Asian Fried Turnip Paste might just be the most unappealing recipe title ever. Turnips? (Those pale root vegetables that have never won me over?) And paste, more of a minty glue substitute than a food. Honestly, it sounded horrible until I looked at the photo accompanying the recipe—a beautiful plate of perfectly fried turnip cakes garnished with fresh cilantro leaves and finished with soy sauce. I would have ordered it in a heartbeat at dim sum, never considering to ever make it at home.
The scent of steaming turnips combined with copious amounts of grated ginger and dried mushrooms makes for a pungent and unfamiliar kitchen aroma, and combined with water chestnuts, chiles, and scallions, my kitchen might as well have belonged to someone else. But at the same time it was very exciting.
The paste went into the steamer (or my rice cooker as the case may be) and I waited to see if this mix of unfamiliar ingredients would gel. After the paste steamed and cooled in the refrigerator, I sliced it into wedges and fried it in sesame oil. The slices browned beautifully, crisp on the outside and soft within, with wonderful pieces of chiles, mushrooms, and water chestnuts inside. It's the kind of stick-to-your-ribs dish that vegetarians dream of—hearty and filled with the best kind of meatless umami.
Win The Vegetarian Option
As always with our Cook the Book feature, we have five (5) copies of The Vegetarian Option to give away this week.
- 1 1/4 pounds turnips, peeled
- 1 cup water
- 1 heaping teaspoon Maldon sea salt
- 1/3 cup dried porcini mushrooms
- 6 scallions, trimmed
- 1 large green chili, seeded (for less heat) if preferred
- 1 large red chili, seeded (for less heat) if preferred
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled
- 2/3 cup canned water chestnuts, drained
- 1 rounded tablespoon peeled and finely grated fresh ginger
- 2 teaspoons Sesame Paste (recipe follows)
- 1 tablespoon Ginger Syrup (recipe follows)
- 1/4 cup Chinese rice wine
- 3/4 cup rice flour (an Asian brand, if possible, but not the glutinous variety)
- 2 to 3 tablespoons sesame oil
- To serve
- soy sauce
- cilantro sprigs
- 2/3 cup sesame seeds
- 3 tablespoons finely grated ginger (juice saved!)
- 1 large garlic clove, peeled
- 2 tablespoons light soy sauce
- 4 tablespoons mirin (Japanese cooking wine)
- 1 to 2 tablespoons chili oil
- 1/3 to 1/2 cup sesame oil, plus a little extra to serve
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1/2 cup warm water
- 1 to 2 tablespoons sugar, to taste
- 2 cups (scant) granulated sugar
- 1 1/2 cups water
- Finely pared zest of 1 lemon (use a potato peeler)
- 1 1/2 cups peeled and coarsely grated fresh ginger
First grate the turnips (a food processor is the easiest way). Place in a pan, add the water and salt, and stir together. Bring to a simmer, cover, and cook for about 30 minutes, or until the grated turnip is very tender indeed—almost a mushy consistency.
Tip the turnips and liquid into a strainer set over a bowl and press down on the turnip using the back of a ladle to extract as much flavor and juice as possible. Drop the porcini mushrooms into this liquid and leave to soak for about 15 minutes, until soft. In the meantime, mince the scallions, chilis, garlic, and water chestnuts (pulse in a small food processor for convenience).
Once soft, drain the porcini, reserving the liquid, and mince. Tip into a bowl and add the minced ingredients, ginger, sesame paste, and ginger syrup. Mix together well.
Pour the rice wine into a measuring pitcher and add 1 cup of the reserved turnip/porcini liquid. Whisk the rice flour into this and then stir in the vegetable mixture.
Oil a small rectangular container (a small loaf pan or Tupperware box) with the sesame oil. Spoon in the turnip mixture, spreading it evenly. Cover with foil and put it into a steamer. Steam it over simmering water for 1 1/2 hours, or until set and firm to the touch.
Take the container out of the steamer and remove the foil. After about 15 minutes, press a sheet of plastic wrap over the surface of the turnip paste. Allow to cool completely and then refrigerate for at least 3 to 4 hours or, even better, overnight.
Remove from the refrigerator and run a little hot water onto the sides of the mold to loosen the cake. Turn the turnip cake out onto a cutting board and cut into slices, about 1/2 inch thick, using a sharp knife dipped into a pitcher of boiled water.
Run a little sesame oil into a nonstick skillet and place over medium heat. Lay the slices in the skillet and fry on both sides until a rich, dark brown color; I like a few burned spots, too. Place on a heated serving platter, drizzle over some soy sauce, and add the cilantro sprigs.
- makes about 1 3/4 cups -
Lightly toast the sesame seeds in a dry pan over medium heat until fragrant, and cool slightly. Tip into a small food processor and add all of the other ingredients. Grind and pulse until you have a paste that is fully emulsified and super-smooth.
Pour into two small, lidded containers, smooth the surface, and trickle over a little extra sesame oil, to preserve the surface. Put in the refrigerator, where the paste will keep happily for anything up to 1 month. Or you could freeze one of them, if you like.
Dissolve the sugar in a the water in a pan over medium heat, then bring to a boil and cook for 2 minutes. Immediately add the lemon zest and ginger and stir together. Bring back to a boil for a few seconds then pour into a bowl. Cover and leave to infuse overnight.
The following day, add 2 tablespoons of water and warm through until liquid and pourable. Strain through a sieve and press on the solids with the back of a ladle to extract all the ginger and lemon flavors. Pour the syrup into a screw-top jar and store in the refrigerator until needed, where it will keep for several weeks.