The kitchen for me is sort of a classroom where I can venture to learn anything that interests me at the moment. Today “lesson” was scallion pancakes that have intrigued me for quite sometime. As it is with most things, once you actually do them you realize that they are not that complicated and only require curiosity, some work, skill and willingness to try.
Scallion cakes are part of Asian cuisine and I have seen recipes for Chinese, Taiwanese, Malaysian versions and others. They are mostly similar and the two methods the emerged are either adding the scallions to the dough, or rolling the dough into a circle, scattering the scallions on top and then rolling it in a special way before frying. They are one of the popular street foods is Asia, much like falafel in the middle east, tacos in Mexico and pizza bianca in Rome.
I prepared the scallion cakes in what I believe is a traditional way, by rolling them into a circle, then a cylinder, then a snail shape and rolling it again into a flat circle. The scallions are then trapped inside layers of dough and the result is quite delicious. The chives however are not traditional but I have a bumper crop of chives in my garden on our rooftop patio and had to use them somehow.
The basic method is simple: you mix flour and almost boiling water to make a soft dough which you knead for a few minutes until elastic and then let it rest. Then you proceed with the topping, rolling and shallow frying. Use peanut or canola oil for frying (olive oil burns at a lower temperature). Don’t overheat the oil so the pancakes get a chance to cook before becoming too golden outside.
The dough is not seasoned as far as I can tell. Some cooks add salt to the boiling water to add flavour, some sprinkle salt over the dough when scattering the scallions over as I do in this recipe. I also sprinkle the pancakes with salt when they finish frying.
What to do with the pancakes? Serve them as a snack, as part of an appetizer selection or alongside other foods.
2 cups flour
1 cup boiling water, slightly cooled but still very hot
Peanut oil as needed
1 cup scallions, thinly sliced on the diagonal
1/2 cup chives, chopped
Place the flour in a bowl, pour enough boiling water over and mix with a spoon (the water is hot, careful) until you get a cohesive dough. Add more water as necessary to use up all the flour but the goal is to have a fairly light dough.
Remove the dough from the bowl and knead by hand over a lightly floured workspace (I use parchment over the counter to minimize cleanup) for about 5 minutes or until the dough is nice and elastic. You can sprinkle with a little more flour as needed so it is not too sticky. When it reaches the right consistency cover and let rest for 30 minutes.
When the dough has rested cut it into 4 equal size pieces.
Roll a piece of dough into an 8″ circle, then brush with oil and scatter the scallions and chives over. Sprinkle generously with salt.
Roll the dough into a relatively tight cylinder, extending it into a longer cylinder as you roll. You can pinch in loose edges along the cylinder but don’t fret over this.
Now begin to roll the cylinder into a snail shape and pinch the end so it hold together.
Let the snail shaped dough rest while you are preparing the remaining pieces.
Allow the prepared snail shaped dough rest for about 15 minutes or longer.
When you are ready to proceed roll each of the snails into a 6-7 inch circle. Don’t press down on the rolling pin, let its own weight do the rolling.
When the rounds are ready heat up a little oil in a skillet large enough to hold one round and cook the pancakes, one at a time, until golden. Don’t cook over too high heat, you want it to cook through and not only darken on the outside. You can shake the pancake in the pan a little, moving it around. Flip it over until golden on both sides.
Remove as they are ready and continue until all the pancakes are cooked.
To serve, cut in wedges and serve warm with hot sauce, soy or on their own.