With Chinese New Year just around the corner, I wanted to share a Chinese Turnip Cake (蘿蔔糕) recipe that I learned from Town Gas Cooking 2 years ago.
Traditionally this cake is made during Chinese New Year, but nowadays this is a regular item on the dim sum menu. For those who’ve never tried Turnip Cake, don’t be mislead by the “cake” and think it is a sweet dessert, in fact it is a savory dish. It is made from grated Chinese radish (which is similar to the Japanese daikon), rice flour with diced ingredients such as dried shrimp, dried shiitake mushrooms and Chinese sausages and then steamed over high heat.
As I was steaming the Turnip Cake, the aromas that filled my flat brought nostalgic memories of my grandma sitting on a stool and grating dozens of Chinese radishes. When I was younger, my grandma would make batches of Turnip Cake right before Chinese New Year for friends and family. Back then, I didn’t understand the significance of eating this yummy snack during the first few days of the Lunar calendar. But now I know it is because it brings “good fortune” ~ the origins of this reside with the Chinese pronunciation of the word radish (菜頭) which is very similar to fortune (彩頭).
Chinese Turnip Cake
5 dried shiitake mushrooms
2 pieces Chinese preserved sausages (臘腸)
2 tbsp dried shrimp (蝦米)*
1 piece Chinese cured pork belly (臘肉)**
800 g Chinese radish
1/4 slab Chinese brown sugar
160 g rice flour (粘米粉)
40 g wheat starch (also known as tang flour 澄麵)***
200 mL water
green onion for garnishing
1/2 tsp toasted sesame seeds
8″ diameter round cake tin (for steaming)
1 tsp salt
3 tbsp oil
dash of white pepper and sesame oil
*Hubby doesn’t eat dried shrimp, so I replaced it with 1 piece of Chinese preserved liver sausages. I personally think it tastes better with dried shrimp, so I am writing this recipe omitting the liver sausages and using the dried shrimp. (I was just experimenting with the liver sausages.)
**I was in a hurry an couldn’t find cured pork belly and omitted it here, and I’m kicking myself for it. Do include it if you can find it.
***You can buy wheat starch at small local grocery stores
Hydrate the shiitake mushrooms in a bowl of water for 3 hours. In another bowl, soak the dried shrimp [not shown here]. Ignore the liver sausage (darker) in the above photo, only use the regular preserved sausage (lighter).
Rinse the sausages and cured pork belly (not used here) under water and steam on high heat for 10 minutes.
As the sausage and cured pork is steaming, wash and peel the Chinese radish. If the radish is too big for grating, cut it into halves or thirds. Grate the radish over the biggest holes of your grater.
Drain the shiitake mushrooms and remove the stem and dice into small pieces (5mm).
After cooled, dice the preserved sausages and cured pork belly into small pieces (5mm).
Using only a 1/4 slab of Chinese brown sugar, roughly chop (in the above photo, I accidentally used more than I should have! And my turnip cake was a bit sweeter than I wanted). Remember, you don’t need a lot of sugar because this is a savory dish.
Over medium heat cook the grated radish with the brown sugar until all the sugar has melted and the radish has heated.
Mix the rice flour and wheat starch with water in a mixing bowl, then stir in the hot radish. The mixture may look a bit watery now, but don’t worry, it should look like this. Add in the other ingredients and the seasonings.
Brush the round tin with a little bit of olive oil and pour the mixture it. Steam over high heat for 45-60 mins. At 45 minutes, use a toothpick to test the center ~ if the turnip mixture sticks to the tooth pick it’ll need another 10-15 minutes. While waiting for the cake to steam, toast the sesame seeds in an oven for a few minutes at 325°F and finely chop the green onions.
Garnish the turnip cake with sesame seeds and green onions.
This can be kept in a fridge for about a week. You can re-heat it by cutting it into thin slices and frying it over medium-high heat for a few minutes.
If you like your turnip cake to be softer, use more radishes, if you prefer the opposite use more rice flour.
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