Baby Buddha’s Feast

小羅漢齋

This is a pared-down version of the spicy “Big Buddha”, here limited to those ingredients which are tailor-made for a mandarin pancake. Fresh snow peas are especially tasty in this dish, but you may also use peeled and shredded broccoli stems, or slivered string beans, or thin ribbons cut from the inner leaves of a Chinese cabbage—most anything that is slightly crunchy and slim or supple enough to be cuddled inside the pancake.

  • A special beauty of this filling is that it is equally delicious hot, tepid, or at room temperature. So for a mandarin pancake party, you have plenty of leeway to cook it when you please. It may be spiced up or toned down, but my own preference is for plenty of hotness as a foil for the pancake.
  • All the preliminaries may be done a full day ahead. The actual stir-frying takes only minutes.

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Ingredients

Seasonings

  • ¼ teaspoon coarse kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon thin (regular) soy sauce
  • ¼ cup water, seasoned to taste with the curried canning liquids or hot chili oil
  • 1 scant teaspoon Chinese or Japanese sesame oil (or less, if using hot chili oil to season the dish)

Method

Preparations

Soak the mushrooms in cold or hot water to cover until soft and spongy, 20 minutes to an hour, depending on the temperature of the water and the thickness of the caps. Snip off and discard the stems, rinse the caps to dislodge any sand trapped in the gills, then cut the caps along their longest side into even strips ⅛-inch wide.

Soak the bean threads in hot tap water until rubber-band firm. Do not oversoak, lest they turn to mush when cooked. Drain, cut through the loop ends into 5-inch lengths, then cut and discard the rubber bands or strings holding them together.

Holding a sharp, thin-bladed cleaver or knife parallel to the board, anchor the pressed tofu with “flying fingers” and cut the slab crosswise into slices ⅛-inch thick. Stack the slices, then cut lengthwise with “curved knuckles” into long, even shreds ⅛-inch wide.

Drain the curried gluten, reserving the canning liquids. Cut the gluten and/or the braised bean curd into thin slivers ⅛-inch thick. Combine the mushrooms, bean threads, pressed tofu, gluten and/or bean curd. They may be sealed airtight and refrigerated overnight.

Remove the tips and top strings from the snow peas, then sliver them lengthwise into strips ⅛-inch wide. To store overnight, refrigerate in a misted plastic bag.

Stir-frying the feast

Have all the ingredients and a bowl to hold the snow peas within easy reach of your stovetop. If serving the dish hot, put a platter of contrasting color in a low oven to warm.

Heat a wok or large, heavy skillet over high heat until hot enough to evaporate a bead of water on contact. Add 2 tablespoons oil, swirl to coat the pan, then reduce the heat to medium high. When the oil is hot enough to sizzle one sliver of snow pea, add the snow peas to the pan. Stir-fry briskly to glaze with oil, adjusting the heat so they sizzle without scorching. Sprinkle with the salt and sugar, toss briskly until 90 percent cooked through, about 15 seconds, then scrape the snow peas into the waiting bowl. They should still be very crisp.

Return the pan to medium-high heat, add ½ tablespoon oil, and swirl to glaze the bottom. Add the combined ingredients and toss briskly to mix. Sprinkle with soy, stir to blend, then add the seasoned water and raise the heat to bring the liquids to a simmer, stirring. Cover, simmer over moderate heat for 2–3 minutes, or until most of the liquid is evaporated, then turn off the heat.

Stir the mixture to redistribute the seasoning, then taste several noodles and adjust with a bit more soy or hot stuff if needed. (If you are serving the dish cold, remember the spiciness will intensify.) Fold in the vegetables with several quick stirs, fold in the sesame oil, then remove to the serving platter.

Serve hot, tepid, or at room temperature. Toss lightly just before serving and make the dish pretty by pulling several snow peas and black mushrooms to the top.

Leftovers keep beautifully, sealed and refrigerated, for 3–4 days. For best flavor, eat at room temperature.

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