Vernal Equinox: First lightning

October 7th, 2011
by Jo Law

I have always associated the daikon radish with the beginning of spring.This is probably because Lo Bah Goh 蘿蔔糕 or radish cake is a quintessential festive food for Chinese New year in the cold months of early spring. My paternal grandmother used to set aside a whole day before new year to make radish cake and its sweet companion, water chestnut cake 馬蹄糕 for the festive season. My parents still receive gifts of home-made radish cakes from my aunts. But, of course, both of these ‘yearly puddings’ 年糕 are now everyday dim sum items on yum cha menus all year round.

Daikon 大根 or ‘big root’ is the Japanese name of this sturdy, white, subtly flavoured root vegetable. Traditionally, it was grown as a winter vegetable in Japan but it is now a year-round crop. Harvesting our own home-grown daikons grown conjures up images of bushy green daikon tops grown in fields on the outskirts of Tokyo.  There, rows of plump harvested roots were hung up to dry (in preparation for pickling).

This root crop is satisfyingly easy to grow and relatively free of pests and diseases. Like other root crop such as carrots, radish will fork if the soil is overly rich. I could probably have done better to have harvested our crop a little earlier as one can easily see where the growing root hit the layer of clay soil.

Daikon makes a delightfully crunchy accompaniment to sashimi when shredded and chilled, a flavourful ingredient to salad dressing when grated, a cripsy component to pickles, and a flavour-absorbing addition to soups and stews. Following the detailed instructions from my 8th Aunt, my daikon was shredded by hand, cooked and drained, mixed with a thickened rice flour and wheat starch slurry, together with an assortment of stir-fried reconstituted dried mushrooms, shrimps, and dried scallops, and steamed for 40 minutes. The finished radish cake is topped with finely chopped spring onions, coriander, and toasted sesame seeds.

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