Saturday, September 26, 2015

Happy Harvest Moon Festival with Pan-Fried Taro Cakes...

Tomorrow marks Chinese Mid-Autumn Harvest Moon Festival also known as Moon Cake Day. The moon is supposed to be the brightest and fullest of the year and the Chinese people believe the full moon is a symbol of peace, prosperity, and family reunion. In these past weeks, you may have seen the vast array of moon cakes displayed front and centre at Asian supermarkets. Moon cakes are eaten and exchanged as gifts because they symbolise the roundness of the moon. Families reunite to attend big lantern parades and exhibitions; they join to light their lanterns and enjoy the sight of the full moon together. Other top traditional foods that are popularly eaten but less widely known to celebrate this festival under the bright moonlight are crab, river snails, duck, pumpkin, taro, lotus root, watermelon, pears and osmanthus. Each one symbolises auspicious elements of good luck, health or fertility.

What a great occasion to learn how to make pan-fried taro cakes-- my mom's specialty and to cook it together in preparation for our Sunday reunion dinner. You may have seen it or tried it at dim sum although their cousin dish with turnips are more popularly offered. There are quite a few steps and techniques to master for a great tasting result. The key is to have everything ready so that there is no time lag in the process from prepping to steaming the cake.

Mom's Pan-Fried Taro Cakes

2/3 cup dried shrimps, small or large soaked in 1/2 cup water for 1 hour, reserve water
3 Chinese sausages, halved lengthwise and chopped
1-1/2 lb. taro
1 Tbsp. oil
1 package (400 g) rice flour
2 Tbsp. wheat flour
1 can (473 mL) chicken broth
4 cups water
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground white pepper
3/4 tsp. five-spice powder

When choosing taro, look for a firm and heavy tuber, similar to how you would choose a potato. Make sure the skin is dry-- moisture or wetness indicates deterioration. 

Chop the soaked shrimps into small pieces; place on a plate with chopped sausages. Cut the taro in half. Placing the taro flat side down, peel the taro with a knife and cut into 1/2 inch-thick slices, then into cubes. Repeat until you have about 5 cups chopped taro. TIP: Cut taro right before cooking or it taro will oxidize and discolour.

Heat oil in a how wok/skillet and sauté the ingredients in two minute intervals- the dried shrimps, then add the Chinese sausage and lastly the taro. Add the white pepper and five-spice powder. Toss until well incorporated. Set aside.

If you've got a helper, one person could make the rice flour batter while the other cooks the ingredients. Pour chicken broth, reserved dried shrimp water and cups of water and salt in a pot and bring to a boil; lower heat to keep at a rapid simmer. Place the rice flour and wheat flour in a large bowl. Using a large slotted spoon, mix flours and pour a large ladle of hot soup into the mixture and stir. Pour another ladle and mix rapidly again. Do this one ladle at a time and mix until all the water is incorporated. NOTE: The batter will turn from lumpy to thick paste to thin smooth. You want to cook the flour while dissolving completely so it is important the broth is super hot, otherwise the batter will separate with the solids on bottom and liquid on surface. This gives you the glutinous binding consistency and texture.

Prepare your skillet/wok for steaming by bringing enough water to a boil with a steamer rack placed in the centre. Add the sautéed ingredients into the batter. Mix well and pour into a lightly greased cooking vessel or pan for steaming.

Place the taro cake on the rack, cover with lid and steam on high heat for one hour. Check every 20 minute intervals to ensure there is enough water for steaming. The resulting cake should be appear shiny and solid to indicate doneness. There may be a little water on top from the condensation, which you can remove with a spoon.

Let cool for at least 30 minutes before cutting into slices. Serve warm or you can pan-fry the slices in a little oil until golden brown crispy on both sides. This is often done with leftovers refrigerated overnight. We like to think the cake is flavourful enough without any condiments but soy sauce and hot sauce are likely accompaniments.

Deliciously savoury and homemade comfort! 

Happy Harvest Moon Festival to all! Enjoy the beautiful full moon viewing tomorrow!

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