A love for tradition has never weakened a nation, indeed it has strengthened nations in their hour of peril. – Winston S. Churchill
~ DIM SUM SERIES ~
A week ago, people of Chinese descent all over the world celebrated the Lunar New Year, welcoming the Year of the Rooster. Following tradition, where Lunar New Year is celebrated from the start of a new moon to the 15th day on a full moon, we began ours with a dinner on the eve. Symbolic dishes is the name of the day and ours was no exception. Noodles (for longevity and happiness); ‘Chap Chye’ Mixed Vegetables with 8 (a lucky number) ingredients with the their own symbolisms; fish (the chinese word 鱼 ‘yu’ rhymes with the word for prosperity and excess); Bakwan Kepiting (a Nyonya dish from a family recipe); Turnip Cake ‘Loh Bok Gau’ (for continuous growth) and mandarin oranges (the chinese word 橙 ‘chng’ rhymes with the word for success, while another word for oranges 桔 ‘gee’ rhymes with the word for luck; furthermore the round and golden fruit symbolizes fullness and fortune.)
Turnip Cake (萝卜糕 ‘loh bok gau’) is very popular at dim sum meals. We always ordered some each time we patronized a dim sum parlour, till one day I thought to try it out at home. After all, if it turns out to be quite simple, what could be better than having it in the comfort of home whenever the fancy strikes? As it happens, Turnip Cake is really easy to prepare and stores well in the fridge for up to 4 days in an airtight container. This was not something our mothers made at home frequently, so I had to do some research on the internet (credits below), mixed and matched and tried out a couple of recipes to finally come up with what I think will be ours. This is the recipe we have been using for our homemade Turnip Cake.
- Chop the soaked dried shrimp with a knife instead of running it through a blender to retain texture and for visual appeal. Alternatively, pound with mortar/pestle till the pieces break apart. The latter is my method of choice as I prefer the presence of uneven but distinctly chewable rather than uniformly fine pieces in the end product. I have been told that pounded ingredients taste better than chopped but honestly I can’t tell the difference. Perhaps someone with more acute tastebuds can help me out here.
- Chinese sausage ‘lap cheong’ is typically used and probably renders the most authentic taste. I substitute with ham or leftover sweet meats (eg. sweet bacon, longanisa, sausage) I have on hand. Sometimes I omit the meat entirely, convincing myself (unconvincingly) that I’m trying to be health-conscious.
- Adding pork lard will impart a distinct layer of flavour but feel free to omit if you are more successfully healthful than I 🙂 If rendering the lard from scratch, keep the crispy crackling leftovers to drizzle over the Turnip Cake. You will think you’re in heaven.
- The Turnip Cake is ready to eat right after steaming, especially served with sambal belachan, sweet soy sauce or oyster sauce. However, I find it even more delicious if allowed it to cool slightly, then lightly pan-fried till the surface is just slightly crusty.
More easy dim sum recipes and the rest of Lunar New Year dishes!
- 1 large daikon radish/Chinese turnip, roughly grated
- 1 Tbsp dried shrimp, soaked and chopped/pounded
- 6 dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked and diced
- ½ cup ham or chinese sausage or any sweet meats, diced
- 1 green onion, chopped
- 1 cup rice flour
- 1 Tbsp cornstarch
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp sugar
- ½ tsp white pepper
- 2 Tbsp lard
- ¾ cup water
- Place grated turnip into a wok and bring to a simmer for about 5 minutes. The turnip will exude some water of its own. Add ½ cup of water and continue simmering till about ½ cup of water is left. Place turnip and the remaining liquid into a large bowl and allow to cool.
- Heat 2 Tbsp oil and ½ Tbsp lard in a wok or pan. Add shrimp and stir-fry till fragrant, then add mushrooms and ham (or choice of meat). Cook till shrimp and mushrooms have softened and flavours melded.
- Add green onions. Stir briefly and set aside.
- In the bowl with grated turnip, add rice flour, cornstarch, salt and pepper, and remaining lard (warm to liquefy if necessary). Mix well. The mixture should be a bit lumpy and just slightly wet with the turnip still identifiable, not too gooey or soggy. Mix in the cooked ingredients including any leftover grease (there should not be a lot) and allow to sit for about 15 minutes.
- Pour mixture into a well oiled, heatproof pan. Steam for 1 hour. The mixture should be have dried out and a bit stiff. Once cooled, it will dry out some more and should be easily removed by turning over the pan.
- The turnip cake can be served as it is, sliced and with a side of sambal belachan, sweet soy sauce or oyster sauce.
- Additionally, slice the turnip cake evenly and lightly pan fry over low-medium heat in ½ Tbsp oil till sides are slightly crispy.
Wishing all a happy and joyful Year of the Rooster!
Recipes used in my trials: