Over the past couple of years, the HH and I have developed a fairly steadfast routine: every Tuesday at mid day, we connect for a hefty serving of afternoon delight. (No, no debauchery, silly! Forget the cheeesy song. I’m talking about afternoon culinary delight). To wit, food. To wit, Japanese food. To wit, Sushi.
As our own unique twist on “date night,” we have “date lunch”: at a little sushi bar near the HH’s place of employ, he feasts on various species of marine life (well, I suppose that would more properly be “marine after-life”), and I enjoy some of the best vegetarian sushi I’ve ever tasted. While clacking chopsticks, slathering wasabi and dipping into soy sauce, he reports on his recent work projects, while I regale him with anecdotes about The Girls’ antics. We eat, we laugh, we fight over who gets the last piece of pickled ginger, and then we kiss goodbye and go about the rest of our day. It’s a lovely interlude in an otherwise bland workday.
Well, a few weeks ago at the habitual time and place, I was devastated to discover that the establishment had unceremoniously changed owners. Oh, the new folks are nice enough, but the distinctive sheen of the place had definitely tarnished. (The new vegetarian option consists of 8 pieces of cucumber and avocado maki. Now, how could they possibly think vegetarians want 8 identical pieces of a single variety, when the HH gets a full dozen varieties of raw, slimy oceanic tidbits on his plate?). Haven’t these people heard of the expression, “If it ain’t broke. . .”? Harrumph.
Being fairly close to Toronto’s Chinatown North, we opted that day to try one of the many Asian restaurants in the vicinity instead. I assumed I’d have no trouble finding plenty to eat.
Well, you know what they say about assumptions. (No? It’s even too puerile to repeat here. But there are plenty of others out there who’ll tell you.) I sat down feeling peckish. Perusing the menu, I quickly discovered there was precious little I could consume save steamed veggies and rice. (Not that there’s anything wrong wtih steamed veggies and rice, you understand, but I get plenty of those at home–and certainly don’t feel like driving halfway across the city and dishing out restaurant prices for someone else to throw them on a plate for me).
Yes, every single dish contained at least one ingredient I can’t eat. The few animal-free options all contained wheat (another no-no). Listed under “Vegetable Dishes,” we had Vegetables and Ground Beef; Vegetables and Pork Stir-Fry; Egg Noodles with Vegetables; Chicken and Shrimp with Vegetables. Even the “Vegetable Dumplings” contained ground pork. Argh! (And another “harrumph,” just for good measure. ) Would I have to sit there starving*, I wondered, while the HH gorged himself on beef, chicken, and pork-laden vegetables?
And then, I noticed these: Scallion Pancakes. Simplicity itself, these pan-fried cakes studded with rings of shiny green onion were cut into four triangles, served with a variety of dipping sauces. Humble, yet divine; my mouth began to water. And then, I realized: they were made with wheat flour. Which I am not supposed to eat.
True, my wheat sensitivity induces heartburn, bloating, and sometimes an achy stomach a couple of hours after ingesting it. True, wheat encourages my inflamed sinuses to close up shop entirely, forcing me to pant through my mouth like a dog in July. True, any sane person in my situation would have passed on the wheat. Also true? I was hungry. Those pancakes were the sole item on the menu that appealed to me. I ordered them.
And, by golly, I loved them! (Well, for about 10 minutes, after which a volcano erupted in my chest, my stomach inflated like a beach ball, and my nasal passages sealed up like a mine shaft collapsing).
After reading about Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian several times on Lisa’s blog, I finally picked it up from the library a few weeks ago. And wouldn’t you know–right there, tucked near the back of the book, was a recipe for Chinese Scallion Cakes! I was elated. Since the entire recipe contains only five ingredients (two of which are salt and pepper), I felt pretty certain I could adapt these with (Ricki-friendly) spelt flour instead of wheat. I did, and guess what? They replicated the restaurant variety almost perfectly.
The HH and I were so smitten with the results that we polished off two pancakes just on their own, with no accompaniments. The second time round, we used them as a base for leftover dal, and they were spectacular. I’m not generally a fan of salty foods, but something about the combination of salt and browned green onion (or would that be green browned onion?) is heavenly.
I toned down the fat content by simply brushing the raw pancakes with olive oil (instead of following the original directions for filling a frypan with the stuff, as if drawing a bubble bath or something). The results worked out pretty well, I’d say, as I couldn’t tell the difference in taste.
These boasted a crisp and even somewhat flaky exterior, with chewy insides punctuated here and there by the partially caramelized green onion. My only regret is not having coarse sea salt in the house to sprinkle on top, as it would have made for a more photogenic bread. (You’re actually meant to sprinkle the salt into the batter, anyway–but I forgot, so scattered it on top once the bread was cooked).
I’ve copied the recipe exactly as written because the method is quite particular. It appears long and complicated, but once you’ve made them once, you’ll see how easy it is to prepare these wonderful savory cakes at home. I’d even whip them up for a quick lunch–except not on the days I meet the HH, of course.
(Oh, and I made these again this morning, in honor of Chinese New Year. Happy New Year to all who celebrate on Monday! )
*Clearly, not literally. But in terms of gustatory satisfaction, for sure.
Chinese Scallion Pancakes*
adapted from Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian
An easy and quick homemade flatbread that you can whip up while your dinner warms in the oven or the pot. With only 5 ingredients, these could qualify as a Flash in the Pan recipe–once you get the method down pat, that is.
3-3/4 cups (525 g.) light spelt flour
about 5 Tbsp. (75 ml.) peanut or olive oil, divided
10 scallions, cut into rounds (both white and green parts)
1 tsp. (5 ml.) fine or coarse sea salt
1 tsp. (5 ml.) pepper, or to taste
Put the flour in a bowl. Add about 1-1/4 cups (300 ml.) of warm water, mixing as you go to make a soft dough. Collect all the dough together and make a ball. Knead very briefly [spelt will toughen faster than wheat if over-kneaded] and make a ball again. Cover with a damp cloth and set aside for 15 to 20 minutes.
Flour a large work surfact thoroughly. Put the dough ball in the center. Put some flour on top of the dough ball and roll out a 20-inch (50 cm.) round. (Dust with flour whenever you need to). First spread about 4 Tbsp. (60 ml.) of the oil on the round, and then scatter the scallions evenly over the surface. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Now roll up the round tightly into a long fat snake. Pinch the “snake” into 4 equal parts.
Take one of the snake “logs” and put it in fron of you. Put your hands on either edge (ie, the cut edges). Twist one end away from you and one end toward you in order to close the ends tightly shut [I thought of a wrapper on a piece of hard candy]. You will be twisting the entire log slightly, but that is as it should be. Now stand the log on one end and push down to get a patty. Make all the patties this way and keep them well floured.
Flour the work surface again. Roll out one of the patties, always going outward from the cetner and dusting with flour whenever you need to, until you have a 7-inch (18 cm.) round. Roll out all the cakes this way, making sure you keep them all in a cool spot well dusted with flour.
Heat a nonstick frypan over medium heat. Brush one side of the first cake with oil, and place oil-side down in the frypan; then brush the top with oil as well. Cook 3 to 4 minutes, or until dark brown in spots on the bottom. Flip the pancake and cook another 3 minutes or so, until that side is browned as well. Place on a plate (line with paper towel to absorb some of the oil, if desired). Make all the cakes this way.
Cut each pancake into 4 and serve immediately. Makes 4 large cakes.
[*Looking for a gluten-free version? I made it here.]
Last Year at this Time: Sweet Potato Fries, Three Ways (and Miso Gravy)
© 2009 RickiHeller.com
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