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Chinese New Year recipe: Turnip Cake

February 27, 2016

The turnip cake, or 蘿蔔糕 (lo bak go), is neither a dessert cake nor is it made of turnips. Normally, Chinese radishes, or daikon (sometimes called mooli in UK supermarkets) are grated, mixed with rice flour and a mixture of dried savoury ingredients, then steamed to form a sort of savoury set pudding. In dim sum restaurants, you’ll commonly find it sliced into rectangles and pan-fried on both sides to give a crispy surface that contrasts with the soft, slightly squidgy innards. This cake always appears around the Chinese new year, with lots of restaurants in Hong Kong selling their own version for you to take home. This version is adapted from Serious Eats.

Before you start: Make sure you choose a good quality radish. Pick one that feels heavy, with smooth taut skin, and doesn’t have too many bruises. It should also be firm and not bendy at all (that means it’s too old). You can buy these in the ‘exotic’ section at the supermarket (for instance, they’re next to the huge herb bunches and yams at the Tesco in Canary Wharf), but you will find much bigger and fresher ones if you go to a Chinese supermarket.

Turnip cake

  • 10 dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked in cold water for at least 6 hours (ideally overnight)
  • 4 Chinese wax sausages, 臘腸 (lap cheong)
  • 1/2 cup dried shrimp
  • 1 tbsp + 2 tsp brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1.3 kg Chinese radish or daikon
  • 225 g rice flour

Gently squeeze out the water from the rehydrated mushrooms and discard the stems, but keep the mushroom soaking liquid and pass through a sieve to remove the grit. Wash the mushrooms and dice.

Cut off the tips of the Chinese sausages. Cut into small dice, along with the dried shrimp.

In a wok or a big dutch oven, fry the diced Chinese sausages until they’ve rendered out some of their fat, and add the diced shrimp and mushrooms and fry together for about 5 minutes until everything smells fragrant. Mix in the soy sauce and 2 tsp brown sugar, fry an additional 1 minute, and transfer everything to a bowl and set aside.

Peel the radish and cut into chunks. If you have a food processor, stick it in there and let it do the job of shredding the radish. Otherwise, grate it by hand with a box grater, which will take a bit of muscle. In the same wok you used to fry the sausage/shrimp/mushroom mixture, cook the shredded radish, stirring regularly until it is translucent, about 15-25 minutes. Add the rest of the brown sugar and mix well.

Remove the wok from heat and add the sausage/shrimp/mushroom mixture. Add the rice flour in batches, stirring well after each addition. It will become quite pasty and difficult to stir – if it becomes too difficult, add in a few tablespoons of the mushroom soaking liquid to loosen the texture. Try not to add too much liquid, however, as it will change the texture of the cake after steaming.

Scrape the mixture into a baking dish that fits in your steamer. Smooth out the surface with a wet spoon and cover loosely with foil (to protect the surface from water droplets) and steam for about 30 minutes. Check to see if it’s done by inserting a knife – it should be quite set. Let the cakes rest for about 20 minutes before cutting into slices and pan-frying on both sides, or you can just serve them as they are.

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