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.
Game plan: You’ll need to start the steamed rice before you begin.
- Yield: 8 quarts, 12 to 15 servings
- Difficulty: Hard
- Total: About 3 hrs, plus at least 5 hrs soaking time
- Active: About 3 hrs
- 2 ounces dried black shiitake mushrooms (about 15 medium)
- 6 ounces dried bean curd sticks
- 3 1/2 ounces dried lily buds (about 2 cups)
- 1 ounce dried black moss
- 1/2 ounce dried black fungus, also known as cloud ear or wood ear (about 2/3 cup or 4 ounces fresh)
- 8 ounces deep-fried tofu squares
- 5 ounces fried gluten balls (about 18)
- 3/4 cup plus 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
- Kosher salt
- 2 (15-ounce) cans straw mushrooms, drained, liquid reserved
- Granulated sugar
- 1 (15-ounce) can baby corn, drained
- 7 ounces shelled fresh or canned and drained ginkgo nuts (about 1 cup)
- 1 (20-ounce) can bamboo shoot halves in water, drained and sliced crosswise 1/4 inch thick
- 7 ounces fresh boiled bamboo shoots, sliced crosswise 1/4 inch thick
- 1 medium napa cabbage (about 2 pounds)
- 1 pound baby bok choy or baby bok choy hearts, washed and dried
- 3 (1/4-inch-thick by 1/2-inch-long) slices peeled fresh ginger, smashed with the side of a chef’s knife to flatten slightly
- 1 pound baby carrots
- 8 ounces snow peas
- Soy sauce
- Steamed white rice, for serving (optional)
For soaking the dried ingredients:
- Place the dried shiitake mushrooms in a medium bowl, cover with 3 cups of warm water, and soak until softened, at least 5 hours or overnight.
- Place the dried bean curd sticks and dried lily buds in separate large bowls, cover each with warm water, and let sit for 1 hour to soften, making sure they are submerged in the water and breaking up any lily buds that are sticking together.
- Place the dried black moss and the dried black fungus in separate medium bowls. Cover each with warm water and let sit for 1 hour to soften, making sure they are submerged in the water.
- Bring 8 cups of water to a boil in a large 12-quart stockpot with a tightfitting lid. Remove from heat, add the deep-fried tofu and gluten balls, and submerge them by placing a small plate on top. Let sit 15 minutes to remove some of the oil from the tofu and gluten balls.
For preparing the soaked ingredients:
- Using a slotted spoon, transfer the shiitake mushrooms to a cutting board, being careful not to disturb the gritty sediment on the bottom of the bowl. Trim off the tough stems and cut each mushroom in half; set aside. Slowly pour 2 cups of the soaking liquid into a measuring cup, leaving the sediment behind; set aside. Discard the remaining liquid and sediment.
- Drain the bean curd sticks and cut crosswise into 1-1/2-inch pieces; set aside.
- Drain the lily buds and tie a knot in the middle of each; set aside.
- Drain the moss, place in a medium bowl, add 1 teaspoon of the vegetable oil and a large pinch of salt, and toss to combine; set aside.
- Drain the black fungus; set aside.
- Drain the tofu and gluten balls from the stockpot; clean the stockpot and set it aside. When the tofu and gluten balls are cool enough to handle, gently squeeze out some of the excess liquid; set aside.
For cooking the jai:
- Set the stockpot on the stovetop.
- Heat a 14-inch wok over high heat until hot. Drizzle in 1 tablespoon of the oil around the perimeter of the wok and add the shiitake and straw mushrooms in an even layer. Season with a large pinch of salt and a small pinch of sugar and, using a metal spatula, stir-fry until the mushrooms are fragrant and begin to soften, about 2 minutes. Transfer to the stockpot.
- One ingredient at a time, using 1 tablespoon of oil for each and seasoning with salt and sugar, stir-fry the bean curd sticks, moss, baby corn, and ginkgo nuts until softened slightly, about 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer each batch to the stockpot.
- Using 1 tablespoon of the oil and seasoning with salt and sugar, stir-fry the tofu and gluten balls together until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Transfer to the stockpot.
- Using 1 tablespoon of the oil and seasoning with salt and sugar, stir-fry the canned and fresh bamboo shoots together until heated through, about 2 minutes. Transfer to the stockpot.
- Stir the ingredients in the stockpot together until thoroughly combined. Add the reserved mushroom soaking liquid, canned mushroom liquid, and enough water to just cover the ingredients. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Meanwhile, cut the napa cabbage in half lengthwise, then cut crosswise into 1-inch pieces, discarding the core; set aside. Trim the ends off the bok choy and cut into 2-inch pieces (no need to cut if you’re using baby bok choy hearts); set aside.
- Heat the wok over high heat until hot. Drizzle in 1 tablespoon of the oil around the perimeter and add the reserved cabbage and ginger. Season with a large pinch of salt and a small pinch of sugar and stir-fry until the cabbage just starts to wilt, about 2 minutes. Transfer to the stockpot.
- Drizzle in 1 tablespoon of the oil around the perimeter of the wok and add the bok choy. Season with a large pinch of salt and a small pinch of sugar and stir-fry until the bok choy just starts to wilt, about 2 minutes. Transfer to the stockpot.
- One at a time, using 1 tablespoon of oil for each and seasoning with salt and sugar, stir-fry the carrots, black fungus, and lily buds until coated in oil, about 1 minute. Transfer each batch to the stockpot.
- Stir the jai together to thoroughly combine. Add enough water to just cover the ingredients and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until all the ingredients are cooked through and tender, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Stir in the snow peas. Taste and season with salt and soy sauce as needed. If you choose, serve with steamed rice.