Vegetarian monks’ dish (jeh)

Every ingredient in this traditional Chinese New Year breakfast symbolizes something good for the new year – luck, prosperity, or good fortune. Hoh see, oyster, is a homonym for good fortune, explaining its presence in this vegetarian dish. Although soaking the individual ingredients takes time, most of the steps may be done one day ahead. Besides, it’s worth a little effort to begin the new year with a multitude of good omens.

3 1/2 ounce package bean threads
20 small dried black mushrooms
1/2 ounce cloud ears
1/2 cup tiger lily buds
20 small dried jujubes (Chinese red dates)
1/2 ounce fat choy (black seaweed)
1/4 cup dried lotus seeds
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tsp plus 1 tbsp vegetable or peanut oil
1 1/2-inch piece ginger
8-12 dried oysters, soaked overnight in water to cover (optional)
3/4 cup shelled ginkgo nuts
2 ounces dried bean curd sticks (also called dried bean flour skins)
4 ounces snow peas, strings removed

Seasoning mixture

3 cups water
1 tbsp sugar
4 tsp oyster sauce
1 tbsp soy sauce
8-10 ounces tofu, cut into ¾-inch dice
8 fresh or canned water chestnuts, peeled and sliced
1/4 cup sliced bamboo shoots, rinsed and drained
4-8 fresh arrowheads, lightly scraped but with stems intact
12 pieces dao pok (fried wheat gluten)
2 cups finely shredded napa cabbage
1 tbsp red bean curd
1 tbsp fermented bean curd
2 cups steamed rice
1-2 cubes each fermented and red bean curd, in separate small dishes


Soak the bean threads in water to cover for 2 hours. Meanwhile, put the mushrooms in a small bowl with hot water to cover. Let stand 30 to 45 minutes to soften. Cut off and discard the hard stems. Rinse the caps, squeeze them dry, and cut into ¼-inch-thick slices.

Put the cloud cars, tiger lily buds, jujubes, fat choy, and lotus seeds in separate bowls, add hot water to cover, and soak for 30 minutes.

Rinse the cloud ears well, drain, then cut off and discard any hard parts. Rinse and drain the tiger lily buds, then cut off the hard ends. Drain the jujubes.

Rinse the fat choy and put it in a small saucepan with the salt, 1 teaspoon of the oil, the ginger, and water to cover. Bring to a boil, turn off the heat, and let stand 10 minutes. Drain the fat choy then gently squeeze out the water.

Open the lotus seeds and discard the bitter green part inside. Put the lotus seeds in a small saucepan with water to cover, bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer until tender, about 20 minutes. Drain.

Rinse the soaked oysters to remove any sand. Trim off any tough parts, then steam the oysters in a small dish for 10 minutes over medium heat until soft.

Put the ginkgo nuts in a small saucepan with enough water to cover. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer 5 minutes. Drain, then skin.

Break the bean curd sticks into 2- to 3-inch pieces. Soak for 30 minutes in a small saucepan with water to cover, simmer about 10 minutes to soften, then drain.

Drain the bean threads, then cut into 6-inch lengths.

You can prepare the recipe to this point one day in advance. Cover the individual ingredients separately and refrigerate.

Blanch the snow peas in boiling water for 30 seconds, then rinse them under cold water and drain.

Combine the seasoning mixture ingredients in a medium bowl and set aside.

Combine the mushrooms, cloud ears, tiger lily buds, fat choy, lotus seeds, oysters, ginkgo nuts, tofu, water chestnuts, bamboo shoots, arrowheads, and dao pok in a large bowl. Combine the bean threads and bean curd sticks in a second bowl, and the jujubes, cabbage, and snow peas in a third bowl.

Heat a wok over high heat, then heat 1 tablespoon oil. Add the red and fermented bean curd, lower the heat to medium-high, and cook 15 seconds, breaking it up with a spatula. Stir in the seasoning mixture, bring to a boil, and boil for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the mushroom mixture and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the bean threads and bean curd sticks and cook 4 minutes longer, stirring occasionally. Add the remaining ingredients and cook 2 minutes longer, tossing gently to distribute the cabbage evenly.

Serve with the rice and small dishes of red and fermented bean curd.

Taken from Ellen Blonder and Annabel Low’s book “Every Grain of Rice” with permission. © Ellen Blonder and Annabel Low. Published by Clarkson N. Potter, Inc. ISBN 0-609-60102-4.