Taproot Radish Cake
蘿蔔糕. This dish has many aliases in English: turnip cake, radish cake, lo bak go… My version contains a variety of root vegetables, so something like Taproot Cake might be more accurate ; ) Moreover, “cake” is a bit misleading since in Cantonese the word 糕 (go) is ambivalently sweet or savory, whereas in English the word cake is all confection.
Regardless, a traditional Cantonese-style Radish cake is a base of daikon (or white turnip) and rice flour studded with diced chinese sausage, mushroom, and dried shrimp. Funnily enough, it’s one of my husband’s favorite dimsum dishes even though he is really not partial to mushroom and strong seafood flavors. To get around this, I soak my dried shitake mushrooms and shrimp for a long time to rinse out the strongest flavors; but when I made the last batch for Chinese New Year, I realized that most of the flavor comes from the turnip and that the little bits were mostly for texture.
Searching the Willamette Valley
So I started thinking of how to make this dish with more local Oregon ingredients. I needed texture, and I needed some salty punches with some sweetness.
I immediately wanted to try it with smoked duck, but when I went to the butcher’s, their smoked duck was a little steep. Bacon seemed a little uncomplex compared to Chinese sausage, which is sweet and salty. But they had a “homemade” pork sausage blend. I was sure this fatty, spiced meat would crumble well into the turnip.
I decided to skip the “seafood” flavor since I was making this for Drew. As for the sweetness, I immediately thought of these amazing dried California prunes that one of our local grocery stores carries in bulk.
Finally, daikon definitely has a slightly sulfurous note when cooked; I love it, since I grew up on it, but to balance it a little bit with these Oregon ingredients, I added some carrot as well. While I initially envisioned trying to do this Hong Kong dish entirely with locally grown foods (except the rice flour), I still had leftover daikon from Chinese New Year. In the future I might try a different turnip variety and maybe parsnip.
2 cups of shredded daikon/white turnip
1 cup of shredded carrot
3 cups of water
1.5 cup of rice flour (make sure it is not glutinous rice flour)
1 t. salt
1/4 lb. sausage (minced–if you use sausage in the casing, remove the meat from the casing)
1 cup of minced prunes
1. Cook the sausage on medium heat, letting the fat render out. Use a spatula to break the sausage into small pieces. After 10-12 minutes, the sausage should be brown and starting to crisp. Pour off some of the fat and add the minced prunes. Cook for an additional 3-5 minutes until the sausage is crisp and prunes are warmed up.
2. Meanwhile, boil the 3 cups of water and the shredded daikon and carrot for about 5-10 minutes, until the vegetables are tender. Strain the shredded vegetables and reserve the cooking liquid. Mix the cooked shredded vegetables with TWO cups of the cooking liquid and the salt. Slowly stir in the rice flour. The consistency will be thick from the vegetables but a little soupy looking from the cooking liquid. Stir in the cooked sausage and prune.
3. Set up a steamer. (I pour about an inch of water at the bottom of a 7 1/4 quart dutch oven and use a steaming ring to elevate the loaf pan. Before I got the steaming ring, I used less water and use canning rings to elevate the dish.) Grease a 9×5″ loaf pan (e.g. using cooking spray) and fit a piece of parchment paper at the bottom (the parchment is optional, but I find it helps lift the steamed cake out of the pan). Set it in the steamer and steam the turnip “pudding” for 45-50 minutes.
Remove the pan to cool. It may look a little weepy at this point, but as it cools down the rice thickener will continue to coagulate. Once it gets to room temperature, I usually put the loaf in the fridge over night because it is much easier to slice when cold.
After steaming and cooling, slice the turnip cake into smaller pieces for frying. Fry them for about 5 minutes a side, or until you get a nice crisp surface. I like slicing them either in slices about 1cm thick and cooking them in a frying pan, or tossing 1″ cubes in a hot wok.
We both loved it! It is milder than a traditional turnip cake, but still has that distinct radish flavor. Drew is particularly happy that I’ve found a way to make one of his favorite dishes while bypassing his nemesis, the mushroom. One surprising thing about the flavor was the fennel in the sausage mix, which ended up creating a lovely whiff every now and then. The prunes are complex and bright, while the sausage gives the fried cake its texture.