February 1, 2012

Chinese New Year Turnip Radish Cake 蘿蔔糕

chinese, daikon, dried mushroom, dried scallop, dried shrimp, festival, lap cheong, radish cake, recipe, turnip cake, 蘿蔔糕

There is nothing so comforting as comfort food.  Something that soothes, takes you back to your childhood, safe and sound, experiencing the delights of the palate with no holds barred, no reference points.  Just the pure delight of yummy or not yummy and filling the tummy.

For most Chinese many of the annual festival foods will qualify for this definition of "comfort food" and the Chinese New Year radish cake is definitely one of the top challengers. This is a traditional, homey, almost countryside kind of food, but full of knock out yummy soothing comforts for the city enslaved tongue.  

Most people in Hong Kong don't make this kind of stuff for themselves anymore, preferring to enjoy the convenience of buying them pre-made from the many stores that profit from the Chinese New Year gorgings that all Chinese indulge in.  Even the older generation nowadays prefer to enjoy this kind of convenience, much to the detriment of my romantic idealizations of the elder generations keeping of the traditional torch and so on.  But nothing, of course, comes close to homemade taste...

chinese, daikon, dried mushroom, dried scallop, dried shrimp, festival, lap cheong, radish cake, recipe, turnip cake, 蘿蔔糕
Clockwise from left: Dried Mushrooms, Lap Cheong, Dried Shrimps, Dried Scallops
Anyways, since I always try to make at least one festival food for each festival, this time around I decided to make the Chinese Radish Cake again. I had made it once a few years ago with the usual tortuous method of grating all your radish first and then cooking it, etc. and had not really liked the result.  

I had, however, always really liked certain radish cakes that you can have for Dim Sum in Hong Kong, a lighter, more gelatinous affair heavenly scented with chinese sausage, dried shrimp, scallop, etc.  So this time I tried a different method to try to emulate these radish cakes.  After a bit of tension during the making of with the radish cake looking weirdly stiff, the final result was something that, tastewise, we were absolutely delighted with.  

  The next time I will chop everything a bit smaller, especially the radish (okay, I was being somewhat lazy there but, heck it sure is a lot of chopping!)  The key difference was with the radish, which instead of being grated and boiled, is steamed til soft and fragrant before being mixed with all the other ingredients.  The steaming allows the radish flavor to marry with everything including the the cake body while keeping the nice texture of the radish.  This in effect allows for a more smooth, tasty and tender cake.

chinese, daikon, dried mushroom, dried scallop, dried shrimp, festival, lap cheong, radish cake, recipe, turnip cake, 蘿蔔糕
Radish steamed til soft and fragrant (Note: better if diced to smaller pieces!)
This dish is all about homey Chinese flavor.  And it should be because it has all the homey Chinese goodies in it: the strong flavors of the classics of Chinese dried goods like the dried shrimp, dried mushrooms, dried scallops and of course, the unique flavors of the chinese sausage or lap cheong .  

The Chinese have this cake especially at Chinese New Years when the weather usually turns quite cold.  So when you get up in the frosty morning you can steam up a delicious block of radish cake for breakfast or, if any New Year's visitors come a calling in the afternoon, you can slice some thinner slices of radish cake to be panned fried in a bit of oil until golden brown and each side and serve it up with some drops of good soy sauce and a sprinkle of chinese white pepper.
Chinese New Year Radish Cake Recipe 蘿蔔糕
(Note: Recipe revised to reflect the smaller chopping noted above!)
Prep time: 30 mins   Cook time: 50 mins



Wash and peel the radish.  Dice into 1/4 inch squares.  Steam 12 mins over medium heat until fragrant and soft.  Remove and let cool.

Soak the mushrooms in just boiled hot water to cover and let sit until soft (half hour to hour, depends on your mushrooms).  When able to, use scissors to cut off the mushroom stems first, discard stems, and let soak more.  This will allow the water to absorb faster.  When throughly soft, squeeze water out and slice into shreds.  Reserve mushroom water, around 2 cups.

Steam the scallops for 15 minutes or until shreddable.  Shred the scallops.  Slice the sausages into very thin rounds.  Rinse the dried shrimps and chop roughly.

Mix mushrooms, scallops, sausages and dried shrimps together.  Reserve a portion of these mixed ingredients to use later as a topping for the cake. About 2 cups should be enough.

In a large bowl, mix the batter: the rice flour, water chestnut flour, cold water and reserved mushroom soaking water.  Stir well.

Heat up large wok, add 2 tbsp oil, and stir fry the sausages, mushrooms, shrimp and scallops until fragrant. Add steamed radish.  Pour in the hot water and bring to a boil.  Add in the salt, sugar and stir to incorporate.

Give your rice flour batter a final stir and pour in all at once into wok.  Turn off the heat immediately and quickly stir until everything is well mixed.

Pour into the aluminum foil trays, smoothing the tops.  Steam over high heat for 45 minutes.  The best and cheapest steamers are the bamboo steamers which you can get at any kitchen store in HK.  You can buy two or even three and they will stack up nicely allowing you to steam many things at once.  Be sure that you measure your pot first to get the right circumference for fitting the two things together.  Also remember that the stuff you steam on top may need more time over the steam as they are further away.

Once the steaming is done immediately decorate the top of the cakes with the reserved chopped ingredients, pressing down carefully with your hand.  You must do this at once while the cakes are hot otherwise the toppings will not stick.  Let cool. Cover and refrigerate once cool.

To serve, slice out the portion that you want.  Usually a square block is cut out for steaming while slices of about 3/4 inch thick are cut for frying.  To steam place on serving dish and steam for 10 minutes.  Sprinkle with white pepper and serve with good soy sauce for dipping.

To fry, heat up some oil in a pan and gently fry slices over medium heat until golden brown on both sides.  Serve with soy sauce for dipping.  This delicious little cake requires a lot of chopping, that's for sure, but what the hey?  It's tons better when homemade with love and it's only once a year, right?



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