年糕 “nian gao”, which is commonly known as Chinese rice cake, is often eaten at Chinese New Year celebrations. Nian gao, the rice cake, rhymes with an extract from a New Year phrase 年年高升 “nian nian gao sheng”. Roughly translated it means to soar with achievements, year after year.
Rice cakes are made of glutinous rice flour, which gives it its chewy and al dente texture. In Hokkien (the Taiwanese language) we call this texture QQ, pronounced the way you’d say it in English.
There are two versions of Chinese rice cakes, the sweet version being more popular during festivities, and the humble savoury version. The recipe I’ll be sharing with you for this Chinese New Year (Year of the Horse) is a savoury one.
Chinese White Rice Cakes
This recipe’s highlight ingredient is, obviously, the Chinese rice cakes. They look like flat white oval slabs that require overnight or even more hours of soaking before cooking. If they’re not soaked, they won’t cook through all the way to the centre. The vacuum-packed version is usually better quality, but it doesn’t have as long a shelf life as the dry ones. The dry version keeps for about a year, which makes it perfect to keep as a cupboard staple. You can purchase this at any local Asian supermarket.
This is one of my favourite mushrooms. The shiitake mushroom is full of flavour and quite the healthy ‘shroom. This fungus has been used medicinally by Asians for more than 6,000 years. This exotic mushroom has a meaty texture and a smoky flavour that brings out the flavours in other accompanying ingredients.
Bok Choy is part of the cabbage family, and found in all sorts of dishes and boasts a myriad of health properties. The list seems endless, but the main benefits include Vitamin A, C, K, B6, as well as calcium, magnesium, potassium and iron.
Napa Cabbage (Chinese Cabbage)
This type of cabbage has a sweeter flavour than most cabbage, and it’s also used in quite a wide variety of dishes. It’s probably more popular than Bok Choy, as it’s used in fillings for dumplings, and eaten raw in salads. 100g of fresh leaves contain a mere 16 calories, and it’s high in calcium, iron, manganese, potassium, Vitamin C, zinc and more.
Chinese Rice Cakes with Bok Choy and Shiitake Mushrooms
Recipe serves 2
Prep Time: 10 minutes (excluding the soaking of rice cakes)
- Cooking Oil
- 1 chopped clove of garlic
- 4 sliced shiitake mushrooms
- 1 tbsp soya sauce
- 4 sliced Napa cabbage leaves (also known as Chinese cabbage)
- 250g of dried Chinese white rice cakes
- 3/4 C water
- 3 stalks of Sliced Bok Choy
- Salt to taste
- 1 Tbsp Sesame oil
- White Pepper
- 2 Tbsp Rice Wine *optional
- Soak the rice cakes as per instruction on packaging (often overnight soaking)
- Heat some cooking oil in a pan
- Pan fry the garlic for 30 seconds to extract the flavour
- Add the shiitake mushrooms and soya sauce, stir and cover for 1 minute
- Add the cabbage, stir and cover for 2 minutes
- Add the rice cakes and water, cover for 2 minutes
- Add the bok choy, then cover the pan until the rice cake is fully cooked through with a soft and chewy ‘QQ’ texture (you can also add the rice wine here)
- Season with salt, sesame oil and white pepper.
Happy Chinese New Year!
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