Learn how to use the daikon radish in a variety of Chinese daikon radish recipes from pickling, soup, braising, steaming, and pan-frying.
Daikon is the Japanese name for the big white radish. It is called 白萝卜 (bai luo bo) in mandarin hanyu pinyin, and (lo bak) in Cantonese.
It is a tuber that looks like the carrot, except it is whitish in colour. The carrot is known as 红萝卜 (hong luo bo) which means "red radish".
It contains glucose, cane sugar, fructose, dietary fibre, vitamin C, amino acids, and potassium. It also contain digestive enzymes such as diastase and amylase that can help break down starch into sugars. It therefore aids digestion and improve metabolism.
Traditional Chinese medicine practitioners believe that it can help to clear phlegm, stabilize the breath, and is cooling. Children suffering from colds with dry painful throats and rackling cough are encouraged to eat it raw although I do not think they will like the taste. It is slightly spicy.
It is affectionately acknowledged as the little ginseng. And there is a Chinese folk saying touting its efficacy in dietary therapy for winter.
It means "Radish in the winter, ginger in the summer, and the doctor's out of business".
Choose radishes that have nice white, plump and shiny skin. Make sure they are big and heavy. Not just big. Leaves should be green and plump. Avoid those with shrivelled leaves.
If you are going to keep it for a while, remove the leaves and wrap the cut portion with cling wrap. Wrap the entire radish with newspaper and store in the refrigerator.
The skin can be eaten so wash and scrub thoroughly before cooking. If you want to remove the skin, do so with a peeler like you would with a carrot. However nearly 98% of the calcium in daikon are found in the skin.
Different parts of the radish can taste different. The top part is supposed to be sweeter so it is suitable for grating or used in salads. The tip is spicy and is usually pickled. The middle section contains the most liquid and is commonly used in stews.
It can be sliced, diced, shredded and grated. It is also a great subject for decorative food carving.
It is hugely popular grated and it is indispensable in the tempura dipping sauce. The grated radish imparts a certain depth to the thin sauce.
Although daikon can be quite spicy, that hasn't stopped people from using it raw in salads. It just has to be pickled first. If using raw, wash thoroughly, cut, slice or shred and let it stand in salt.
Both the Japanese, Korean and Chinese like to pickle daikon.
One of the most distinctive Japanese pickled products is the yellow pickle that are almost always served in Japanese bentos and sushi. It is called takuan and here is a video demonstrating how it is done. It requires an ingredient called the gardenia fruit.
The basic ingredients are:
The Chinese prefers them in long thin strips and marinated with just salt, vinegar and chilli for a quick starter.
It can be cut into chunks and cooked in soup or stew. After sufficient simmering, it loses its spicy taste and takes on the flavour of the soup or stew it is cooked in. It pairs well with beef, lamb or mutton.
Any recipe that turns tough beef cuts into flavourful and hearty food must be cherished, kept and promoted. Daikon radish has detoxifying properties so adding it to a beef stew balances the dish and cuts down on the heaviness of the dish.
This recipe is non-spicy and slightly herbal. It is a gentle warming dish with the ginger and spring onion.
It uses a claypot but you do not have a claypot, use a dutch oven or a deep-based enamel pot.
Directions (for claypot or dutch oven)
The video recipe of a beef radish stew below uses a couple of aromatics to deepen the flavour of the dish. Just lovely.
This is a quick recipe, not the usual long simmering type.
The big white radish is the ingredient in a very popular street food in Singapore: the carrot cake.
I do not know why it is called the carrot cake rather than the radish cake. The Chinese name is accurate though 萝卜糕 (chao luo bo gao).
It is also called the turnip cake in other parts of Asia. Equally wrong since it isn't made of turnip (also known as jicama).
The basic ingredients include:
The radish is first shredded, cooked together with the rice flour, tapioca flour and water into a thick paste before being steamed into cakes.
The video below shows how a fairly basic steamed radish cake is made.
The next video is a pimped up version with Chinese sausages, dried shrimps, and peanuts.
Here's a Japanese take on the same. It is called the radish mochi. This is not steamed. It is pan-fried.
The plain basic cakes can be turned into fried carrot cake by being diced into small cubes and fried in a big wok with eggs with or without sweet black sauce.
I used to have them for Sunday breakfast. There is a really good hawker near my home. He uses a tennis racket to cut his radish cakes. I know, not hygienic but super yummy.
People with stomach ulcers or chronic gastric problems do have to be careful not to consume too much daikon. People on medication or taking tonics are also advised to avoid daikon as it might affect the efficacy of the medications.