For the first time ever, my parents are not here for Chinese New Year. They are in Vietnam visiting my mom’s parents and siblings and taking some much needed time off from work. It’s good for them, but bad for us. Good because the Lunar New Year is probably more festive there and bad because my mom always prepares the New Year’s dinners. So, we have to fend for ourselves, which meant the pre-New Year (reunion) dinner with my grandparents consisted of Chinese take-out. 😦 That’s just not the same as a home-cooked meal of lucky and symbolic dishes such as Buddha’s feast for cleansing, whole steamed fish for abundance and noodles for longevity. Another popular dish during this time of year is turnip or white radish cake (law bok gow), which symbolizes prosperity.
You can also have turnip cake year round for dim sum at Chinese restaurants. Aside from turnip, the main ingredients for turnip cake are Chinese sausage (my favourite), dried shrimp and rice flour. Some versions may also contain mushrooms, salted radish and shallot or green onion.
All the ingredients are basically mixed together and steamed. It’s as easy as that. After it’s cooked, it can be sliced up and eaten as is.
But my favourite way to eat it, after its hardened a bit from being in the fridge, is to pan-fry it so that it’s crispy on the outside, but soft on the inside (or to make it a more substantial meal, try frying it with a cracked egg or two in the pan).
Happy Chinese New Year! 新年快樂 !
Recipe (adapted from Christine’s Recipes):
- 1kg Chinese white turnip
- 200g rice flour
- 2tbsp cornstarch
- 85g Chinese sausage
- 55g Chinese dried shrimp
- 60g salted radish
- 3 shallots, minced
- 2 shiitake mushrooms, minced
- 1 cup unsalted chicken broth
- 1/8 tsp white pepper
- Blanch Chinese sausage in boiling water for 2-3 minutes. Drain well and dice finely.
- Peel the turnip and grate into thick strips.
- Soak (~30 minutes in cold water) and rinse dried shrimps. Coarsely chop them (if you buy smaller ones, you don’t need to chop them).
- Soak (~30 minutes in cold water) salted radish, rinse well and finely chop.
- In a big bowl, mix the rice flour with cornstarch well.
- Add 2 tbsp of oil in a non-stick wok, sauté Chinese sausage over medium heat.
- Toss in dried shrimps, mushroom and salted radish and continue to sauté until aromatic (~3 minutes). Set aside.
- Add another 2 tbsp of oil and sauté minced shallots.
- Add grated turnips.
- Sprinkle white pepper to taste.
- Pour in chicken broth, bring to a boil, cover and cook until tender and translucent (~3 minutes).
- Remove from heat.
- Add rice flour and cornstarch, quickly combine all ingredients into a thick batter.
- Toss in sausage mixture and mix well.
- Pour the mixture into a 9-inch round tray greased lightly with vegetable oil.
- Steam over high heat with cover, about 45-60 minutes.
- Check the water level and replenish, if necessary, with boiling water.
- Insert a chopstick or toothpick into the middle part. If it comes out clean, the cake is cooked through.
- Let cool and refrigerate with cover for 4 hours.
- Cut into pieces, fry both sides with vegetable oil until golden brown.
- Serve hot, accompanying with soy sauce and hot sauce.
- The Chinese sausage would be much easier to chop when they are hot.
- When cooking turnip, some water would come out. But if you find the turnip is too dry while cooking, you need to add some water into it. The principle is to make the batter thick but not too dry. If you can stir the batter without using any force, the cake would be just right after steaming.
Tips on buying turnips:
- Choose the heavy one. That means the turnip consists of more water inside.
- The skin of turnip should be thin and translucent. It’s a young one.
- If you don’t cook the turnip on the day you buy, trim off the green stem on top. It can be kept for a few days more without growing old and sturdy.
Notes and Tips:
The original recipe uses wheat starch, which I didn’t have so I used cornstarch instead. It also calls for Chinese bacon, which my mom doesn’t use in her turnip cakes, so I omitted it. David thought the end result was a bit on the dense side, while my sister thought it was pretty close to our mom’s turnip cakes. I will have to try this again following the original recipe exactly to see how it compares.