Friday, March 28, 2014

Adventures in cooking: Chinese Scallion/Green Onion Pancakes - Going back to the roots and a diferent kind of pancake stack

I don't often make "traditional Chinese" food, most because well..I never learned it.  As a child, I would always spend hours watching my mom make all types of food - garlic sauteed vegetables (which is about a daily occurrence in my house), steamed fish, stuffed tofu, dumplings, you name it, my mom would make it.  However, I never really had the desire to learn it on my own, and the most I ever did was help her chop vegetables.  Chinese food is also really labor intensive, even though it's not always actually that difficult.  All dishes have some food that needs to be chopped or sliced or julienned, and cutting the meat was always an exhausting job because most Chinese dishes have meat with the bone attached. I am eternally grateful for work that my mom puts in every single night to prepare multiple dishes, prepping for dinner about three hours in advance every day, and now when I go home and visit, I am sure to help out however I can...also with the added benefit that I can start learning how some of my favorite foods are made. 

I have to say, I haven't made toooo much progress on learning how to make some of my favorite dishes, but I'm starting to get a better idea just from watching how things are done. Now that I almost never go home, I'm having a desire to learn more about Taiwanese culture and to go back to some of the foods I ate growing up.  I'm doing the best I can with some recipes that I'm finding on my own, supplemented with memories of how things were done with my mom, but I definitely have some work to do.

So on to the food.  I needed to make something traditionally Chinese/Taiwanese (yes, they are different, but they also share many foods) for an end of semester party for the students I teach English to.  I was absolutely stumped for days, as I wanted something that wouldn't be too difficult to make, would be universally liked, and would be unique enough to not be a standard menu item at a typical Chinese restaurant.  It wasn't until yesterday that I had the idea to make scallion pancakes.

I should also note that I tried to make a gluten-free version......and failed.  I'm going to try it again, changing up what I did next time, but the results were pretty hilarious.  The taste was there, even if the texture was completely off.  See the end of this post for some real failure :p

It's the ultimate comfort food for me, and it's surprisingly hard to find at restaurants.  The ingredients are pretty basic, but like all other Chinese food I've had experience with, it's pretty labor intensive and takes some time to make.

Since I or my family hasn't made these in awhile, I did have to look up a recipe (from as a guide; however, I ended up doing things slightly different based off what I remember my parents doing.  It'll take a little more trial and error to get them just perfect, since mine were a little more deep fried rather than lightly fried and flaky, but I'm happy with the results regardless.

The basic ingredients:
  • 2 1/2 c. flour
  • 1 bunch scallions (green onions) - I ended up using slightly less, but this all depends on how much you like scallions! (if it were my mom, she'd probably use two bunches of scallions because she loves them, but I chose to use less)
  • 1 1/4 c. boiling water
  • 1/4 c. sesame oil
  • 1/2 c.canola oil
  • another 1/2 c. canola oil for frying
  • 1 T. salt

Steps (with illustrations below):

  1. In a large bowl, add 1 cup of boiling water to the flour.  The recipe from theKitchn called for warm water, but I always remembered it with boiling water.  I'm not sure what different it makes, but I'm just going off what my mom always does!  Knead the dough until it becomes smooth and elastic.  If it's too dry, add a little bit more water.  I ended up adding about another 1/4 cup of water. Coat the dough with sesame oil and cover with a damp towl.  Let the dough sit for about 30 minutes.
  2. In the meantime, chop the bunch of scallions.  In a small mixing bowl, mix the scallions with the 1/2 cup of oil and salt.  This will be your mixture to spread onto the dough.
  3. After 30 minutes, roll the dough on a baking sheet (or a clean counter) until it becomes a long thin, snakelike roll about 1 1/2 inches thick.  Divide the dough into 6 even pieces.  This will form 6, 7-8'' pancakes.
  4. Roll the first piece into a thin, flat circle.  The thickness should be fairly even throughout.
  5. Spoon the oil/scallion/salt mixture onto the dough, making sure it covers the entire surface.
  6. Starting from one side, roll the dough so the scallions and oil become wrapped in.  Then take one end, and roll it again so it forms a spiral. (see pictures below)  This creates that flaky texture so that it isn't just a piece of fried flat dough.
  7. Using a rolling pin or your hands, flatten the spiral so that it becomes flat again.  It doesn't have to be as thin as it was before, but thin enough so that it will cook evenly.  Repeat steps 4-7 for all the pieces of dough.
  8. **In a large skillet, pour a thin layer of oil.  Use medium-high heat.  Once the skillet is heated, place the first pancake and start frying until golden brown, about 3 minutes.  Flip, and repeat.  Then take it out and rest it on a plate with paper towels to absorb the excess oil.  Repeat for all the pieces.
  9. Eat eat eat eat. Preferably immediately.  Eat them with crullers/Youtiao, eat with congee, with soy sauce and ginger...whatever your heart desires. :)

**In hind sight, I probably wouldn't have deep fried them, as it made them lose some of that like flaky texture.  Next time, I will probably just pan fry them with less oil.

Scallion, oil, salt mixture

Step 4: rolling the dough so that it's flat and thin

Step 6: Rolling the dough

Step 6: Rolling the dough again so it becomes a spiral

the dough flattened out with my hands (although a rolling pin would work too).  note how the original spiral shape is still noticeable - this creates that flakiness!

The first victim in frying - as you can see it was a little burned and uneven.  Oh well...trial and error!

A different kind of pancake stack

I'm drooling while looking at this again.

So I mentioned that I tried to make a gluten-free version of this so that I wouldn't eat the original version and get sick.  Well, I tried.  And I ended up eating the original version , too.  Annnd I did get sick, but I'm going to say that it was worth it...this time.

Well, here's what happened: onion/almond flour/coconut flour scramble?

I kind of forgot that almond flour and coconut flour don't have the same binding qualities when combined with water.  I tried to compensate for it by adding egg whites, but I probably should have just added a whole egg with egg yolks to make it bind together better.  Although it tasted pretty much the same after frying, the texture was definitely not as chewy as the original version with white flour.  It was pretty crumbly, but I'm curious to see what would happen if I used egg yolks instead.  The original recipe doesn't call for any eggs, but I think it's necessary for this since I need some sort of binding agent.

Well, we live and we learn, right?  It was a fun experiment nonetheless :)

Honestly, the recipe was kind of an impulse decision, but I'm glad I decided to try something out that I grew up with, even if it was totally out of my comfort zone.

If any of you have had scallion pancakes - how do you like them?  And if you haven't had them, have I persuaded you to try them yet??

1 comment:

  1. haha:D the last photo is hilarious!♥ I'm happy the second try turned out well♥ the pancakes looks so delicious!:)