Turnip Cakes: A Traditional Chinese New Year Good Eats

As far as I can remember, I've eaten turnip cakes at dim sum and for Chinese New Year. For the uninitiated, dim sum is the Chinese equivalent of brunch. Turnip cakes is a savory dish made with Chinese sausages, mushrooms, dried shrimp, rice flour and, despite the name, radishes, not turnips. (The name probably just stuck after noble attempts to translate the dish into English, at least I'd like to think!)

Growing up, I used to help my mom make batches of lor bot go, as we call it. We'd make several batches for ourselves for the new year, (which traditionally lasts for 15 days). We'd also package several to give away to friends and relatives. My mom never used a measuring cup, and always relied on the ingredients. We always made huge batches, often cooking into the night to create tins of cakes to pass out. This following recipe is my humble attempts to quantify what we've done over the years, so you can make 2-3 8 inch round tins (rather than the dozens we always churned out)!

  • I large daikon radish (white turnip) about 5lbs
  • 1 chinese sausage
  • about 25 dried shrimp, soaked overnight
  • about 15 chinese dried mushrooms, soaked overnight
  • 1 to 1 1/2 cups of rice flour
  • salt & pepper
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • scallions or cilantro
  • Dice up the dried shrimp into small pieces. Save the water the shrimps are soaked in.
  • When the mushrooms and soft from soaking, remove the stems and chop into small pieces. Save the water the mushrooms are soaked in.
  • Cut off both ends of turnip, peel, then grate or shred.
  • Add the shredded turnip into a large pot and fill it with water to the level of the turnip.
  • Add mushroom and dried shrimp water into the pot as well.
  • Boil until the turnips are soft and translucent. Add salt to taste. Set aside to cool to room temp.
  • Dice the sausage into small pieces.
  • In a wok or skillet, pan fry the sausages for 2 minutes in medium heat, or until the sausages turn a translucent red. Add garlic, mushrooms and shrimp, and stir for another 2 minutes. Add pepper to taste.
  • When the sausage, mushroom, shrimp mixture is done, transfer it directly into the pot with the turnips

  • Slowly add the rice flour into the pot with all the ingredients. It will look like a sloppy slurry. (Depending on how moist or stiff you like your cakes, you can add more or less rice flour.)
  • Separate into tins and using a large steamer, steam until done. You'll know it's done when the slurry turns into the consistency of the first photo. Garnish with chopped scallions and you're set!
The beauty of this dish is that it is hard to mess up. There is no such thing as over-steaming. You can add as much or as little mushroom/shrimp/sausage as you like. (Fellow NewNew member May Luk shares her recipe here.) Many people enjoy this savory treat at room temperature with a cup of tea. Others (like myself) like to slice it up and pan fry it so there's a nice crunchy texture. Either way, it's a traditional comfort food that always puts a smile on my face, as it is one of the things I looked forward to making with my mom around this time of year.

* You can find these ingredients in most Chinese grocery stores or markets. In NYC, I'd recommend going into Brooklyn's 8th Avenue area, or head to Kam Man on Canal Street in Manhattan. The dried shrimps are usually displayed in big containers, but are sold by weight. The dried mushrooms can also be found in packages. If you can't find them, you can substitute with Shitake mushrooms. Chinese sausages can usually be found at the grocery stores in packages like hot dogs. Or for a fresher variety, head to the meat shops where they are usually hanging 2 per string. And finally, for the rice flour, you want the glutinous kind, although the regular (non glutinous) version will work also. It will give you a denser, cake-like texture. If you end up using the non-glutinous, be sure to lighten up on the amount of rice flour. Otherwise you'll have a super hard block of turnip cake!

Lisa {fubabee}