Up until we had the four year old, I would “cleanse” myself with a vegetarian diet a few times a year. Sometimes it would last a week, sometimes a month. The first time I did it I was nineteen and living in Uvalde and actually decided to go full vegan. Veganism hadn’t yet gone mainstream and even if it had, I was living in Uvalde so my choices were limited. I remember talking to a co-worker about what I was doing and she asked, incredulously, “What are you going to eat? Nuts and berries? Are you a squirrel?” Yes, Girl Whose Name I Don’t Remember Anymore, I was going to be a squirrel! I did end up eating a lot of nuts, fruits, and veggies and gave up after a couple of weeks. I started doing it because I wanted to help end animal’s suffering (I flippin’ wore hemp shoes, I was super dedicated to the cause) but then it got really hard and I got really hungry so I ate a burger and unsubscribed from PETA’s emails. Meh, I was nineteen, I had time to work on my convictions.
But the idea stayed with me so every once in a while, I would switch up my diet and go veggie. As alternative diets got more popular, it became easier to do. Moving to Austin also helped. My first friend in Austin was a vegetarian and I remember her taking me to Veggie Heaven, formerly on The Drag, and I thought it was the greatest place ever! All I ever ate there was their fried rice and drank their bubble teas but STILL, it was called Veggie Heaven so clearly it was.
One of my favorite aspects of switching it up was learning how to cook with new ingredients and that is mostly why I was looking forward to this meal when I found the recipe. Buddha’s Delight is a vegetarian meal. It’s traditionally eaten by Buddhists, who are vegetarians and another idea nineteen year old Melissa played with, and it’s a very popular meal eaten on the first day of the Chinese New Year. It’s part of an act of piety and self-purification and honestly, it’s much better than fasting. At least I think it is.
Traditionally it has eight ingredients but you can find many versions that have more, up to eighteen. It’s really just whatever you prefer, there is no official list or number of ingredients, and that’s probably another reason why it’s so popular. The recipe I used had eight ingredients but it wasn’t until I started chopping veggies that I realized I had forgotten one, the bean sprouts. This meant mine only had seven and it was a disaster!
It was far from a disaster.
This was my first time cooking with tiger lily buds, black fungus, Chinese mushrooms, and braised gluten. Braised gluten, you say? Yes, braised gluten. I don’t know about you but reading “braised gluten” just wakes up my taste buds and they start screaming for food!
That was more sarcasm, by the way.
When I read that braised gluten was an ingredient, I was a little skeptical. I didn’t know what it was but it didn’t sound appealing. I just imagined globs of dough and I wasn’t too far off. It’s made by washing wheat flour dough until the starch has been removed, leaving the gluten as a big, elastic glob. This is then marinated or fried and then sold as seitan. Seitan, by the way, I’d heard of so when I learned the alternative name, I was less grossed out because I know many veggies who eat seitan and don’t barf from it.
I had to soak the buds, fungus, and mushrooms before cooking them because they were all dry. It didn’t really affect cooking time because I was able to chop up the other veggies and fry the tofu while they re-hydrated. I wasn’t too worried about them, though, because I figured they would taste like grass and mushrooms. Again, I wasn’t too far off.
The end product was pretty tasty. It did have that brown “Chinese” sauce that I recently learned not everyone is a fan of. Those people are crazy. Brown Chinese sauce is fantastic! The tiger lily buds reminded of lemon grass in texture but didn’t really have a distinct flavor themselves. Same thing with the black fungus. It had the texture of a mushroom but nothing surprising. What did surprise me was that I did not like the Chinese mushrooms at all and neither did James. They were hardy and had a way stronger woody flavor than other mushrooms I’ve had. I never have a problem with mushrooms and they’re one of my favorite things to eat so this wasn’t some weird, childish dislike of mushrooms; these were just not palatable to me. I didn’t even mind the braised gluten because it just absorbed the brown sauce.
I didn’t even bother giving this to the girls, which worked out for us because it meant we had seconds and leftovers for the next day. And I was very, very happy to have this for lunch the next day. The next day was not a good day but eating Buddha’s Delight was the one shiny moment in a day full of shit. More on that later.