Imagine my surprise when I first ordered “carrot cake” in a Southeast Asian restaurant and received this savory dish from Singapore. Known as Singapore carrot cake, it contains marvelously crusted cubes of “radish cake” stir-fried with eggs, vegetables, and a lightly sweetened sauce.–Laura B. Russell
LC Singapore Carrot Cake Cheat Sheet Note
The author of this recipe wasn’t the only one surprised by the title of this savory Singaporean scramble. David, too, was initially thrown by the tease of its name. Now he can whip it up whenever he wishes. Although throwing together a Singapore carrot cake isn’t tricky, we’ve found that there is some know-how that helps you nail this specialty of Singapore street hawkers. The indispensable insights that follow are courtesy of author Laura B. Russell.
Think ahead. Before you make the Singapore carrot cake recipe, you need to make the steamed radish cake and refrigerate it for at least 4 hours or overnight. (By way of explanation, when they say “radish cake,” what they mean is rice flour batter with grated daikon radish suspended in it that’s then steamed until relatively firm yet still a little jiggly.)
Use a Thai brand of rice flour. I strongly prefer using a Thai rice flour, such as Erawan. Other brands will work, but will produce a slightly gummy cake.
Make your own kecap manis. It can be difficult to find kecap manis, a thick, sweet Indonesian soy sauce, in grocery stores back here in the states. And it’s all but impossible to find a gluten-free brand of kecap manis. But you can whip up a reasonable substitute in no time. Simmer equal parts brown sugar and soy sauce (I use 1/4 cup each) in a pan until the sugar dissolves, about 1 minute. Cool before using. Leftovers keep in the refrigerator, covered, for up to 2 months.
Use leftovers wisely. Any radish cake leftover from your Singapore carrot cake recipe can be sizzled, plain, in a tablespoon of oil or–my preference–bacon drippings in a skillet placed over medium-high heat. Add some radish cake cubes, being careful not to crowd the skillet, and cook, turning occasionally, until well browned, 6 to 8 minutes. Serve hot, with soy sauce for dipping if desired.
Singapore Carrot Cake
For the steamed radish cakes
- 1 1/2 to 2 pounds (1 large) daikon radish peeled
- 1 1/4 teaspoons salt
- 2 tablespoons cold water
- 1 1/2 cups white rice flour
- 1 teaspoon sugar
For the Singapore carrot cake
- 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
- Half recipe Steamed Radish Cake (about 25 cubes)
- 1 small onion thinly sliced in half moons
- 3 cloves garlic minced
- 3 green onions white and green parts, cut into 1-inch lengths
- 1 large handful bean sprouts
- 3 large eggs lightly beaten with a pinch of salt
- 1 1/2 tablespoons kecap manis
- 1 teaspoon soy sauce or tamari
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup cilantro leaves
Make the steamed radish cakes
- Grate the daikon either on the large holes of a box grater or with the grating attachment of a food processor. Measure 4 cups of grated radish—do not use more—and add it to a saucepan with 1 teaspoon of the salt and the water. Cover the pan and turn the heat to medium, peeking occasionally. When the water starts to steam, lower the heat to medium-low and cook, covered, stirring occasionally, until the radish is translucent, about 25 minutes.
- Generously oil a 9-inch round cake pan. In bowl, stir together the rice flour, the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, and the sugar. Strain the radish in a sieve set over a large measuring cup. Press down on the radish with a large spoon to remove most of the liquid. Add enough cold water to the measuring cup to equal 1 cup and let the liquid cool to lukewarm. Set the radish aside.
- Stir the barely warm radish cooking liquid into the rice flour and mix until smooth. Then add the radish and stir to combine. The batter should look like tapioca pudding. Transfer the batter to the prepared pan. (If the liquid is too hot, it will start to cook the rice flour, forming more of a dough-like than pudding-like consistency. If this happens, it’s okay; you’ll just need to use your hands or a wooden spoon to spread the batter evenly in the pan.) Place the cake pan in a steamer or on a wire rack in a wok, cover the steamer or wok, and steam over simmering water for 1 hour. Check occasionally to make sure the water does not run dry, adding more if needed. Remove the cake pan from the steamer with tongs and let cool to room temperature.
- Run a thin knife around the edge of the radish cake and invert the pan onto a plate to remove the cake. (If the radish cake sticks to the pan, cut out a small piece of radish cake and then remove the rest with a spatula. It’s not a big deal as you will eventually cut it into pieces anyway.) Cover and refrigerate the radish cake for at least 4 hours or up to 1 week. Cut half the cake into 1-inch cubes for the Singapore carrot cake.
Make the Singapore carrot cake
- In a large nonstick skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil over medium-high heat. Pat the cake cubes dry with paper towels or a clean kitchen towel. Add the cubes to the skillet in a single layer, without crowding them, working in batches if need be. Cook the cake cubes, turning them occasionally, until well browned, 6 to 8 minutes. Transfer the radish cakes to a plate.
- Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons oil in the same skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion, garlic, and green onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables start to wilt, about 1 minute. Add the bean sprouts and cook 1 minute more. Move the vegetables to the side of the skillet and pour the eggs in the center. Let the eggs set for about 30 seconds without stirring, and then scramble them into the vegetables. Return the browned radish cakes to the pan and add the kecap manis, soy sauce, and salt. Cook, tossing almost constantly, until everything is heated through, about 1 minute. Stir in the cilantro and serve the Singapore carrot cake hot.
Recipe Testers’ Reviews
This is an interesting stir-fry. While it does require some advance preparation, it comes together very easily, although there’s not a carrot to be found. The first step is to make the Steamed Radish Cakes of daikon and rice flour. Once you have your radish cakes steamed and chilled, the stir-fry is very simple and comes together easily. It’s a more substantial meal than you might think, with the radish cake adding substance and the egg adding protein. When the kecap manis and soy sauce are added, the radish cake cubes turn a wonderful burnished bronze color and it makes a quite attractive dish.
This is the first time I’ve made Singapore Carrot Cake or Radish Cakes and I’m so happy I did. The radish cakes were a lot of fun to make, actually. It’s a great way to use more daikon radishes in our household. The carrot cake portion of the recipe requires kecap manis, and thus far I haven’t seen a commercial brand that is gluten free. But it’s very simple to make your own using brown sugar and soy sauce. This ingredient is so key to this dish, adding a sweet saltiness. The Radish Cakes were glorious after they fried–the texture was firm yet tender on the inside and crispy on the outside. Man, I love those things. They are my new crack! (Can I say that?) I will be making them in my dreams tonight. It’s helpful that the Radish Cakes can be made a week in advance, which is what I did as I knew I would be away. The Carrot Cake portion of the recipe, which adds vegetables, garlic, eggs, and seasoning along with the kecap manis, pulled everything together into one fabulous dish that worked so very well. The flavors were balanced and the textures varied from the softness of egg to the crispness of radish cakes to the crunch of the vegetables. A new stir fry has officially been added to my repertoire!
You know something’s a success when your teenage son asks for seconds. The steamed radish cakes are not as much work as I initially thought. They come together quickly and work just as the recipe reads. I didn’t have a wok or steamer that would accommodate a nine-inch cake pan, so I used my pasta pot instead. The results were perfect. Not having access to an Asian market, I followed the directions and made my own kecap manis. It’s a wonderful addition to the stir-fry, adding that touch of salty sweetness. If the steamed radish cake is made a day or so ahead, this can be a quick and unique weeknight dinner.
Originally published May 27, 2012