Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Vermont/Chinese turnip cake

I'm preparing to make this tomorrow (all up until the frying step) for a party on Friday, so I thought I would copy the recipe over from my old MySpace blog...

This is an adaptation of a variety of recipes for "Chinese turnip cake" which I found on the web. According to the Chinese food section of "," these savory cakes (which are steamed and then cut into slices and fried) are traditionally served during the Chinese New Year.

What makes it "Vermont?" First, it's made with good sturdy New England turnips, not the Chinese radish (related to daikon) which the real thing is made with and which is customarily mistranslated as "turnip." It's also vegetarian (vegan, actually, if you're keeping score at home). I've substituted salted carmelized onions for the dried shrimp and Cantonese sausage/Chinese bacon called for in other recipes.

Turnips (I used 3 softball-sized, about 2 lbs total)
Dried shiitake mushrooms (a good handful)
One large yellow or white onion
Two green onions
Bunch cilantro
2 c. rice flour
2 tsp salt plus extra for onions
1 tsp sugar
oil for frying

1. Soak the mushrooms in water just to cover for 30 minutes. Drain, reserving the liquid and straining it through cheesecloth if it's got lumps of dirt.

2. Peel turnips and grate coarsely. Put in saucepan with water just to cover, bring to a boil and simmer 30 minutes. Drain, reserving the liquid.

3. Chop yellow/white onion, and fry in a decent amount of oil in a wok or saucepan over medium-high heat until nicely browned and crispy. This will take about 10 minutes. Sprinkle generously with salt, then remove from pan, draining excess oil.

4. Once mushrooms are rehydrated, remove stems and chop caps finely. In a separate pile, chop green onions and cilantro together. Heat small amount of oil in wok or saucepan over medium-high heat and stir-fry the mushrooms for a few minutes. Add the green onions and cilantro, stir-fry an additional 20-30 seconds, then add a splash of sherry, stir together for a few seconds, and remove from heat.

5. In a large bowl, whisk together the rice flour, salt and sugar.

6. Add enough of the turnip broth to the mushroom-soaking liquid to make 2 cups. Add to the flour and stir to make a smooth batter. Add the cooked turnip shreds, the onions, and the mushroom mixture to the batter.

7. Turn into a cake pan (I used a 8 1/2" springform). You'll need for the cake pan to be able to fit inside a larger pot (I used a 12" calphalon dutch oven) so that it doesn't touch the sides and can be suspended above simmering water. I placed two metal jar lids in the bottom of the pan. If the pot's lid is flat, wrap it with a towel to absorb moisture so it doesn't condense and drip down on the top of the cake.

8. Simmer for one hour, approximately, until cake is firm. Check periodically to make sure that the water doesn't all evaporate.

9. Remove cake from pan if it's easy (i.e, with a springform), let cake cool, and refrigerate for at least a couple of hours.

10. When ready to serve, cut 1/2" to 1" thick slices off the cake and fry in oil over medium-high heat until nicely browned on both sides. Garnish slices if desired with chopped green onions, cilantro, or napa cabbage.

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