Chinese turnip cake is one of the most popular dishes in dim sum and is a must-have Lunar New Year dish. Chinese people like to eat "Nian gao" (年糕, Lunar New Year rice cake) during Chinese New Year.
Nian gao is a very important part of Lunar New Year food traditions. It’s considered good luck to eat nian gao during the Lunar New Year period. Another big tradition during this celebration is eating 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 Lunar 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.
The more traditional ingredient for this dish is rice flour but we didn’t use a lot of rice flour as an ingredient for my turnip cake as we feel too much rice flour will give the dish a really rubbery/chewy texture. So instead of using large quantities of rice flour, we used long grain Thai rice which we 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 can store any leftover turnip cakes in your freezer until you are ready to eat them.
- 400 grams long-grain Thai rice (jasmine rice or any type of long-grain white rice)
- 600 milliliters water
- 100 grams rice flour (粘米粉)
- 1 kilogram shredded daikon
- 40 grams dried prawns, soften in warm water, drained, chopped finely
- 6 dried shiitake mushrooms, soften in warm water drained, chopped finely
- 120 grams pork, minced, marinated with 1 1/2 tablespoons light soy sauce, 1 teaspoon caster sugar, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon five-spice powder
- 1 slice gammon steak, cut into tiny dice (We recommend gammon steak to replace Chinese ham if you need an easy alternative.)
- 2 banana shallots, finely chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- Seasonings for mince garnish:
- 2 tablespoons light soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon caster sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
- Seasonings for daikon:
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon caster sugar
Soak Thai rice in 600 milliliters water overnight (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 step one with 100 grams of rice flour and make sure there are no lumps at all. Leave aside once this is done.
Heat some oil in a wok and stir-fry the shallots and garlic first until the fragrance comes out.
Add shiitake mushroom and dried prawns then stir-fry for a good 2 to 3 minutes.
Add mince and gammon steak into step four and all the seasoning from mince garnish. Stir-fry for another couple minutes until the mince is totally cooked. Put the mince garnish on a plate and leave it aside.
Use the same wok with a little bit more oil and cook the daikon with seasonings. You need to cook the radish until it’s soft and the liquid comes out from the radish. If the liquid doesn’t come out it could affect the quality of the final turnip cake.
Add mince garnish into step six after the radish is soft and mix them evenly.
Combine step two with the radish and turn the gas power down. Keep stirring until it looks like “paste” and turn off the stove. If you feel the mixture is a little bit dry or too solid, you can add some water.
This recipe can make 5-6 (6”x 4”x 2”) tin foil boxes size turnip cakes. So 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. If you are using a metal steamer or wok, use a clean and wet tea towel to effectively tie down the lid. This prevents water from dripping from the lid onto the rice cake, which can affect the final result. Once the water is boiling under the steamer, steam for around 45 minutes.
You have to wait until the rice cakes have totally cooled down to allow you to remove them from the tin (otherwise they stick).
Cut your turnip cake 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. The sweet chili sauce isn’t the traditional condiment to go with your turnip cake but it is tasty.