This Buddhist vegetarian stew, known as jai in Cantonese, is traditionally served on the first day of the Chinese New Year to bring good luck. Chowhound Melanie Wong introduced us to her Aunt Ruby Tom, who made this healthy, complex dish for our Cooking with Grandma video series. Ruby adapted the stew from a Buddhist teacher in San Francisco and has been serving it to family and friends for over 20 years.
What to buy: The ingredients for jai can be found in large Asian grocery stores such as 99 Ranch.
Dried shiitake mushrooms can be either black or dark brown; they have a strong meaty flavor, and need to be rehydrated before use.
Dried bean curd sticks are made from the surface film that forms during soy milk production. This film is collected, dried, and rolled up into sticks that must be rehydrated before use. If you can’t find the dried bean curd sticks, substitute 8 ounces of the fresh film, also known as yuba, and skip the soaking process.
Used in Chinese cooking to represent wealth, dried lily buds, also known as golden needles or tiger lily buds, are the dried golden buds of the daylily plant. They are often tied into knots after soaking to add texture.
Dried black moss, also known as fat choy in Cantonese, is a black hairlike moss grown in the deserts of China and Mongolia. It symbolizes prosperity and is a traditional component in jai. Relatively tasteless, this moss must first be rehydrated, but will absorb the flavor of the dish that it’s cooked in. Order dried black moss online or find it in the dried goods section in Asian markets.
Dried black fungus, also known as cloud ear or wood ear, is a black or dark brown, frilly fungus grown on trees and often used in Asian cooking. After a soak in water, it swells in size and has a slightly crunchy texture. Fresh black fungus can occasionally be found in the refrigerated case of Asian markets, and the dried version in the dried goods section.
Deep-fried tofu pockets are small, puffed tofu squares. They absorb a lot of flavor and liquid when cooked and can be found next to the regular tofu in the refrigerated section in Asian markets.
Fried gluten balls are made of wheat gluten, water, and oil. These small, 2-inch balls are often found next to the regular tofu in the refrigerated section of Asian markets.
Ginkgo nuts have a delicate and slightly sweet interior surrounded by a hard shell and skin that must be removed before cooking. Freshly shelled ginkgo nuts can be found in the refrigerated produce section of Asian markets. Or substitute the fresh with canned ginkgo nuts.
Fresh bamboo shoots are boiled and can be found in the refrigerated produce section of most Asian markets. Canned bamboo shoots are readily available in most supermarkets. If possible, purchase canned bamboo shoot halves packed in water; they have a fresher flavor than presliced bamboo shoots.
Special equipment: If you don’t have a wok, use a large frying pan as a substitute. But don’t use a nonstick pan, because the high heat may damage it.
For preparing the soaked ingredients:
For cooking the jai: