I had always been intrigued the idea of yum cha (which may be called dim sum in the US?). I mean who doesn’t like the idea of lots of food coming around on trolleys for you to pick and choose. It is a great shame that the dessert trolley has disappeared from the restaurants I go to. Seeing the food before you order certainly deals with that dessert envy I get in other restaurants where I order something and then end up eyeing off the dessert of someone else. I am sure food looks more delicious when you can’t have it.
However, when I thought of yum cha I had visions of chicken feet and pork trotters rolling around, not looking very appealing. This all changed when I lived in Sydney and I had friends who were ethnically Chinese. They introduced me to the joys of yum cha. They started me off gently, taking me to a quieter restaurant away from the full on version in China Town. But it wasn’t long before we were off for yum cha in these huge restaurants with a ballet of trolleys zooming around. Tea pots would be permanently being checked and topped up and if you weren’t there early then the queues would look daunting.
I particularly love the steamed dumplings filled with magical combinations. They have such light clean flavours that are so fresh. But my absolute favourite dim sum is turnip cake. It is not the most glamorous nor the most intriguing looking dim sum and I often had to ask for it as it was not a trolley favourite. But I just love the saltiness of the shimp and sausage that is mixed in with the starchiness of the daikon.
Here in Canberra, the yum cha restaurants are normally a fairly tame affair when compared to those in China Town in Sydney; except for Mothers’ Day. We took my mother to the yum cha at the Hellenic Club and it was just crazy and not just because why the hell is there a Chinese restaurant in a Greek club? They were having 3 seatings and it was just bedlam. There were people everywhere and the trolleys weren’t moving fast enough to keep everyone full and out the door quick enough.
I only saw one trolley with my beloved turnip cakes as it whizzed past our table at the speed of light never to be seen again. Leaving me with a hankering for turnip cake. I had previously looked at recipes but had found them too intimidating. But one thing this blog has got me doing is giving new techniques and recipes a try.
This recipe didn’t look too daunting, though I wasn’t really sure how to steam in a loaf pan. And the result was fantastic. The cakes weren’t as smooth looking as the restaurant version – mine are what you might call rustic. When I made the batter, the daikon didn’t really break down and remained fairly julienne shaped. But the taste was all there and let’s face it, after the first fork full who really cares what it looks like if it tastes great. I fried my cakes after steaming them as suggested.
To steam my turnip cake, I put the batter in a 7 inch loaf pan and then popped the pan in a wok with water and a lid on the wok. I was bit worried that having the loaf pan in direct contact with the water would create problems, but it didn’t.
I made half the recipe and used the following ingredients:
- 226g (1/2 lb) of plain rice flour (not the glutionous kind)
- 1.36kg of daikon (also known as turnip – but not the usual kind or long radish – you can see from the photo it is nothing like the smaller radishes you can get)
- 3 dry shiitake mushrooms
- 1.5 tbs of dried shrimp
- 226g (1/2 lb) of Chinese sausage
- 2 tsp of salt (split into 2 x 1 tsp)
- 1 tsp of white pepper (split into 2 x ½ tsp)
- ½ tbs of soy sauce
- 1 tbs of dry sherry
I am going to have enough turnip cake for the next couple of months. Which probably isn’t a bad thing as the recipe is quite time consuming and not something I would do regularly. It took about an hour and a half to cook (including shredding the daikon) after letting the dried shrimp and shiitake mushrooms hang around for 2 hours in a bowl of hot water. You could start the cooking process about half an hour before the shrimp and mushrooms are ready to leave their bath. I love eating turnip cake and I will make this again as a treat. Having some batches in the freezer for later works well. I froze the slices after the steaming process. I defrosted the first lot today in the fridge and then fried them up. They weren’t quite warm enough, but a quick zap in the microwave did the trick.
I just used soy sauce as my dipping sauce as I was feeling a bit exhausted by the cooking effort. Not sure I would have hoisin as suggested by the recipe. But if I had felt more motivated would probably have popped some fresh chilli in my soy sauce. The recipe mentions the shredding as the most tedious part but I have a great mandolin and found this didn’t take too long. My biggest problem was the bowl I was collecting the shredded daikon in was too small and I got shredded daikon everywhere. You do need a bit wok or pot for cooking this!
I only made one loaf pan of the turnip cake and have also frozen some uncooked batter so will let you know how well that defrosts and cooks up. The ingredients might be tricky to find, but it is worth it. The dried shrimp was a bit pricey, but the daikon is super cheap.
I am not sure I have the calories right for this recipe. On myfitnesspal it comes out at about 404 calories a serve based on three fairly thick slices. Three slices are probably what you should be eating but I could definitely eat more. Daikon itself is very low in calories and is a good source of vitamin C (or at least that is what Wikipedia tells me).