Happy Chinese New Year 2014: Turnip Cakes
Happy New Year! Today marks the first day of the Chinese lunar calendar, which will be the year of the Horse.
During the run up to the new year, houses are cleaned and decorated with red banners and ribbons to ward off evil. The colour red is considered to be auspicious, bringing good luck. Families and friends sit together for the evening meal, considered to be one of the most important meals of the year. Several dishes are served to ensure an auspicious beginning to the new year. This can include a whole chicken, which symbolises family togetherness; long noodles for long life – according to an old superstition, it is considered bad luck to cut them; a whole fish, including the head and tail, to symbolise abundance and family unity; and crescent-shaped dumplings known as jiaozi that signify wealth and prosperity.
Last year I baked custard tarts for Chinese New Year. This year, I am trying my hand at baking a savoury dish, Turnip Cake, otherwise known as Law Bok Gow. I always order this dish when I go for dim sum and am feeling incredibly brave to make it at home.
Law Bok Gow, or turnip cake, is eaten all year round, especially during Chinese New Year as it symbolises prosperity and growing fortunes. I was surprised to learn that this savoury cake is made from shredded daikon (white radish or mooli) and not turnips. Mixed with rice flour, the cake is steamed to give a smooth velvety texture. It is then cooled and pan-fried before serving. Although a little fiddly to make, you can store the steamed cake for two weeks so perfect if entertaining, or a standby dish at home.
Turnip cake is typically studded with Chinese sausage, dried shrimp and dried mushroom but since I couldn’t get hold of the former two, I have made a vegetarian version, that is also gluten-free if you use the right soy sauce.
Recipe adapted from Jeanette’s Healthy Living blog.
- 2-3 medium-sized white radishes / daikon / mooli (approximately 600g)
- 1 cup finely ground rice flour (approximately 160 g)
- 1 1/2 cup hot water (approximately 375 ml)
- 6 dried shiitake mushrooms
- 1/4 tsp white pepper
- 1 tbsp olive or rapeseed oil, plus extra for frying
- 1 tsp soy sauce (gluten-free versions are available)
- salt to taste
- spring onions for garnishing
- chilli soy sauce or oyster sauce for dipping
- Soak the dried mushrooms in hot water for approximately 1 hour, ensuring they are fully submerged in the water. I put mine in a small lidded container full of hot water and the lid on to ensure the dried mushrooms are fully soaked.
- Grate the white radish using a hand grater or food processor. I used the side with the large holes on my hand grater as I like tasting bits of the white radish in the cake, however feel free to finely grate them if you prefer a smoother texture.
- Place the grated radish into a large saucepan, which is filled to the brim with water and bring to the boil. When the water starts to boil, reduce the heat and simmer until the radishes are tender and appear to be translucent. This should take approximately 20-30 minutes.
- Drain the radishes but reserve 1 1/2 cup (approximately 375 ml) of the water to use later.
- Finely chop the shiitake mushrooms and place in the same pan you were boiling the radishes in, with a teaspoon of oil. Fry for a 2 minutes before adding the drained radish. Fry for another 2 minutes before adding the rice flour, the drained radish water, salt, pepper, soy sauce and oil. Mix until it has blended into a smooth paste.
- Pour the mixture into a lightly greased baking tin (Jeanette made her turnip cakes in two mini loaf tins) or foil tray and steam for 1 hour. Unfortunately, I did not have the correct equipment and so had to be a little creative. I poured the mixture into a lightly greased 23cm cake tin. I then took out a large wok and placed a large flan tin inside. I then poured enough boiling water to the bottom of the pan, making sure it didn't touch the flan tin. I put the greased cake tin with the radish mixture on top of the flan tray, covered with a lid and steamed on medium to low heat for 1 hour.
- After an hour of steaming, remove the lid and stick a cocktail stick inside the turnip cake. You know it is ready if it comes out fairly clean. Remove the cake tin from the wok and place on a plate. Allow to cool at room temperature for about 20 minutes before turning it out onto a clean plate or chopping board. Allow to cool at room temperature before placing in the fridge overnight. I turned mine over on to a large plate and covered with paper towel once cooled before placing in the fridge.
- At this stage, the turnip cake can be stored in the fridge for a week or two.
- When you are ready to serve the turnip cake, slice it and pan fry both sides with a little bit of oil until golden brown. I cut my cake into squares, covered them with a bit of rice flour before pan frying both sides in hot oil. I served them with chopped spring onions and a chilli ginger soy sauce for dipping. My sauce was made out of soy sauce, honey, chilli flakes, julienne ginger, little bit of lime juice and coriander. The sweetness, sour and spicy flavours of the sauce really compliment the turnip cakes.
I am entering this post to Lavender and Lovage’s Cooking With Herbs challenge, as the dip is made with coriander.