Making Chinese New Year radish cake (蘿蔔糕)

January 25, 2009 at 8:31 pm 28 comments

First, get your radish...
First, get your radish…

It’s Chinese New Year tomorrow and it’d be a travesty not to have lor bak go (蘿蔔糕/ radish or turnip cake) to eat in celebration. It’s always been one of my favourite dim sum items, and the fact that it’s a vital part of CNY lends the perfect excuse to make it at home. ;)

Last year I was lucky enough to be able to head back home to Hong Kong to celebrate CNY, but this year not so much. So in the past few weeks I’ve been trying to cast my mind back to 2008 when my mom taught me step by step how to make radish cake at home. Of course, I called a few days before and grilled her on the various steps, since I didn’t note down any quantities last time around! Her tips were to make sure your radish:rice flour ratio is high (minimum 4:1, though according to my calculations the ratio we used at home is more like 7:1); that you don’t add too much water when you cook the grated radish (as the veg will release enough of its own juices when cooking) and to sift the rice flour well to avoid lumps.

Vital ingredients

The vital ingredients are simple. With the ingredients I had, I made about 4 containers worth of radish cake paste, which makes a LOT – it would probably feed a family of four for at least a few days. To cook the radish cake, I use those simple aluminium foil loaf tins. You’ll also need two fresh, long white radishes, rice flour, 4-5 sticks of Chinese laap cheung (wind-dried sausage), 8 shiitake mushrooms and a small handful of dried shrimps. And we keep the seasonings simple with a small amount of salt and white pepper.

Grating the radishes

Step 1: peel and grate your radishes. This is the most physically exerting bit – my upper arms ache a bit the day after (er, which is probably a sign of how little exercise I’ve been getting lately…). I weighed all the grated radish afterwards so I could work out the ratio of flour I should be using. My two large radishes came to about 1.6kg’s worth.

* Now I should say now that my radish cakes in the end came out a bit too gluey because I got confused with my mom’s instructions – she told me to use a 4:1 ratio, so I calculated 400g worth of rice flour but used 300g to make sure it wouldn’t be too sticky. Turns out I noted in the margins that they used 200-250g of flour for their 1.8kg worth of radishes – a 9:1 ratio! D:

ANYWAYS, so make sure you don’t have too much rice flour. You can always add more if your mixture is too soft, but it will be hard to rectify a stiff radish cake!

Fillings

Step 2: chop up your sausages and shiitake mushrooms (soaked beforehand, naturally. Reserve the soaking liquid for later!) so that they’re quite small. Wash and drain your dried shrimp. Heat a large pan and add the sausages (don’t add any oil) and fry for several minutes over a medium low heat until the fat in the sausages has rendered out. Then add the mushrooms and then the dried shrimp. Fry lightly until fragrant but don’t allow them to brown. Transfer the mixture to a bowl (keeping most of the oil in the pan) and set aside.

Cooking the grated radish

Step 3: tip your grated radish into the pan, along with about a small cup of the water used to soak the shiitake mushrooms, and cook for about 10-15 minutes, stirring occassionally, until softened. Make sure your radish isn’t swimming in liquid, but are comfortably moist. Season to taste with salt (not too much as the sausages and shrimp are quite salty already) and white pepper. Turn off the heat.

Step 4: measure out your rice flour, then sieve it. Add small quantities of the flour into the pan with the radish, stirring well to incorporate it before adding more. You want a mixture that isn’t too stiff, but not too watery either. It should be relatively loose and have a dropping consistency. Then, stir in your goodies – the sausage, mushrooms and shrimps from earlier!

Steaming the turnip cake

Step 5: pour the mixture into your containers of choice (they should be heatproof). Set up your steamer. I didn’t have one large enough, so improvised with a wok, a steam rack, and another wok to act as the lid… haha. Set your radish cakes into the steamer (don’t let it touch the water) and steam for about 45 minutes to an hour. My mom says the water should be bubbling, not simmering. So keep an eye on the water level and top up with hot water often. When ready, a skewer (or chopstick ;D) inserted into the middle should come out clean.

At this point we take it out to cool, and we like to add a sprinkling of chopped spring onions and a drizzle of sesame oil. You can eat the cake now as is, but I much prefer radish cake pan-fried… (If you’re not eating immediately, allow to cool completely then put into the fridge. It’ll last about 3-4 days).

So, if you want to pan-fry…

Pan-frying the turnip cake

T’is simple. Heat up a good non-stick frying pan, add a drizzle of oil and pan-fry on both sides for about 3-4 minutes, or until golden-brown and crisp :-) Best washed down with copious amounts of Chinese tea…

Two pieces are not enough...

Every family’s recipe is different, so you don’t have to take this as gospel. I have to say, my first attempt came out pretty decently, but I’m still a bit miffed with my messing up the radish:flour ratio as I like my radish cake a bit less firm (the crisp exterior/melting interior is king!). But essentially the recipe works. If you have any tips to add, please do!

In two weeks’ time, I’ll be looking forward to making tong yuen (glutinous rice balls) to mark the end of the new year… :-)

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Entry filed under: chinese, chinese new year, homemade, recipe. Tags: .

Berry and pistachio yoghurt cake so many kaffeehausen, so little time

28 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Lizzie  |  January 26, 2009 at 1:49 am

    Right, that’s it – i’m making some tomorrow, I don’t care if I have to buy a bigger steamer (although I reckon a bain marie might work?) My mother hasn’t made me any :(

    Reply
  • 2. Charmaine  |  January 26, 2009 at 2:03 am

    Lizzie – I demand you make it, for your own good! ;-D A bain-marie would probably work I think… post the results if you do try it!

    Reply
  • [...] You will see some silly photos and even food. Monday, the actual start to Chinese New Year, I will have 5 performances and one will be at [...]

    Reply
  • 4.  |  January 27, 2009 at 9:17 am

    Hey Charmaine!

    Wishing you…

    新年快樂
    身体健康
    年年有魚

    Hope my translations are ok… my chinese is not the best :P

    I want radish cake!!

    Reply
  • 5. Helen Yuet Ling Pang  |  January 27, 2009 at 2:04 pm

    Gong Hei Fat Choi again! This looks excellent. I’ve watched my uncle make this before (the same uncle who makes perfect roast pork belly!) and it was very tasty. I have yet to learn to make steamed egg before I even attempt turnip cake. Look forward to reading about tong yuen (is that for yuen siu?)

    Reply
  • 6. susan  |  January 27, 2009 at 6:22 pm

    These pictures are really beautiful.

    Reply
  • 7. Charmaine  |  January 28, 2009 at 1:05 am

    Kang – Thanks! You did better than I did with the adages! It’s actually 年年有餘 but who cares – here’s to having fish every year ;-D

    Helen – Gung hei gung hei! This uncle of yours is like a kitchen god… it’s your mission to wrangle out of him the recipe for roast pork belly. I have a belly in the freezer ;-)

    Susan – Thanks so much! :-)

    Reply
  • 8. Becky B  |  January 28, 2009 at 10:27 pm

    Thanks so much for this great recipe I can’t wait to try it out and working 5 minutes from Chinatown, I will make that this week.

    I found a link to your blog through World Foodie Guide and recognised your name straight away, as many of your TO reviews shape my eating, and empty my wallet for that matter.

    Thanks so much for making my foodie choices all the more wiser…

    Becky B

    Reply
  • 9. Charmaine  |  January 29, 2009 at 3:49 pm

    Becky B Thanks so much for your kind comments. It’s always nice to know when your work actually helps people out! Happy reading :-)

    Reply
  • 10. kang  |  January 29, 2009 at 5:45 pm

    hahahaha… Ive always thought it was have fish every year… are you telling me it isnt?!!

    that is how bad my chinese is …. either that or my mum just lied to me when i was a kid to make me eat fish!

    Reply
  • 11. Facial Aging Cream  |  January 29, 2009 at 7:55 pm

    That looks so good. I’d love to make that and try it!

    Reply
  • 12. Charmaine  |  January 29, 2009 at 9:47 pm

    Kang – HAHA! no you’re absolutely right – see, it’s a Chinese pun… the ‘yu’ has a double meaning ;-) have fish every year = have an abundant year.

    Facial Aging Cream – Interesting name…! Thanks for dropping by, let me know if you ever make it :-)

    Reply
  • 13. ogz  |  February 4, 2009 at 5:41 am

    hey, thanks for the clear photos and demonstration, it’s very informative :P

    Reply
  • 14. Charmaine  |  February 7, 2009 at 8:39 pm

    ogz – you’re welcome, I hope it’s helpful if you’re planning to make radish cake!

    Reply
  • 15. Marking the end of Chinese New Year « tasty treats!  |  February 12, 2009 at 1:22 am

    [...] no bai neen for me – visiting houses to wish relatives good fortune and such) apart from making radish cake and giving my parents the requisite phone call on New Year’s day… [...]

    Reply
  • 16. Shanghai Restaurant, Dalston « An American in London  |  April 30, 2009 at 11:18 pm

    [...] we tend to do at dim sum, Jon and I ordered up a storm.  The best of the dim sum was the luo bo gao (radish cake), which isn’t saying much given how simple it is to make, but at least it was [...]

    Reply
  • 17. Coogi  |  August 23, 2009 at 11:37 am

    Thank you for sharing the recipe, I love radish cake, yummmmm, I will try to make some radish cake over the weekends…..

    One of my friend is craving for Chinese New Year Cake (Lin Go), I’ve tried to buy some for her over the Asian groceries, but they don’t have it, I would like to know if you have the recipe? Thanks!

    Reply
  • 18. henry  |  August 31, 2009 at 9:41 pm

    this is one of our favourite dim sum dishes, so i tried to make it today. i used the 9:1 idea, but it never set, so i had to throw it out :( from other recipes, it seems like 3:1 is a better idea.

    Reply
  • 19. Irene Low  |  November 17, 2009 at 12:40 pm

    Hi
    Was looking at your recipe, the ratio of radish to rice flour. 4: 1 means 4 radish to 1 cup of rice flour? How big the radish? In grams?

    Please clarify…

    Thanks

    Reply
  • 20. luca  |  January 4, 2010 at 2:13 pm

    Hi,
    Thanks for this recipe! My radish cake turned out to be a bit too runny even after steaming for a very very long time…what can I do with it?

    Reply
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    Hello.hukilxxxruAnd Bye.

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  • 23. kristie  |  October 4, 2012 at 10:21 am

    iremamber may mom use to buy a radish cake from here friend, i tasted it ang i really like it,

    Reply
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A freelance journalist and full-time gourmand, eating her way mostly through London and Hong Kong.

Current location: London


    supercharz

Charmaine currently digs: the smell of coffee; adding ponzu to everything; bill granger; still eating natto with every meal; caressing her Nikon FM2n.

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