Known as the Spring Festival, Chinese New Year is a grand celebration centered around family and food. While marginally celebrated in America, this holiday is recognized in most countries across Asia and anywhere else in the world there is a Chinese diaspora. It is customary to celebrate the first day of the Chinese New Year with a vegetarian diet.
It’s that time of year again! On February 19th we will be celebrating Chinese New Year and to prepare you for The Year of the Goat we are sharing a variation on one of my favorite traditional dishes. Last year for Chinese New Year we shared our Bok Choy + Shiitake with Gochujang Vinaigrette for the Year Of the Horse. This year we have a Wild Mushroom & Daikon Radish Cake for Chinese New Year!
The Chinese character Yang can also mean Sheep or Ram. Since they are virtually interchangeable, The Year Of the Goat may also be referred to as The Year Of the Sheep or The Year Of the Ram.
Whenever I visit Taiwan, my Ah-Ma (grandmother) spoils me by making radish cakes. She knows it’s my favorite comfort food and I always order it whenever we go out to eat.
In Taiwan these cakes are typically prepared and enjoyed for breakfast along with fresh soya milk and mantou. These bite-sized, petite cubes are slightly golden on the exterior and bursting with daikon radish flavor and often smothered in a Taiwanese sweet chili sauce (usually vegan-friendly). They are virtually ubiquitous at breakfast vendors across Taiwan. Radish cakes are not exclusive to Taiwan, since other variations are common in Hong Kong, China and other parts of Asia. While the Taiwanese version is lightly golden, soft and almost fluffy inside, the Cantonese and Chinese versions are often more fried, slightly more firm and served in larger pieces.
The recipe I am sharing today is more inspired by the Cantonese radish cakes, which often contain dried mushrooms, dried shrimp or other savory ingredients. To really enhance the flavor in these radish cakes I used Frieda’s Inc Dried Oriental Blend and Stir-Fry Blend mushrooms. Combined these packages contain oyster, shiitake, straw and lobster mushrooms. Dried shiitake mushrooms will also work if you are unable to find a dried mushroom blend.
When you rehydrate your mushrooms, be sure to retain the soaking water. This water will be used to bring a more robust and earthy flavor to your radish cakes.
Place the dried mushrooms in a Pyrex measuring cup or a bowl and cover with 2 cups of hot water. Let soak for 30 minutes while preparing other ingredients. Using a sieve, drain the mushrooms over a bowl, retaining the soaking liquids. Press the mushrooms in the sieve to remove any excess liquid. Measure and keep 1 cup of the soaking liquid. Rinse the mushrooms in cold water until they are free of grit and break off any tough stems. Pat the mushrooms dry and finely mince. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.
Over a large bowl, using a microplane or a fine grater, grate the peeled radish. Do not drain, you will want to retain the excess liquids with your grated radish. Combine the grated radish and its juice in a medium sized pot and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer for 20-25 minutes until radish is tender. Stir and add a bit of water to avoid scorching. It is ok for the mixture to appear wet. Remove from heat and let cool.
To prepare mushroom mixture, heat the oil over medium-high heat in a large, nonstick skillet. Add the shallots, stirring often until tender, about 5 minutes. Turn the heat to high and add the garlic and drained mushrooms. Cook, stirring until most of the liquid evaporates. Transfer the mushroom mixture to a baking sheet, spreading in an even layer. Set aside to cool.
In a large bowl, combine rice flour, tapioca starch, salt, white pepper and 1 cup of the mushroom soaking liquid and mix well. Slowly add the flour mixture to the cooled grated daikon before incorporating the cooked mushrooms in the batter. Stir and mix until well combined. The texture will be thick, sticky and only small lumps will remain. Season to taste with salt and ground white pepper. Transfer the batter to a greased glass or ceramic baking dish that will fit in your steamer. If using a smaller dish, you will end up with several batches.
After setting up your steamer, bring the water to a boil over high heat. Steam the cake mixture for 45 minutes to an hour until firm and a toothpick comes out clean when inserted. Allow them to cool before cutting. Refrigerate until firm to cut, 2 hours or overnight.
While the radish cake cools you can prepare your dipping sauce by mixing all the sauce ingredients together in a jar or bowl. The dipping sauce can keep for 1-2 days in the refrigerator, covered.
Once the radish cake has cooled and set, transfer it to a cutting board. Slice the cake into square or rectangular pieces. For reference, mine were about 2" x 3" and between ½"-1" thick. Dust lightly with rice flour. Heat vegetable oil in a large, nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. The oil should be hot before adding the radish cake. Working in batches to avoid crowding, pan fry until golden brown on both sides. After cooking, drain briefly on paper towels to remove excess oil. Repeat with remaining cakes. Serve with a bowl of dipping sauce.
Advance Preparation: Steamed cakes will keep for 2-3 days in the refrigerator and also freeze well. You can pan fry them after storing. The dipping sauce can keep for 1-2 days in the refrigerator, covered.
Steaming Tip: I use a bamboo steaming basket on a wok but a metal steamer or a steaming insert that fits in your pot will also work great if you don’t have a bamboo steamer and a wok.
More Taiwanese-Inspired Recipes
Ah-Ma’s Fried Rice
Bok Choy and Shiitake with Gochujang Vinaigrette
Gochujang Tofu & Pickled Cucumber Bowl
Salt & Pepper Tofu Gua Bao
Spicy Mapo Tofu
Steamed Purple Potato & Chia Mantou
Sweet Potato Dumplings in Ginger and Jasmine Syrup (Tang Yuan)
Taiwanese-Style Pickled Cucumbers
Vegan Rou Zhao