 羅漢齋, another more common version of this dish, also made and served for the first day of the new year.  This particular version is a Cantonese twist starring the delectable fermented red bean curd 南乳, transforming an already tasty vegetable dish into something truly unique and, to me and my family’s taste buds, clearly the taste winner.

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This is the magic ingredient, the red fermented bean curd also known as ‘nam yue’ or 南乳 or 紅腐乳.  This is bean curd that has been allowed to ferment then brined with red yeast rice, sugar and rice wines, producing a intensely flavored cube of umami that is used to add distinctive flavor to sauces like in our Nam Yue Chicken Wings 南乳雞翅, stir fries /braises, and even sweet treats like Cow Ear Cookies 牛耳朵餅.

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For this vegetarian feast dish you will need a lot of special Chinese ingredients.  This is dried bean curd sheet also known yuba or tofu skin and in Chinese as 技竹 or 腐皮.  This is actually not made of tofu as the name seems to indicate, but rather is the thin skin that is formed on top of hot soy milk as shown in the photo below.  

Buddha’s delight, celebration, chinese, chinese new year, Nam Yue, Nam Yue Luohan Zhai, recipe, red fermented bean curd, vegetarian, 南乳炆齋, 南乳羅漢齋, 南乳齋煲
Skimming the bean curd sheet off  the hot soy milk. Photo by Abrilon
This thin skin is then dried and packaged.  When cooked in braises and soups it rehydrates to achieve a wonderful texture that is both chewy and tender while absorbing all the juicy flavors around it. These skins are one of my little girl’s favorite things to eat whenever it shows up, she even prefers it over juicy fatty pieces of meat!  It is an absolute must for this veggie dish, absorbing flavors and providing a contrasting texture to the soft veggies.  Dried bean curd skin 技竹 can be bought at the Asian markets or supermarkets and at your local wet market, usually packaged in clear plastic bags.

Buddha’s delight, celebration, chinese, chinese new year, Nam Yue, Nam Yue Luohan Zhai, recipe, red fermented bean curd, vegetarian, 南乳炆齋, 南乳羅漢齋, 南乳齋煲

The dried Chinese mushroom 冬菇 is one of the Chinese pantry’s ‘must haves.’  The shiitake mushroom, when reconstituted from its dried state, is transformed to have a tender chewy texture and an intensely fragrant, mushroomy, almost meaty flavor that is kickass to add flavor magic to stir fries, soups, meat braises...actually, pretty much anything.  For Chinese vegetarian dishes it is a must have to add the illusion of hearty meatiness. 

When buying look for plump mushrooms, cleanly dried and smelling good.  When using be sure to allow extra time to soak the mushroom until soft enough to slice, at least an hour.

Buddha’s delight, celebration, chinese, chinese new year, Nam Yue, Nam Yue Luohan Zhai, recipe, red fermented bean curd, vegetarian, 南乳炆齋, 南乳羅漢齋, 南乳齋煲

For the Chinese vegetarian dishes there are two important camps for the ingredients.  One ingredient camp is for the flavor, the necessity to achieve a hearty, meaty flavor that the Chinese prefer.  The other camp of ingredients is there for the texture.  Texture, as you will know if you’re a fan of Chinese cuisine, is very important to the Chinese palate.  So many of our foods are about how it feels...

The dried black fungus 黑木耳, also known as cloud ear or wood ear fungus, is one of the texture foods as is the dried bean curd skin above.  Dried black fungus  needs to be reconstituted briefly in water and it’s ready to use.  It’s pretty much tasteless but provides a slippery, slightly crunchy texture with a tiny delectable squish of a jelly-ish middle.  It’s one of those foods that kinda “squeak’ when you bite it...very addictive!
Again this dried black fungus can be found at all Chinese grocery stores or at your local wet market.  There are different sizes but that doesn’t matter too much, the larger ones can just be sliced to size.

Buddha’s delight, celebration, chinese, chinese new year, Nam Yue, Nam Yue Luohan Zhai, recipe, red fermented bean curd, vegetarian, 南乳炆齋, 南乳羅漢齋, 南乳齋煲

This next ingredient, water chestnut or 馬蹄, is another ‘texture’ ingredient, adding a juicy sweet refreshness to the dish.  These delightfully crunchy ‘chestnuts’ are actually not nuts at all but rather vegetables that grow under water in the mud.  Therefore the muddiness common when you locate fresh water chestnuts.  Muddy is okay, they just need a good washing.  Check for hard firmness when buying and if you find them pre-peeled all the better cuz peeling these are not so fun.  Check your local Chinese grocer or wet market for fresh ones or if you can’t find them fresh you can get canned water chestnuts.

Buddha’s delight, celebration, chinese, chinese new year, Nam Yue, Nam Yue Luohan Zhai, recipe, red fermented bean curd, vegetarian, 南乳炆齋, 南乳羅漢齋, 南乳齋煲

Another ‘texture’ addition to our veggie pot is the most useful and lovely vermicelli noodles 粉絲, also known as glass noodles, mung bean or green bean threads.  Ahh...how nice to be both deliciously functional and glamorously beautiful at the same time!!  Vermicelli soaks in the flavor of whatever it’s cooked with while providing a slightly slippery, chewy yet tender noodle shaped mouthful.  Plus it’s translucent once cooked!  Noodles like glass...how cool is that!!

Buddha’s delight, celebration, chinese, chinese new year, Nam Yue, Nam Yue Luohan Zhai, recipe, red fermented bean curd, vegetarian, 南乳炆齋, 南乳羅漢齋, 南乳齋煲

The napa cabbage is a must for me for any braised dish, simply because the napa cabbage 白菜 is the BEST.  This humble cabbage rocks the house when added to braises, its soft leaves soaking in all flavors while contributing a gentle sweetness of its own and finally cooking down to a tender melt in your mouth perfection.  Seriously I could eat of pot full of this yummilicious veg all by itself...so gooood!

Buddha’s delight, celebration, chinese, chinese new year, Nam Yue, Nam Yue Luohan Zhai, recipe, red fermented bean curd, vegetarian, 南乳炆齋, 南乳羅漢齋, 南乳齋煲

Ye gods!  Yet more veggies, you’re probably swearing wondering?!  Patience, dear reader, just a few more, this is after all a celebration dish and should have the plentifulness required for festivals.  Here we have eggplant sliced to bite size pieces and fried tofu puffs 炸豆腐. Again there is an emphasis on the textural aspect, the cooked eggplant providing that soft sexy lushness (I have a thing for eggplants) and the fried tofu puffs not only soaking in all the delicious flavors of the pot but also providing an interesting spongy yet juicy texture.  You can find fried tofu puffs at Chinese grocery stores and wet markets, it should be placed in areas selling fresh tofu products.

A note on the ingredients for this Red Fermented Bean Curd Buddha’s Delight:  these are the  ingredients for the classic version of the dish.  You can mix it up a bit but not too much or it just won’t taste right.

Buddha’s delight, celebration, chinese, chinese new year, Nam Yue, Nam Yue Luohan Zhai, recipe, red fermented bean curd, vegetarian, 南乳炆齋, 南乳羅漢齋, 南乳齋煲

Looking back now I realize that maybe I made it all sound more complicated than this delightful vegetarian dish deserves.  Yes, there are a lot of ingredients.  And you will have to perhaps make a special trip to find all of them.  But most of the work after that is in prep: reconstituting the dried ingredients, the slicing and dicing everything into bite sized portions.  The actual cooking is fast as it’s only veggies to cook.  But the rewards....oh the rewards of this dish are great!  The nam yue or red fermented bean curd flavoring really make this dish unique and an absolute standout.  This is a dish that is served with pride at fine traditional Cantonese restaurants and now you can make it just as deliciously at home just in time to welcome in the new year!  Happy Chinese Year of the Rat!

Buddha’s delight, celebration, chinese, chinese new year, Nam Yue, Nam Yue Luohan Zhai, recipe, red fermented bean curd, vegetarian, 南乳炆齋, 南乳羅漢齋, 南乳齋煲

Red Fermented Bean Curd Buddha’s Delight Luohan Zhai Recipe 南乳炆齋
(Prep time: 15 mins  Cook time: 20 mins)

6 large dried shitake mushrooms 冬菇
3 dried tofu sticks 技竹
1/2 cup dried black fungus 黑木耳
1/4  head napa cabbage 白菜
8 fried tofu puffs 炸豆腐
1 japanese eggplant
6 water chestnuts 馬蹄
50g vermicelli bean thread 粉絲

2 tbsp oil
2 tbsp Shao Hsin Rice Wine
 2-3 cubes Nam Yue 南乳
1 tbsp oyster sauce 蠔油 (optional, add if you don't mind not 100% vegetarian)
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp cornstarch
1 tbsp water
1/4 tsp sesame oil

Soak mushrooms in hot water to cover for at least an hour until soft enough to slice into fourths.  Soak tofu sticks in cool water for a few mins until soft, then slice into 2" lengths.  Soak black fungus for a few mins in cool water until soft.  Wash and use sharp knife to peel water chestnuts and slice into 1/4” slices.  Slice napa cabbage into 1/2" strips, wash and drain.  Slice tofu puffs in half.  Slice eggplant into 2” lengths that are 1/2" thick.  Soak vermicelli in cool water for 5 mins until soft, drain.

Heat wok over medium high heat.  When wok is hot add oil.  Add mushrooms and stir fry 15 secs until aromatic.  Add in fungus and cabbage, stir fry 2 mins.  Add in rice wine and stir fry until wine is mostly evaporated.  Add in tofu sticks, tofu puffs, eggplant and water chestnuts.  Mash nam yue to paste in a bowl.  Add in mashed nam yue, osyter sauce (if using), salt and sugar.  Add 1 1/2 cups water, cover the wok, turn heat to low and let simmer for 10 mins.  Add in vermicelli and let cook for another 5 mins.  When the sauce in the pot is reduced by three fourths, taste and adjust seasoning as needed.  In small bowl, mix cornstarch with 1 tbsp water, stir to mix and add to the pot while stirring.  The cornstarch will thicken the sauce until it is gently clinging to the vegetables.  Remove from heat immediately and serve.  Enjoy and Happy New Year!



More Chinese New Year Delights at The Hong Kong Cookery:




4 comments:

  1. Amazing write up, thanks for sharing!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Not all recipes I try pan out...This one did though. Delicious, easy to make and healthy to boot. I made a big pot of it and it was hardy enough as a one bowl meal.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for letting us know how it turned out. We love this dish too, it's really delicious and, like you say, healthy as well! ~ellen

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