March 13, 2012

Buddha's Delight | Luohan Zhai 羅漢齋

buddha's delight, chinese, chinese new year, festival dish, luohan zhai, recipe, vegetarian, 羅漢齋

As with all other aspects of life, for the Chinese even religiosity is tied to their love of food.  This delectable dish is the Buddha's Delight or Luohan  Zhai, 羅漢齋, famous vegetarian fare that traditionally was eaten by Buddhist monks (who, as you know, are forbidden to eat meat).  Nowadays, the Buddha's Delight is a popular festival dish for ordinary folk as well, to particularly be served on the first day of the Chinese New Year.  

For the Chinese, this eating of vegetarian dishes at the very beginning of the new year becomes their act of piety and cleansing.  No church going, no confessions: just the supreme sacrifice of eating vegetarian fare (delicious vegetarian fare, I might add).  For us, however, it was mostly something special and easy yet spectacular to cook up for a simple Chinese New Year celebration at home.

buddha's delight, chinese, chinese new year, festival dish, luohan zhai, recipe, vegetarian, 羅漢齋

The only thing complicated about this dish would be the cutting because there are a lot of ingredients usually around eight (lucky number for the Chinese).  Everything has to be cut to approximately the same size before you stir fry so that everything will cook at approximately the same rate.  

Cutting of food is something of an unrecognized art in chinese food.  When the fabulous dishes come to the table, you never hear people gasp, "Oh, look at the cutting technique!"  But try cutting similar versions at home and you will soon know what I mean.  You are supposed to be making precisely shaped and equally proportioned pieces of food from meat to vegetables.  This gives the final dish an elegance of proportion.

buddha's delight, chinese, chinese new year, festival dish, luohan zhai, recipe, vegetarian, 羅漢齋
Deep fried gluten puffs
buddha's delight, chinese, chinese new year, festival dish, luohan zhai, recipe, vegetarian, 羅漢齋
Dried Mushrooms and Black Fungus after soaking

In reality you will probably end up with a hodge podge of irregularly shaped and sized chopped food that unfortunately reflects your state of mind at the time more than anything else.  But don't worry, you will get better in time.  It takes a lot of practice but is very meditative fun if you like this sort of thing as I do.  There's nothing so soothing as the pure concentration of cutting, say ginger, into almost translucent slivers as thin as blades of grass.

All that said, the most important thing, I think, is to really enjoy cooking and in that sense it doesn't matter how you cut it. If you love cooking, your food will taste better and your family will love you back for the delicious healthy food and that's what's really important!  Please try this festival dish out if you want to make something to celebrate the Chinese New Year and let us know how it goes!
Buddha's Delight | Luohan Zhai Recipe
(adapted from The Food of China)  Prep: 30 mins   Cook time: 10 mins


  • 1 cup tiger lily buds 金針 (find this at your local wet market or dried goods store)
  • 8 dried Chinese mushrooms 冬菇 (same as above)
  • 6 pieces dried black fungus 黑木耳 (same as above)
  • 8 nos. deepfried gluten puffs 油麵筋 (again at your local wet market or wherever hotpot supplies are or you could use 1 1/2 cup deep fried tofu cubes 炸豆腐 \)
  • 2 cups soy bean sprouts
  • 1 can braised gluten 麵筋 (around 1 cup, buy these precooked in cans at your supermarket or wet market or see our homemade gluten recipe)
  • 1 carrot
  • 2 cups snow peas
  • 2 1/2 tbsp peanut oil
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 3 tbsp chicken stock (or vegetable stock)
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tsp potato starch (or corn starch)
  • 1/2 tsp sesame oil


Soak tiger lily buds in boiling water for 20 minutes or til soft.  Cut off any hard ends.  Soak mushrooms in boiling water for 30 minutes or til soft.  Squeeze and remove from water and reserve mushroom soaking liquid.  Cut off stems and chop in half or quarters, depending on size of the 'shrooms.  

Soak black fungus in cold water til soft, around 20 minutes.  Squeeze water out, cut away the tough bits at the heart of the fungus.  Cut into sizes similar to mushroom cut sizes.

Cut the gluten puffs or tofu puffs in half or quarters.  Cut root ends off the soy bean sprouts and rinse well. (Get these at the wet market and they will have already plucked off the roots for you!) Slice the carrot into thin slices.  Blanch the snow peas and set aside.  

Mix starch with 1 tbsp water and set aside.

Heat wok to hot and then add oil.  Add carrots and stir fry for a minute, then add bean sprouts and stir fry another minute.  Add the gluten puffs, braised gluten, tiger lily buds, black fungus, mushrooms, salt, sugar, stock, 2 tbsp of reserved mushroom liquid and soy sauce and mix well.  Use a spatula to push down the gluten puffs into the stock as much as possible.  

Cover, lower heat to a simmer and let cook for 4 minutes.  Check that gluten puffs are soft.  Add the snow peas.  Stir up the starch/water mixture and dribble in, stirring constantly.  Once the liquid at the bottom of the wok becomes thick and slightly gooey turn off heat immediately.  Add sesame oil, stir once and serve hot.



  1. I made this last week and it was fantastic! I didn't include the bean sprouts (because I forgot them, oops!) and used tofu instead of the gluten puffs but it was great. Definitely a favorite!

    1. Dear Melissa - Thanks for writing in. I'm so glad that you liked our recipe for Buddha's Delight! ~ellen

  2. Thank you for this recipe! I moved away from my family and I was missing my mom’s vegetarian dish we normally have at Lunar New Year. This recipe was so easy and foul-proof.

    1. Dear Ginny - so glad we could bring you some family cheer! Happy Chinese New Year! ~ellen