Chinese New Year - The Foodie Perspective

>> Saturday, February 5, 2011

Lo Bak Go - Chinese Turnip / Daikon Cake

Chinese New Year is upon us again and being the foodie that I am, how could I NOT love this holiday?! My parents are very traditional Chinese. We pretty much celebrate the New Years for the full 15 days! It’s fantastic, everyday there are different dishes cooked and served, excess food spilling out of the fridge and all over our countertops and not to mention there are enough desserts, fresh fruits and other treats to feed a small nation. Seriously, if you know of somebody that’s in need of a good fattening up, just send them my way and I’m sure my parents are more than happy to feed them (or plump them up). Luckily even my parents are on the road of change (I’ve been trying to get my parents in to the health kick as well), everything is made from scratch and therefore all ingredients can be controlled and made healthily, so we can indulge even more!

Most people are surprised when I tell them that Chinese New Years lasts for 15 days and they wonder why that is. Well it’s all related to the cycle of the moon, some of you may be familiar with how the Chinese calendar is very much in sync with the moon cycles, hence the lunar calendar and “Lunar Chinese New Year”. It starts on the first of the lunar calendar and goes until the full moon on the 15th (which equates to February 18th this year). Everyday there will be new dishes that are cooked and served to celebrate the significance of that day. For example, on the second day of the lunar New Year, we celebrate the actual beginning (not on the first day like you’d think, yes confusing) or “hoi lien”, the seventh day is the day of the people “yun yat” and so on and so forth. There are meanings to each day and you can find that here.

Steamed Lo Bak Go
Some of my most favorite new years dishes include abalone, lobster, oysters and last but not least chicken. A lot of these things can be ordered year round now, so it almost takes away from the specialty of having it during this time, but since each dish signifies a different auspicious meaning and they’re tweaked a bit more for the special holiday, it always ends up being different and refreshing. For example, the oysters are often served with fungi to give it the Chinese meaning of “great status and wealth” or “ho see fat choi”.

Since it’s my first year after being married and moving away from my parents, I figured that I would cook a little something that reminded me of Chinese New Year and share it with everybody here! Hopefully this recipe will exemplify the joys of the new year to all and wish everyone a “sun lien fai lok” aka Happy New Year!

Turnip (aka Daikon) Cakes or Lo Bak Go in Chinese are often served during Chinese New Years. The Chinese enjoy eating cakes during this time because it represents prosperity and sweetness. Now a days, you can also get lo bak go at your nearby Chinese restaurant during dim sum. It literally is cake made out of turnip (daikon) with meat, mushroom, chives and grilled to obtain a perfect crispy outer layer, yet remaining chewy and soft on the interior of the cake.

Ingredients:1 large Chinese turnip or Daikon (roughly needs to be big enough to produce 4 1/2 cups after grating)
4-5 medium sized dried shitake mushrooms
1/2 cup dried shrimp (you can find these at any supermarket in the Asian aisle)
1 bunch of green onions aka chives
2 cups rice flour
2 cups water
2 links of Chinese pork sausage (also at your friendly neighborhood market)
1 tsp salt

Pan frying
Preparation:Presoak the mushrooms and the dried shrimp in 1/2 cup of water each and leave for roughly 30 minutes or until the other ingredients are ready.

Start a pot of water boiling on the stove. Meanwhile, grate the Chinese turnip/Daikon to obtain about 4 1/2 cups. Place the turnip/daikon in the pot and turn the heat down to medium low and let it simmer for 30 minutes or until tender. Drain off the excess water, but keep it for later use.

Remove the mushrooms and shrimp from their respective soaking liquids but save the water. Chop the mushrooms, shrimp, pork sausage and chives and add them to the drained off turnip/daikon.

Mix in the rice flour, salt, the reserved mushroom and shrimp soaking water. Stir the mixture slowly.

Slowly add in 1 cup of the reserved turnip/daikon water, until the consistency turns pasty.

Start a water bath, with a steamer attachment on top. Oil a 8” pan and pour the mixture in to the pan. Allow the pan to steam in the steamer for about an hour, until the cake is set.

Allow cake to cool, at this point you can wrap it in saran wrap and aluminum foil and put it in to the fridge for a week or the freezer for up to a month.

Once you’re ready to enjoy the cake, remove it from the fridge or freezer. Allow it to come to room temperature.

Place a skillet with oil on medium heat, cut the cake to 1/8” pieces and slowly pan fry them and serve with the yummy dipping sauce (recipe below).

Spicy Dipping Sauce
1 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp Chinese vinegar
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp hot sauce (I like to use the garlic hot sauce from Rooster brand)

Preparation:Mix all the ingredients together and serve with pan fried lo bak go! Yum!


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