Chinese New Year recipes: traditional radish cake cooks up good luck
The year-round favourite symbolises health, wealth and happiness for the 12 months ahead
Loh bok goh – often called radish cake or pudding, turnip cake or pudding, or carrot cake (mostly in Singapore and Malaysia) – is available year-round, but is especially popular at the start of the lunar new year because it’s supposed to bring good fortune in the coming months. I love it freshly made and hot out of the steamer, sliced then pan-fried (which is how dim sum restaurants serve the dish) and stir-fried with XO sauce.
Loh bok goh
My mother’s technique of making this is to grate the radish, boil it in salted water, drain it (but reserve the liquid), then add rice flour and some of the liquid back to the radish, along with the stir-fried “mix-ins” (Chinese sausage, dried shrimp and dried mushrooms) before steaming it. But when I was making this with food stylist Nellie Ming Lee, she taught me her family’s method, which is easier, so that’s the technique I use now.
1 large loh bok (white radish), about 1.3kg
2-4 dried shiitake mushrooms, about 30 grams
25 grams Chinese dried shrimp
2 laap cheong (Chinese sausage)
250 grams rice flour (do not use glutinous rice flour)
20 grams fine sea salt
½ tsp finely ground white pepper
Toasted sesame seeds
Cooking oil, as needed
Put the mushrooms and shrimp in a bowl, add about 300ml of hot water, then leave at room temperature until fully hydrated. (This can take several hours, depending on the mushrooms; if you prefer, soak them in the fridge overnight.)
Drain the hydrated mushrooms and shrimp, but reserve the soaking liquid. Squeeze the mushrooms to remove excess liquid, then cut off and discard the stems. Cut the caps into 5mm cubes. If the shrimp are large, cut them into smaller pieces. Quarter the laap cheong lengthwise, then slice into 5mm-thick pieces. Heat a wok over a medium-high flame and oil it very lightly. When the wok is hot, add the laap cheong and stir-fry until the pieces start to brown. Add the shrimp and mushrooms, stir-fry for about a minute, then set aside to cool.
Strain the mushroom and shrimp soaking liquid into a measuring cup. Add 250ml of the soaking liquid to the bowl containing the radish and salt, and mix it in. Mix in the rice flour (adjusting the amount as needed, if you had more or less grated radish) and the white pepper. Add most of the laap cheong, shrimp and mushrooms, reserving some for scattering on the top of the loh bok goh. Spray a 23cm round pan that’s at least 5cm deep with pan-coating. Stir the ingredients thoroughly before scraping into the prepared pan. Scatter with some sesame seeds and the reserved laap cheong, shrimp and mushrooms. Place over a rack in a steamer, cover with the lid and steam on high for about an hour and 15 minutes. Check the water periodically to make sure the steamer doesn’t run dry.
If pan-frying or stir-frying, leave the loh bok goh to cool to room temperature, then refrigerate until firm. For pan-frying, cut into thick slices and place them in an oiled skillet. Pan-fry until crusty on all the cut sides.
Stir-fried loh bok goh with XO sauce
Chiu Chow sweet preserved radish is called tian choi poh (or cai poh, or choi poh). It is sold whole or chopped. It looks just like regular choi poh, so if in doubt, taste – if it’s very salty, soak the vegetable in several changes of cool water, to rinse off the excess salt.
If you like, for this dish you can make the loh bok goh plain, without adding mushrooms, shrimp and Chinese sausage.
50 grams Chiu Chow sweet preserved radish, chopped
100 grams XO sauce, home-made or bought
1-2 red bird’s-eye chillies
40ml fish sauce
¼ tsp finely ground white pepper
200 grams bean sprouts
2-3 spring onions
Cooking oil, as needed
Cut the loh bok goh into 2cm pieces. Slice the bird’s-eye chilli into thin rounds, squeezing out and discarding as many of the seeds as possible. Cut the spring onions into 3mm-wide rounds.
Heat about 30ml of cooking oil in a well-seasoned wok placed over a high flame. When the wok is hot, add the loh boh goh. Shake the wok so that as much as possible of the loh bok goh comes into contact with the surface of the pan, so that it browns well. Use a wide cooking spatula to lift up and turn the loh bok goh, so that the surfaces of the pieces brown.
Add the Chiu Chow preserved radish, the XO sauce, bird’s-eye chillies, fish sauce and white pepper. Continue to lift and turn the ingredients. If the ingredients stick, drizzle oil into the sides of the wok.
When the loh bok goh is sizzling hot and the ingredients are well-combined, stir in the bean sprouts and mix again. Scatter with the spring onion, stir well, then transfer the ingredients to a serving plate.