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July 10, 2020

Chinese dim sum – lo bak go | The Mixing Bowl

This recipe is an example of how to take a simple and relatively tasteless vegetable like the daikon radish, and turn it into a rich and flavorful main dish. Bewarned, it takes a lot of ingredients and a lot of work. This complicated recipe creates little savory cakes with depths of flavor and a chewy texture that make it worth the work. You also might have the time now to try it before we all jump back on the bandwagon whether we want to or not.

I found it in the Christmas issue of England’s Guardian newspaper where it was promoted as a vegan Christmas centerpiece. It is designed by the Israeli-English chef, Yotam Ottolenghi, who is famous for his innovative vegetarian recipes that include ingredients from around the world.

He has taken a traditional Chinese dim sum dish called lo bak go, which translates as “turnip cake,” and internationalized it by adding American maple syrup and pine nuts. A Chinese turnip is a daikon radish, however “radish cake” seems like an even odder name to English speakers. Ottolenghi seems to be a genius at creating new dishes although I admit I made a few adjustments to simplify this recipe.  

To speed up your cooking time, prepare the ginger and garlic for the soy-maple nuts and the cake at the same time. The cake has two mixtures that are prepared separately, then combined and baked in a water bath. You will need a large pan that holds the 8-inch square one. After the cake is baked, it is cut into pieces that are then fried. The cake can be made in advance, then cut, fried and served the next day.

Thai white rice flour, sometimes called rice powder, is made from finely milled raw white rice. It is not glutinous rice flour like Mochiko.  

Dim sum – Turnip cake

For the soy-maple nuts:

3-4 large dried shiitake mushrooms

3 tablespoons pine nuts, roughly chopped

1 tablespoon white and/or black sesame seeds

6 water chestnuts roughly chopped

1 small garlic clove, peeled and crushed

¼ tsp finely grated fresh ginger

2 tbsp soy sauce

5 tablespoons maple syrup


For the “turnip cake:”

1/3 cup Thai white rice flour,

1 tablespoon cornstarch

2 teaspoon sugar

1 small garlic clove, peeled and crushed

¼ teaspoon finely grated fresh ginger

2 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

1 teaspoon salt

2/3 cup cold water

1-2 large daikon, trimmed, peeled and roughly grated with the large holes (1 pound)

1/4 cup sunflower oil for frying

To serve:

2 tablespoons soy sauce

3 teaspoons maple syrup

1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

¼ cup cold water

1½ tablespoon finely chopped chives

Bring 2 ½ cups of water to boil in a small saucepan with the dried shiitake mushrooms. When water boils, remove from heat and soak the dried shiitake mushrooms for 20 minutes. Heat the oven to 465F. Grease an 8-inch square cake tin and cover with parchment paper. Drain the shiitakes, squeeze dry and finely chop. Roughly chop the water chestnuts, peel and crush the garlic and grate the ginger.

Toast pine nuts in a frying pan over medium-high heat. Toast, stirring, for three to four minutes, until golden and fragrant. Then, add the sesame seeds and cook for a minute more. Stir in the shiitakes, chestnuts, garlic, ginger, soy, maple syrup and an eighth of a teaspoon of salt. Cook and stir for four to five minutes, until the liquid bubbles, reduces and coats the nut and seed mixture. Spread out on an oven tray lined with waxed paper and leave to cool. Taste for flavor. Set aside 2 tablespoons as a topping.

In a large bowl, whisk the first seven turnip cake ingredients with 2/3 cup cold water until smooth, then set aside.

Peel and grate the daikon radish using the large hole on your grater. Put a large sauté pan on medium heat and add the daikon with 1 tablespoon of water. Cook, stirring now and then, for 15 minutes, until the liquid evaporates. Try and keep the radish from darkening. Let cool for 10 minutes.

Stir the daikon and most of the soy-nut mix into the bowl with the flour and water mixture. Mix well then spoon it into the prepared cake pan. Smooth the top, wrap tightly in foil.

Put that pan inside a slightly larger, high-sided baking tray. Pour in enough boiling water to come three-quarters of the way up the sides of the cake pan. Bake for 35 minutes. Lift the tin out of its water bath, remove the foil, and leave to cool. Then, refrigerate for 40 minutes, or overnight, until completely chilled.

Turn out the cake on to a board, cut into eight even rectangles and brush on both sides with a total of 3 tablespoons of oil. Put a medium frying pan over medium-high heat. When hot, add a tablespoon of oil and fry the slices in two or three batches, spacing them apart, for two to three minutes on each side, until crisp and golden brown. Keep warm while you repeat with the rest of the cake and oil.

Put all the sauce ingredients except the chives into a small saucepan. Add the cold water and warm on medium-high heat for about three minutes. Lay the turnip cake on a platter in overlapping slices, pour the sauce over the slices and sprinkle the chives and the reserved soy-maple nuts on top. Serve.


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