Happy Chinese New Year! To celebrate, I made taro root cake. It’s not a sweet, baked kind of cake. It’s a savory, steamed, smooth cake – a dim sum type of dish. Served in Chinese restaurants, it usually has some sort of meat. A packaged veggie version can be found at the Asian supermarket, but it’s quite plain.
This homemade version is packed with flavorful bits of veggie meat, mushrooms and vegetables amidst the creamy taro and rice flour. If you never tried taro root cake before, the texture is like the wide rice noodles used in chow fun, but softer and shaped in a thick block.
It’s not the quickest thing to make but it’s also not very hard. To prevent itchy hands when handling raw taro root, be sure to wear latex gloves. It contains calcium oxalate, a skin irritant that’s neutralized by cooking.
Along the same line, Mom always said to make sure the taro root comes to a full boil before lifting the pot lid, otherwise when you eat the taro, your throat will be itchy. I have no idea if that’s true or just an old wives’ tale. I have no intention of finding out.
Taro Root Cake
Makes 4 mini loafs
1 pound taro root, peeled and cut into 3/4″ dice
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
4 Chinese dried mushrooms, soaked and diced
1/4 – 1/2 cup veggie meat, such as vegetarian ham or sausage
2 pieces preserved salted turnip, diced
2 shallots, thinly sliced
1 green onion, chopped
1 cup brown rice flour or regular rice flour (not glutinous rice flour)
1 cup water
3/4 cup boiling water
1/4 cup potato starch
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon vegetable oil
1 teaspoon sugar
1 green onion, chopped
2 cilantro sprigs, chopped
Place the taro root in a pot and just cover with cold water. Bring to a boil, covered, over high heat. Add the 1 teaspoon salt and reduce to low heat. Cook covered until tender about 10 – 15 minutes. Drain and mashed half of the taro, leaving the other half as pieces. Set aside.
Heat a wok to hot, add the oil and swirl to coat the wok. Add the shallots and cook until translucent. Add the veggie meat, salted turnips, and the mushrooms. Stir fry for a couple of minutes, then add in the green onions. Stir to mix in and set aside.
Stir together the rice flour and 1 cup of water in a large bowl until well mixed. Add the 3/4 cup boiling water, potato starch and salt, stir until blended and then stir in the taro and mushroom mixture, soy sauce, oil and sugar. Mix well.
Ladle into four greased mini loaf pans or one 8″ round pie pan. (The steamer must be large enough so that the pan doesn’t touch the sides. I had to use multiple pans as my steamer pot was not very large.)
Steam over medium-high heat for 30 minutes or so until the cake is set and firm. While steaming check the water level, if necessary, replenish with boiling water.
Let cool before unmolding and slicing into pieces. The taro cake pieces can be served steamed or pan-fried in a bit of oil until golden brown. Top with any of the garnishes.