To test drive Wai Chu’s recipe for Chinese daikon radish cakes, I bought a lot of daikon radish. You never know how much you’ll need and I didn’t want to keep running back to the store. Wai’s luóbo gāo (lok bok gow in Cantonese, 蘿蔔糕) from The Dumpling cookbook worked out like a charm on the first run-through so I had several pounds of leftover radish, some of which were used for Vietnamese daikon and radish pickles (do chua) that I’ll be stuffing into banh mi sandwiches.
Watching Charles Phan compete against Cat Cora on Iron Chef America's battle almond got me thinking about Slanted Door’s vegetarian version of the daikon radish cakes. I recalled Phan proudly telling me in an interview how he infused a lot of umami into the cakes so that people wouldn’t miss the traditional dried shrimp and Chinese sausage. The Vietnamese cooks at Slanted Door who are in charge of the radish cakes said that it’s a perennial favorite; they should know as they’ve worked with Phan for many years. In tribute to Phan and his hardworking staff, I decided to take Wai's recipe and make it vegetarian.
With all of that in mind, I used dried shiitake mushroom, soaking them and using the soaking liquid to infuse the mushroom and daikon with savory depth. I also sautéed the mushroom with scallion to further punch up the flavor, and added chopped cilantro. Beyond that, I just treated the mixture like the daikon radish cake recipe from The Dumpling. Voila – vegetarian daikon radish cakes that were full of flavor. Fried up, the cakes were just delightfully flavorful. In side by side taste tests with my husband Rory and our house guests Robyn Eckhardt and Dave Hagerman (EatingAsia blog) it was hard to choose which we liked more – the traditional version or the vegetarian one. Here’s the recipe for you to try and decide for yourself:
(For information on rice flour and wheat starch see the post on Asian dumpling ingredients. The glossary in Asian Dumplings, pages 8 to 17, has more details.)
Vegetarian Daikon Rice Cakes RECIPE
Serves 6 to 8 as a snack or side dish
9 ounces (2 cups) regular rice flour, preferably a Thai brand, such as Erawan
1 ounce (scant ¼ cup) wheat starch
1 teaspoon and 1/4 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
1 pound daikon radish
4 large dried shiitake mushrooms, rehydrated in 1 1/4 cups of water, stemmed and finely chopped
1 tablespoon canola or peanut oil
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon light (regular) soy sauce
2 scallions, finely chopped
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro (stems and leaves)
Canola oil, for panfrying
Light (regular) soy sauce
Chile Garlic Sauce, homemade or storebought
1. Combine the rice flour, wheat starch, 1 teaspoon salt, and pepper in a large bowl and set aside near the stove.
2. Peel the daikon and grate it through the small holes of your grater onto a nonterry kitchen towel. Or, use the smallest shredder blade on your food processor and transfer to a nonterry kitchen towel. Bring together the ends of the cloth and twist to squeeze out as much of the liquid as possible into the measuring cup. Transfer the daikon to a medium pot.
3. Remove the mushrooms from their soaking liquid. Measure out 3/4 cup of the liquid and add it to the daikon juices. Add enough water to the daikon juice and mushroom soaking liquid to make 3½ cups. Add this liquid to the daikon in the pot. Set aside.
4. Trim away the mushroom stems and then finely chopped the caps. You should have about 3/4 cup. Set aside.
5. Heat up the 1 tablespoon of oil in a medium skillet over medium high heat. Add the mushroom, stirring, for about 45 seconds until aromatic. Sprinkle in the 1/4 teaspoons salt, sugar, and soy sauce. Cook, for about 2 minutes, until there is little liquid remaining and the mushroom is sizzling a bit. Add the scallion and cilantro, cook for about 30 seconds more to develop the flavor, then remove from the heat. Set aside.
6. Bring the pot of daikon to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to simmer. Cover and cook for 5 minutes. Add the mushroom mixture and let simmer for another 5 minutes. Remove from the heat. Whisk in rice flour in 4 batches, doing your best to incorporate the flour to avoid large lumps. In the final addition of flour, switch to a wooden spoon as the batter will stiff and thick (you can stick a spoon into the pot).
8. Steam over boiling water for 40 to 60 minutes, replenishing the water as necessary. The radish cake is done with a toothpick inserted comes out relatively clean. Cool on a rack completely before using.
9. To unmold the daikon radish cake, run a knife around the edge and then cut a small piece. Wedge a dinner knife of spatula into the cake and then lift it up from the pan. The first piece and cut is the hardest. Beyond that, it’s easy and the cake should lift off the pan without a hitch.
10. You can eat the radish cake as is, but I love to panfry pieces of it. Cut the cake anyway you want, into thick slices like 1/2-inch thick dominos, 1-inch cubes, whatever. (You can refrigerate the cake, up to a week, slicing and frying right before eating.)
11. To panfry, coat a large skillet with oil and heat over medium-high heat. Add the radish cake slices, with one their large flat sides down. Let them fry, undisturbed, for about 4 minutes, until crisp and golden brown. They’ll stick at first but will eventually release. Turn them over to brown the other sides. Serve hot with a soy sauce and chile garlic sauce.