Recipe: chinese stir-fried rice cakes
Congratulations to Jenny Williams! She won the raffle prize I offered for the Menu for Hope fundraiser. Jenny, I’ll be emailing you shortly to find out which photo you’d like. The entire effort raised over $62,000. A big thanks to all who participated.
This week, I baked a birthday cake for someone’s surprise 50th birthday party. The original plan was to bring a bunch of macarons, but the day before the party, I thought I should ask her husband if he had arranged for a cake. I normally wouldn’t volunteer during such a busy time, but I have a soft spot for guys who are so sweet on their partners. He was cooking dinner for 30 people, so I said I could handle the cake. I doubled this chocolate espresso fudge cake with beautiful results. Probably the most nerve-wracking part was driving it down Boulder Canyon, but the structural integrity of this cake is rock solid. Love that Marcel Desaulniers.
But now my thoughts must turn to Chinese New Year and the menu I need to prepare. If you’re thinking, “Hey, isn’t Chinese New Year early this year?” you are correct. It’s January 26th, which is earlier than usual for me anyway. This also means we have to perform a thorough cleaning of the house which isn’t a high priority for either of us and certainly never a priority for Kaweah, the Agent of Entropy. The coming lunar new year reminded me that I still have a backlog of recipes to share – some of them are even Chinese!
I love nian gao, which is a rice cake that is chewy, gooey, soft – like a giant slice of rice noodle. I wish I could show you a label, but this batch came in a clear plastic bag with NO writing on it other than a price and a twist tie. I had picked it up from the frozen section of the H-Mart in Denver, an Asian grocer. I know what some of you are thinking: cake = sweet. Well, I suppose you could put this in a sweet dish (sweet soup?) since it’s a neutral flavor, but I’ve always had it served in savory stir-fries or savory soups.
This is a simple stir-fry that my mom makes at home. If you have rice cakes handy – should be easy enough if you live near a decent Asian grocery store – the dish cooks up in ten minutes. The prep takes a little longer, depending on your proficiency with a sharp knife. If the rice cakes are frozen, let them thaw out a bit. Frozen or refrigerated, you’ll want to soak them in cold water for 30 minutes.
rice cakes soaking, sliced napa cabbage, strips of pork, green onions and ginger
As with many stir-fries, you can mix and match ingredients as you like. This combination of napa cabbage, pork, and the rice cakes is one of my favorites. Chinese people like to eat rice cakes in the new year because nian gao sounds like higher year or a better year. Everything has a meaning!
sauté the napa cabbage
The cabbage is sautéed in vegetable oil with some green onions and ginger. The ginger really gives a nice fragrance to the dish. When the cabbage is nearly cooked, I remove it to a bowl and stir-fry the pork.
when the pork is done, add the cabbage back
After the vegetables and meat are well mixed, toss in the rice cakes with some chicken broth. They will feel like hard little discs, but it’s amazing what a little heat and liquid can do to transform them into addictive soft treats.
stir everything around over high heat until the rice cakes are soft and chewy
Add as much broth as you like. The dish can be more or less soupy depending on your preference. As soon as the cakes are soft, remove everything from the heat and serve immediately. I like to heat the leftovers in a bowl of broth and have it as soup.
to a better year
Chinese Stir-fried Rice Cakes
1 lb. rice cakes (ovals), thawed
1 medium head napa cabbage, washed
5 green onions, julienned
3 tbsps ginger root, julienned
5 tbsps vegetable oil
salt to taste
1/2 lb. pork loin, cut into strips
3 tbsps soy sauce
1 tbsp sesame oil
1-2 tbsps cornstarch
1-2 cups chicken broth
Soak the rice cakes in cold water for 30 minutes. Slice the cabbage leaves into 1-inch wide segments. In a medium bowl, mix the pork, soy sauce, sesame oil, and cornstarch together until the pork is evenly coated. In a large pan or pot, heat 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil, half of the ginger and half of the green onions over high heat. When the onions and ginger begin to sizzle, add the cabbage and sauté. Sprinkle a little salt to taste. When the cabbage is almost cooked, remove it to a bowl. Heat (on high) the remaining 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil in the same pot and add the remaining ginger and green onions. When the ginger and onions sizzle, add the pork and sauté until the meat is nearly cooked through. Pour the cabbage back into the pot and stir the pork and cabbage together. Drain the rice cakes and add them to the pot along with a half cup of chicken broth. Add more broth as needed or desired. Stir the contents of the pot around to prevent sticking. When the rice cakes are soft and chewy, remove from heat. Serve hot.