Sunday, April 14, 2013

Buddha's Delight

Here's probably my most classic New Year's Dish - Buddha's Delight that I forgot to post at Chinese New Year. And of course, it can be made any other time of the year too and I actually do make it several times a year.  This is a vegetarian dish full of different kinds of tofu that are mixed with various crunchy vegetables like Water Chestnuts, Lotus Root, fresh Baby Corn and fresh Bamboo Shoots. It is a textural delight! It is mandatory for us to serve at Chinese New Year as it contains so many lucky foods in only one dish! It showcases the following lucky foods:  Bamboo Shoots for Wealth and Happiness; Dried Bean Curd for Happiness; 5 Spice Tofu for Happiness; Lotus Root for Continuing Wealth; Shitake Mushrooms for Growing Wealth; and Cloud Ear Fungus for Increasing Fortune. Now I know Buddha wasn't exactly into enhancing wealth, but he did want to end suffering, so this dish can therefore be thought of as appropriately named because it increases happiness. This dish has the added benefit of containing many medicinal properties - in particular, the Cloud Ear, often called Wood Ear Fungus or Mu'Er, is a powerful blood thinner and the Shitake Mushrooms are very good for the immune system as they are strongly anti-viral, reportedly to reduce cholesterol and contain a good amount of essential amino acids. The other ingredients also have many healing properties and this dish also contains the magic Chinese taste trio of garlic, ginger and onions.

The traditional version of Buddha's Delight also includes wheat gluten, which is basically a bread dough where the majority of the starch is washed out and it leaves a chewy textured protein that has a wonderful texture, but since I am gluten sensitive, I left it out. I am lucky to live near many Asian grocery stores so I can find many of the vegetables fresh, but I still use canned water chestnuts. And, if you want to make this and you can't find fresh Baby Corn or fresh Bamboo Shoots, it is perfectly acceptable to use canned versions of these too. This dish is actually quite easy to make and only requires a bit of planning as several of the ingredients need soaking ahead of time - the Shitake Mushrooms, the Cloud Ear Fungus and the Dried Bean Curd Sticks. After that, it is simply a matter of cutting all of the other ingredients into similar sized pieces, then stir frying it all and making a sauce out of Vegetarian Broth, Tamari, Chili Paste and Corn Starch. My Buddha's Delight has converted many a tofu hater because it is delicious and remember - this dish is really good for you too!

Buddha's Delight

1 package of pressed Five Spice Tofu or Pressed Tofu (4 pieces), cut into 4 triangles each

1 package small Fried Tofu squares
1/2 package dried Tofu Skin Sticks, rehydrated in a bowl with boiling water then cut into small pieces
8 Dried Shitake Mushrooms, rehydrated in a bowl with boiling water and cut in half
1 small package of Cloud Ear Fungus, rehydrated in boiling water and cut into pieces
2 cans of Water Chestnuts, drained
1 large fresh Bamboo Shoot, cut into bite sized pieces (or use 2 small cans, drained)
1 cup of fresh Baby Corn (or use 1 can, drained)
2 pieces of Lotus Root, peeled, ends removed and cut into rings and then in half again
1 large onion cut into bite sized pieces
1 inch piece of Ginger, minced fine
2 garlic cloves, minced
4 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups Vegetable Broth (or vegetarian chicken broth)
1/4 cup Tamari
2 Tablespoons Toasted Sesame Oil
1 Tablespoon or more Chili Garlic Paste
4 Tablespoons of Cornstarch mixed with an equal amount of water to make a slurry

Heat 2 Tablespooons of the oil in a wok and add the onion, ginger and garlic and cook until you can smell the fragrance and the onions become translucent.  Add in the Lotus Root, Bamboo Shoots, Baby corn, Water Chestnuts, Shitake Mushrooms and Cloud Ear Fungus and stir fry until hot.  Remove to a bowl and then add the additional 2 Tablespoons of Oil.  Heat and add in all the different kinds of tofu and stir fry until the Five Spice Tofu is heated through.  Add back in the vegetable mixture and put in the vegetable broth, the Tamari, the Sesame Oil and Chili Garlic Sauce.  Cook until it boils and then continue to cook for 5 minutes. Stir in the Cornstarch mixture and cook until thickened.  Serve with rice and some green vegetables. 

Five Element Analysis

Tofu belongs to the Metal Element  and the onions and garlic just enhance that element.  The Shitake Mushrooms and Cloud Ear Fungus cross over between the Water and Earth Elements. The Water Element is further enhanced by the Water Chestnuts, the Tamari and the Sesame Oil.  The Bamboo Shoots contribute the Wood Element and if you use wheat gluten, that will add even more. The Lotus Root and Baby Corn bring in even more of the Earth Element so that element is fully covered. The Chili Garlic Sauce adds just a bit of the Fire Element so serve this with another Fiery food or tea and be sure to also enhance the Wood Element a little more by serving some green vegetables to create a balanced meal.  

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