Chinese Shiitake and Tofu Turnip Cake

As a salad-maker of Chinese descent, people often ask me what type of food I ate growing up. The answer to this question is decidedly not salads. Nor was it anything overly plant-based. With a mother who lived to feed her family, my diet as a kid was pretty adventurous consisting of most meats you could think of. Nightly meals were a bowl of white rice with several dishes on offer. We grew up eating well, often and spoilt for flavour.

As a teenager, however, I decided to rebel, but not in the usual pubescent way. My version of resistance was of the culinary kind. Armed with a random few Australian Women’s Weekly cookbooks that I had picked up from the local newsagency, I started to experiment with food from other cultures. As a fifteen year old, I remember making Lebanese style Mujadarra, trying lentils for the first time. It was love at first mouthful. From there, my love for multi-cultural cuisine really took off and, even now, it is not that often I go back to my Chinese roots in cooking.

When I’m away from home, and more specifically, my mother’s cooking, the pull to cook traditional Cantonese cuisine is definitely much stronger. While we lived in London, my mum taught me to cook one of my favourite yum cha (dim sum) dishes Turnip Cake or Law Bock Gow as we call it in Cantonese. “Turnip” Cake, or Turnip Paste as it is often called, is actually made with daikon, a type of radish. Making turnip cake is actually a very unique process – the shredded daikon is combined with flavourings and rice flour, which, when steamed, gel together to become a solid, silky ‘cake’. And though it takes a while, it is not too difficult to make. Traditional recipes use chinese sausage or dried scallops but I have improvised with five spice tofu and the addition of shallots. In the batch I made for these pictures, I also used cooked mung beans which added a lovely sweetness. It takes about 2 hours to steam, and is best eaten pan-fried, topped with a s$#%load of coriander leaves, shallots and sriracha!


Chinese Shiitake and Tofu Turnip Cake

Use a 20cm/8inch square pan, lined with baking paper, or a 22cm/9inch greased springform pan.

Makes 20 pieces

Vegan | Gluten Free

  • 50g/1.8oz dried shiitake, soaked in boiling water for 30 minutes
  • 2-3 tsp oil (any variety)
  • ½ tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1kg/2.2lb daikon radish, peeled
  • ¼ tsp white pepper
  • ¼ tsp five spice powder
  • 200g/7oz five spice tofu, finely diced
  • ¼ cup (tightly packed) Chinese shallots/scallions, finely sliced
  • 2 tsp soy sauce or tamari (for gluten free)
  • 225g/8oz rice flour

To serve

  • ¼ cup (tightly packed) Chinese shallots/scallions, finely sliced
  • ½ cup coriander/cilantro, leaves picked
  • 1 tbsp sesame seeds, toasted
  • Sriracha, to taste

Shred the daikon with a box grater or grater attachment on a food processor and set aside. Prepare the mushrooms by removing the stems and then finely dicing.

In a large pot or dutch oven, add the oil and then the mushrooms. Season the mushrooms with a little sugar, sea salt, white pepper and five spice powder. Cook for a 3-4 minutes, then add the finely diced tofu and the soy sauce/tamari. Cook for another 2 minutes, stir in the Chinese shallots/scallions and then transfer everything to a bowl.

In the same pot, add the daikon with a tiny drizzle of oil and cook until translucent. This should take about 20 minutes to soften. When ready, turn the heat down to low and, preferably using a pair of chopsticks, stir in the mushroom tofu mixture. Now, add the rice flour a little at a time, stirring after each addition to combine well. If the mixture is too thick to stir, just add 1-2 tbsp water to loosen it up enough to combine but the final mixture should be very sticky and tight.

Spoon the mixture into your prepared pan. Set up a wok or large saucepan to steam. I use a wok with a little steamer tray but you could use any metal object such as strong cookie cutters or even several balls of foil to elevate or balance your dish. Fill the wok/pan with plenty of water, and steam for 1.5 to 2 hours, covered, refilling with water as you go to make sure it doesn’t dry out.

The turnip cake is cooked once it is firm to the touch. You can cut into slices and eat immediately, but I prefer to allow it to cool for 2-3 hours, then pan-fry squares. The cake will keep in the fridge for 4-5 days - we like to just pan-fry a few squares at a time. To serve, top with chopped shallots/scallions, coriander/cilantro leaves, sriracha sauce and toasted sesame seeds.

ASIANHetty McKinnon