Happy Lunar New Year! 新年快樂! The new year (of the Snake) actually started last Sunday, the 10th. And if you, like me, are a mouse in the Chinese Zodiac, this year is a great year for us in terms of love, career, and personal finance. (That’s according to my aunt who was probably reading it from a book somewhere…)
Chinese New Year is awesome. It’s like a combination of Christmas and Thanksgiving. It lasts for days and everyone is generally happy. Like any other holidays, the preparation can be endless. And of course, you can’t talk about Chinese New Year without talking about the food. Or should I say… the FEAST?
Different regions of the China, and other Chinese societies throughout Asia, celebrate the New Year with different foods. You might have heard that dumplings are a must-eat during CNY, and that’s very common in Northern China but not so much in Southern China or in Hong Kong.
Generally there isn’t one signature item, like a turkey, that you must have during Chinese New Year, it’s just the amount of all the food that people consume. Imagine having full-on dinners for at least 3 days straight (possibly a whole week if you’re in mainland China). Then there’s also small eats and snacks in between. Everyone offers their best hospitality to their families and relatives who are visting, and you want to start off the year with LOTS.
Some of the snack items you can commonly find in a Cantonese/Hong Kong family inclue Nian gao (年糕), Taro cake (芋頭糕), Gok zai (角仔), etc… It is quite common that you’d make or bring these items to your family visits as gifts. There is one absolute favorite dish of mine that I look forward to eat every year – the Turnip Cake (蘿蔔糕). You see, you can buy or even make Turnip Cake anytime of the year, and they even have it at Dim Sum. However, my mom’s Turnip Cake has always been the best I’ve ever eaten, and I cannot NOT have it during Chinese New Year.
Since I didn’t go home and she’s half way across the globe. I decided that I’d try making my own Turnip Cake this year, and she’s only a phone call away really. And here it is!
Ingredients: rice flour, daikon, dried shrimp (蝦米), Chinese Sausage (臘腸). Optional: Shiitake mushroom, scallion, Chinese preserved pork/bacon – lap yuk (臘肉). Obviously, you can find all that in Chinatown or hopefully from your local Asian grocery store.
When picking your daikon, you want them to be somewhat smooth on the outside (no bumps). Try to pick the ones that have cracks in them because those are the juicier ones, also meaning that are more fresh.
Soak the dried shrimp in warm water for about 10 minutes or until soften, then disgard the water and dice. Dice (or slice) the Chinese sausage as well.
Wash, cut both ends of the daikon, then peel.
Finely grate the daikons.
Cook the Chinese sausage then toss in the dried shrimp, stir-fry for about 10 minutes.
Now, heat up the daikon in a big wok for about 20 minutes, and drain off as much liquid as possible and save it for later use.
Mix the rice flour with the saved liquid until the flour is dissolved, then add it to the wok and stir.
After the daikon batter is mixed, you can add the other ingredients plus seasonings. I used some black pepper, white pepper, salt, and 2 tablespoons of low-sodium soy sauce. The mix should be “doughy” and dense.
Now, the batter needs to be steam for an hour in a container. Make sure you have a dish or container that is heat-proof, and that it can fit in a wok with the lid on. (After the cake has been steaming for a while, a little bit of water will form on top of the cake. That’s completely normal.)
After an hour, the Turnip Cake is done. Let it cool and the cake will become more firm. Most people like it pan-fried so it’s common that you will let it sit in the fridge overnight, and have it the next day (it’ll be easier to slice too).
Make 1/2 inch slices and pan-fry them with some oil.
I’m used to serving Turnip Cakes with some hoisin sauce and Sriracha but feel free to be adventurous!
Turnip Cake (蘿蔔糕)
1 3/4 cup of rice flour
3 lbs of daikon, finely grated
3 tbsp of dried shrimp (蝦米), diced
1 cup, 4 small Chinese sausages (臘腸), diced or sliced
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp white pepper
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp of low-sodium soy sauce
1. Soak the dried shrimp in warm water for about 10 minutes or until soften, then disgard the water and dice.
2. Dice or slice the Chinese sausage.
3. Wash, cut both ends of the daikon, then peel.
4. Finely grate the daikons.
5. Cook the Chinese sausage then toss in the dried shrimp, stir-fry for about 10 minutes.
6. Now, heat up the daikon in a big wok for about 20 minutes, and drain off as much liquid as possible and save it for later use.
7. Mix the rice flour with the saved liquid until the flour is dissolved, then add it to the wok and stir.
8. After the daikon batter is mixed, you can add the other ingredients plus seasonings. The mix should be “doughy” and dense.
9. Now, the batter needs to be steam for an hour in a heat-proof container. Make sure that it can fit in a wok with the lid on.
10. After an hour, the Turnip Cake is done. Let it cool and the cake will become more firm.
11. Let it sit in the fridge overnight. When you’re ready, make 1/2 inch slices and pan-fry until golden brown on both sides.
12. Serve with some hoisin sauce and Sriracha.
Read more about Chinese New Year on Wiki.