Buddha’s Delight, also known as luóhàn zhāi, is a traditional Chinese vegetarian dish that is perfect for Lunar New Year. This savoury stir fry is a delicious and healthy way to balance out the rich foods we typically eat during the Lunar New Year celebrations. The various ingredients used in this dish symbolize prosperity, good luck, and long life. It can be served as a main course or as a side dish and—bonus—it’s a great way to use up leftover ingredients from Chinese hot pot.
History & Origins
Buddha’s Delight or luohan zhai originated in one of the many Buddhist temples and monasteries of China. Most Chinese monks are vegetarian, and over the centuries they’ve come up with tons of tasty meat-free recipes. (One of my favourite places to eat when I visited my grandparents in China was a Buddhist all-veggie hot pot restaurant!)
The Chinese name of the dish is luóhàn zhāi: luóhàn means ‘enlightened person’, and is used as an epithet of the Buddha; zhāi means ‘vegetarian food’.John Ayto, The Diner’s Dictionary (2 ed.)
It’s become a tradition in China to eat Buddha’s Delight the day after Chinese New Year. This is rooted in the belief that vegetarian ingredients purify the body and mind after the indulgences of the holiday season. Eating a vegetarian meal also shows respect for the teachings of Buddhism and honours the spiritual practice of the monks who created the dish.
If your family rings in Chinese New Year with a hot pot dinner like we do, you’ll know there are almost always leftovers. Most of the ingredients for Buddha’s Delight are the same as those for hot pot, so it’s a great way to use up the leftover ingredients.
Now, Buddha’s Delight is a popular menu item at Chinese restaurants around the world. In fact, maybe you clicked on this recipe because you want to learn how to make your favourite restaurant meal at home. Every restaurant and every cook makes this dish a little differently, but here is the authentic version enjoyed by me and my family.
What You’ll Need
The hard part of making Buddha’s Delight is not the cooking. The cooking steps are pretty easy, even easier than most stir fries. The hard part is finding the ingredients!
Luohan zhai notoriously takes a lot of different ingredients. That’s kind of the defining feature of the dish, actually. The original form of Buddha’s Delight is made with 18 ingredients, in honour of the 18 original followers of Buddha who achieved Enlightenment according to Chinese Buddhism. Traditionally, the ingredients were chosen for their nutritional value and symbolic significance. For example, mushrooms symbolize longevity, and bean curd symbolizes humility and purity.
Most versions cooked today use fewer ingredients, although they usually involve some medley of vegetables + tofu.
Here’s what I put in my Buddha’s Delight:
- Beancurd Sticks (腐竹 | fuzhu | example). A key ingredient in both Hot Pot and Buddha’s Delight.
- Wood Ear Fungus (木耳 | muer | example). Also known as wood ear mushrooms.
- Shiitake Mushrooms (香菇 | xianggu | example)
- Fried gluten balls aka seitan puffs (面筋 | mianjing | example). Poke a hole through each ball with a chopstick to allow it to soak up the sauce and cook faster. You can omit to make this dish gluten-free.
- Dried daylily buds (黄花菜 | huanghua cai | example). This is a less common ingredient but you can find it in some Asian supermarkets. Once cooked, they have a satisfying chewy texture.
- Cellophane noodles aka bean thread noodles (粉丝 | fensi | example). They are traditionally made of mung bean starch, and sold in small bundles. But you can also opt for rice vermicelli or glass noodles (made from sweet potato starch). For a lower carb option, konjac noodles work very well.
- Carrots and snow peas—adds some sweetness and crunch.
- Napa cabbage to add some much-needed greens. Can sub with bok choy.
- Tofu of your choice. Fried tofu is the most common option, but I’ve also made Buddha’s Delight with firm tofu, tofu puff, frozen tofu, and q-tofu. They all give a tasty result!
Here are some other ingredients that may be found in buddha’s delight. Don’t go too wild adding them all at once though, because they may not all be to your taste. For example, I don’t like the taste of dates or lotus seeds in my buddha’s delight, but others do.
- Arrowhead root
- Baby corn
- Bamboo shoots
- Black moss aka fat choy
- Ginkgo nuts
- Goji berries
- Lotus seeds
- Jujubes (dried Chinese dates)
- Oyster mushrooms
Another ingredient you’ll sometimes see is fermented tofu (豆腐乳 | doufuru | example). Or you might know it by its Vietnamese name, chao. This is a salty, pungent umami bomb. You can use 1 cube (around 10g) to replace 1 tbsp of the light soy sauce used in this recipe.
Start by soaking the dried ingredients (bean curd sticks, wood ear fungus, shiitake mushrooms, and daylily buds) in cold water for at least 6 hours. You can also prepare this step up to 2 days ahead of time; just keep them in the refrigerator until you’re ready to cook.
Next, drain the soaked ingredients and set them aside. Prepare a fresh bowl with cold water, and put in your cellophane noodles. They only need a few minutes to hydrate, so you can soak them while doing the next few steps.
Chop the soaked and drained bean curd sticks into 2-inch segments. Slice the wood ear fungus and shiitake mushrooms in half. Optionally, knot each daylily bud.
Use a mortar and pestle to grind the garlic and ginger into a coarse paste. Dice the scallions and separate the white and green parts. Reserve the green parts for topping at the end.
Set a wok on medium heat (you can also use a deep sauté pan). Once hot, pour in the oil, followed by the aromatics (garlic, ginger, and white parts of scallions). Sauté until soft and fragrant, takes a couple of minutes.
Add the braise ingredients (bean curd sticks, wood ear fungus, mushrooms, daylily buds, cellophane noodles, cabbage, carrots, bok choy, snow peas, seitan, and tofu). Pour in 1 cup of water and mix everything together. Make sure especially to separate the cellophane noodles or else they will cook into a sticky clump. Cover it with a lid to cook for a few minutes, and move onto the next step: making the sauce.
Combine the sauce ingredients (soy sauces, sugar, and cornstarch) in a small dish, whisking until cornstarch is fully dissolved.
Pour the sauce mixture over the wok ingredients, stirring to coat. Remove the lid and let it simmer for a few more minutes, or until vegetables are softened to your liking.
Taste for salt, adding more as needed. Top with the reserved green parts of scallions and crushed peanuts.
Make Ahead & Storage Tips
Prep ahead: The ingredients which need to be soaked can be soaked, then drained and kept in the fridge for up to three days before cooking. If storing for more than one day, draining is not optional! Do not leave them submerged in water for more than a day or else they will start to rot and fall apart, especially the bean curd sticks.
Storage: Cooked Buddha’s Delight can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to five days. I do not recommend freezing, as the vegetables in this dish will become limp and soggy once thawed.
What to Serve with Buddha’s Delight
Although Buddha’s Delight is a one-pot meal all on its own, here are a few other side dishes that would pair well:
More Lunar New Year Recipes
Some more traditional recipes to ring in the Lunar New Year (all vegan!)
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Buddha’s Delight (Luohan Zhai)
Use Imperial/Metric buttons below to toggle between volume vs weight measurements. I recommend weighing out your ingredients for best results.
- Wok (or large high-sided skillet)
- 2 tbsp vegetable oil
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- ½ inch ginger, minced
- 2 scallions, whites only reserve the greens to use for topping at the end
- 1 cup water plus additional 1/2 cup if needed
- 2 oz dried bean curd sticks aka fuzhu
- 12 dried wood ear fungus mushrooms
- 6 dried shiitake mushrooms
- ½ cup dried daylily buds
- 2 bundles cellophane noodles aka bean thread noodles or fensi *can sub with konjac noodle bundles
- 1 carrot, sliced into coins
- 3 large leaves Napa cabbage, sliced into 1-inch strips *can sub with bok choy
- 1 cup snow peas or snap peas
- 6 fried gluten balls aka seitan puffs
- 8 slices tofu of your choice firm tofu, tofu puff, frozen tofu, q-tofu, all work well here
- 2 tbsp light soy sauce
- 2 tsp dark soy sauce
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1 tsp cornstarch
- 2 scallions, greens only
- 2 tbsp roasted peanuts, roughly crushed *optional
- Rinse and soak the bean curd sticks, wood ear fungus, shiitake mushrooms, and daylily buds in cold water for at least 6 hours and up to 2 days. (Refrigerate if soaking for more than 6 hours.)
- Drain the soaked ingredients. Place the cellophane noodles in fresh cold water. They only need a few minutes to hydrate, so you can soak them while preparing the other ingredients.
- Chop the bean curd sticks into 2-inch segments. Slice the wood ear fungus and shiitake mushrooms in half. Optionally, knot the daylily buds.
- Set a wok on medium heat. Once hot, pour in the oil, followed by the Aromatics (garlic, ginger, and white parts of scallions). Sauté for a minute or two until soft and fragrant.
- Add the Braise ingredients (bean curd sticks, wood ear fungus, mushrooms, daylily buds, cellophane noodles, cabbage, carrots, bok choy, snow peas, gluten balls, and tofu). Pour in 1 cup of water and mix well. Make sure especially that the cellophane noodles are separated, or else they will cook into a sticky clump. Cover with a lid.
- While everything is simmering away, combine the Sauce ingredients (soy sauces, sugar, and cornstarch) in a small dish, whisking until cornstarch is fully dissolved.
- Pour the sauce mixture over the wok, stirring to coat. Remove the lid and simmer for a few more minutes, or until vegetables are softened to your liking.
- Taste for salt, adding more as needed. Sprinkle over the Toppings (scallion greens and crushed peanuts).