meatless monday: kung hei fat choi!
chinese new year and buddha's delight

Kung hei fat choi! Luck and prosperity!

The first day of the Lunar New Year and we're off to a healthy and traditional start with this simple twist on Buddha's Delight, also called Jai Soup or Lo Han Jai, the meal commonly shared in many regions in China.

The Chinese New Year, or Lunar New Year, is celebrated, much like our own traditional celebrations, in unique regional ways. One tradition, common to all regions, is to eat no meat on the first day of the year. Many regions observe that ritual with this hearty bowl of vegetarian soup, brimming with foods that are thought to bring fertility, prosperity, and luck, throughout the year.

As you've seen by following the links above, they can have quite an extensive list of ingredients, of which many of are exotic and difficult to find in our small-town supermarket. If you have the luxury of living close to an Asian market, you will find most of those ingredients on the shelves, albeit a bit difficult to spot if your Chinese is rusty.

We've given a nod to the tradition, keeping all of the vegetarian health benefits, but trimming the ingredient list to include a few of the more common ingredients, and less of those more difficult to find. We haven't sacrificed the fresh flavors one little bit.

From top left, clockwise, we've included chinese celery, rice noodles, star anise, green peppercorns, snow peas, watercress, carrot, scallions, and dried mushrooms (these are black mushrooms, or more commonly, here, shitakes).

Begin with a hearty stock. While chicken, seafood, or even pho stock would all work beautifully, we used a vegetable stock in keeping with vegetarian/vegan principles. We simmered the stock with the star anise, green peppercorns, (you could substitute black peppercorns, but be sure to remove them prior to ladling over ingredients) and a pinch of grated ginger (not shown). Prepare no less than one cup per serving.

Meanwhile, we minced 2-3 stalks of chinese celery, leaves and all. (You could substitute one large stalk of traditional celery, including the leaves). We sliced a handful of snow peas lengthwise, trimmed about a handful of watercress, leaving most of the stems behind, shaved curls from one medium carrot, sliced mostly the white part of 2 scallions on the diagonal, and reconstituted a handful of dried mushrooms for 30 minutes, drained, and squeezed the moisture from them, trimming a few of the larger ones into bite-sized pieces. Toss the rice noodles in a bowl of warm water, according to package directions.

Ingredient Notes: Feel free to add or subtract from the vegetables above, to your own liking, or for that which is more commonly available. Refer to the links above for more ideas. Don't be intimidated by all those odd-sounding ingredients and sauces. Follow the links to find what they look like, where you can find them, or what you might substitute for similar results. Don't be shy about picking up a few new things to try, most of the sauces stay fresh in the fridge for ages, and the veggies are great alone, in a salad, as a snack, or in a soup all by themselves. Live a little! Eat outside the box!

After stock has simmered for 30 minutes, remove the star anise, and the peppercorns if using black, or if the green ones may be too peppery for your taste (I leave them in!), and bring to a rolling boil. Place all of the vegetables in a colander or strainer and set atop the boiling pot of stock, to steam for no more than 5 minutes. I like about 3 minutes, to keep the veggies crisp.

In individual bowls, divide rice noodles and vegetables, and ladle hot stock over all. Serve with condiments such as soy or tamari sauce, sriracha sauce, or as shown, a sauce of hot chili oil and Ponzu, for those with a hankering for all things spicy.

I received these fancy-schmancy chopsticks for Christmas, cause Santa knows what I like, and I love eating with them! With the single-minded focus of one who's determined to drain every ounce of good will from the dish, I eat all of my noodles and veggies with my sassy utensils, then drink the broth straight from the bowl with a lusty slurp. 

And then I feel healthy, and lucky, and prosperous, and ready for the New Year! And betcha you will, too!

We'll continue our celebration of The Year of the Snake tomorrow, on Tips for Tuesday, where we take this gorgeous, yet somewhat ordinary bowl of eggs, and transform them into something quite extraordinary--Chinese Tea Eggs!  We hope to see you then and there, on Notes From Maggie's Farm.

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