Chinese turnip cake is one of the most popular dishes in dim sum and is a must have Chinese New Year dish. Chinese people like to eat ”Nian gao” (年糕, Chinese New Year rice cake) during the Chinese New Year. Chinese New Year in 2016 will be held on the 7th February (Chinese New Year's Eve, 除夕).
Nian gao is a very important part of Chinese New Year food traditions. It’s considered good luck to eat nian gao during the Chinese New Year period. Another big tradition during the Chinese New Year is you have to eat foods that have lucky meanings. The pronunciation of “gao” is associated with another Chinese word “高” which means high, higher, tall, taller, greater, better. So eating nian gao has the symbolic meaning of raising oneself taller in each coming year and you will get promoted in your career every year. Daikon (turnip or white radish) is the main ingredient we use for this dish. Daikon in Taiwanese culture it means “lucky” (好彩頭).
Nian gao is also known as rice cake. There is another Chinese New Year tradition where people will use Nian Gao as an offering to the “kitchen god”(灶神) who is the god who will always report everything about human families to the Jade Emperor. So people hope by feeding him this delicious dish he will only have good things to say about Jade Emperor(玉皇大帝). The nian gao usually related to this tradition is sweet rice cake which I will introduce in my sweet rice cake recipe in my future article.
The more traditional ingredient for this dish is rice flour, but I didn’t use a lot of rice flour as an ingredient for my turnip cake as a I feel too much rice flour will give the dish a really rubbery/chewy texture which I personally don’t like. So instead of using large quantities or rice flour I used long grain Thai rice which I soaked in water overnight then processed in a blender along with water until it looks like soy milk.
All of the ingredients in this recipe can be purchased easily in either your local regular or Chinese supermarket. Turnip cake might sound difficult to make but this dish is actually very easy to make. You might also think turnips normally taste awful and my husband really hates turnip but he absolutely loves turnip cake. Note that you can store any left over turnip cakes in your freezer until you are ready to eat them.
- For the Pork Mince Marinade:
- 120 grams pork mince
- 1 1/2 tablespoons light soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon caster sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon five spice powder
- For the Turnip Cake:
- 400 grams long grain Thai rice
- 600 milliliters water
- 100 grams rice flour (粘米粉)
- 40 grams dried prawns
- 6 dried shitake mushrooms
- Oil (for stir-frying)
- 2 banana shallots (chop finely)
- 3 cloves garlic (chop finely)
- 1 slice gammon steak (diced finely)
- 1 1/2 to 2 tablespoon light soy sauce
- 2 teaspoons caster sugar (divided)
- 1 1/2 teaspoon salt (divided)
- 1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
- 1 kilogram shredded Daikon
- Gather the ingredients.
- Make 5 to 6 (6"x 4"x 2") boxes out of foil and set aside.
- Marinade the pork mince with the light soy sauce, sugar, salt, and five-spice powder.
- Soak the Thai rice in the 600 milliliters of water overnight (or at least 6 hours).
- Then, use a smoothie machine or blender to blend the rice and water until it looks like soy milk. You can add a little bit of water if you find the rice has absorbed too much water overnight so it’s easier to blend.
- Mix the rice-water mixture with the rice flour and make sure there are no lumps at all. Leave aside once this is done.
- Then soften the dried prawns in warm water, drain, and chop finely.
- Next, soften the dried shitake mushrooms the same way, in warm water, then drain and chop finely.
- Heat some oil in a wok and stir-fry shallot and garlic first until the fragrance comes out.
- Add the dried prawns and shitake mushroom, then stir-fry for a good 2 to 3 minutes.
- Add the marinaded pork mince, gammon steak, soy sauce, 1 teaspoon sugar, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and white pepper to the wok and stir-fry for another couple minutes, until the mince is totally cooked. Transfer to a plate and leave it aside.
- Use the same wok with a little bit more oil and cook the daikon with 1 teaspoon sugar and 1 teaspoon salt. Cook until the liquid comes out. If the liquid doesn’t come out, it could affect the quality of the final turnip cake.
- Add the cooked pork mince to the wok with the radish and cook until the radish is soft. Mix evenly.
- Add the rice and water mixture to the wok with the radish and turn the gas power down. Keep stirring until it looks like “paste," then turn off the stove. If you feel the mixture is a little bit dry or too solid, you can add some water.
- At this point, brush a thin layer of oil in the tin foil boxes and pour the rice cake mix into the box.
- Use a steamer to steam the rice cakes. Once the water is boiling under the steamer, steam for around 45 minutes.
- Cool the cakes, remove them from the boxes, and cut into 1-centimeter thick slices.
- Heat up a little bit of oil in a frying pan or wok and fry the cakes until golden brown color on both sides.
- Serve with a little bit of light soy sauce or sweet chili sauce.
- Jasmine rice or any type of long grain white rice would do the trick.
- If you are using a metal steamer or wok, use a clean and wet tea towel to effectively tie down the lid once you are ready to steam the cakes. This prevents water dripping from the lid onto the rice cake, which can affect the final result.
- After steaming the rice cakes, you have to wait until the rice cakes have totally cooled down before you can remove them from the tin, otherwise they stick.
- Note the sweet chili sauce isn’t the traditional condiment to go with your turnip cake, but like a lot of cooking it’s down to personal preferences and I love sweet chili sauce.