Recently Justine and I have been talking about how much we miss good Chinese-American food. Authentic Chinese food is easy to find in LA. I don’t live there anymore, but maybe it’s easy to find in the Bay Area as well. It’s much harder to find a decent egg roll, the kind with pretty thick skin and lots of cabbage inside, that you spread all the hot mustard on.

Now that I’ve parted ways with meat, some of Chinese-American food dreams have faded. I would love to find a pan-fried, doughy dumpling stuffed with gingery, scallion-studded seitan–but considering that I never found its porky cousin on the West Coast, I’m not holding out.

On summer breaks from college, waitressing and hostessing at the pizza place and being the produce girl at Amber Waves, I would go out with my coworkers after dinner service to the Peking Palace, where we would blow our tips on fried appetizers and flaming scorpion bowls with little reservoirs of highly flammable Bacardi 151. Scallion pancakes didn’t come with the old school Polynesian Pu-Pu platter, nor did we get them on the rare occasion we ate out when I was a kid. But I liked to order them anyhow–savory fried dough is never out of place.

This recipe is a pretty standard one across the internet, but I added black rice to the filling for some visual interest and a little grainy, nutty flavor. The cakes are labor intensive and fatty, and there’s no way around it. If you use coconut oil you’re at least getting some good fats in there, in addition to all the gooey white flour. No apologies. I ate these with a simple bok choy and soft tofu stir fry. They’re a nice accompaniment to miso soup too, if you want to get pan-asian. They fry up just like you remember.

Scallion Pancakes
makes four pancakes
adapted from Ming Tsai

1/4 C black rice
2 C AP flour, plus more for dusting
1 C boiling water
1/4 t table salt
1/2 t ground black pepper
1 T toasted sesame oil
3/4 C sliced scallions
1/4 C sesame seeds
coconut oil

ginger dipping sauce

Bring a few cups of black rice to a boil in a small saucepan. Add the black rice, return to a simmer, and cook according to package directions. Drain and set aside (this makes rice with very separable grains–perfect for this application).

In a food processor, blend together the flour, salt and pepper (you can also do all this in a big bowl). With the machine running, add the boiling water in a stream until a dough ball forms. Turn out the dough into an oiled bowl, cover with a tea towel, and let it sit for 30 minutes.

Sprinkle your work surface (I use my biggest cutting board) with lots of flour. Dump the dough out and flip it around in the flour so all sides are nice and dusty. At this point keep dusting with flour as needed to prevent the dough from sticking to your work surface. Roll the dough out roughly into a thin rectangle (or rough oblong shape…it really doesn’t matter.) Brush the dough with the sesame oil, then sprinkle with the scallions. Roll up like a jelly roll and cut into two equal pieces. Set aside one of them.

Roll out the other piece, using more flour as necessary, into a smaller rectangle (again–looks do not matter here, just roll that dough out). Sprinkle with 3 tablespoons of cooked black rice. Press the rice into the dough and roll up like a jelly roll again. Cut that piece in half. Repeat this process with the other half of the dough. Now you have four pieces of dough, and they all have scallions and rice in them.

To recap: you started with one piece of dough. You rolled it out, added sesame oil and scallions, and jelly rolled. Then you cut the roll in two. Then with each of those two pieces, you rolled out, sprinkled black rice, rolled up, and cut in two. Now you have four pieces.

Take one piece and get it floured all over and on both ends. Stand it on one end and push down to form the beginning of a pancake. Using your hands and the rolling pin as necessary, make it into a 6″ pancake.

Preheat your oven to 200 and throw in a sheet pan with a cooling rack on it.

Heat 1 T coconut oil in a non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. I used a baby frypan just the size of the pancakes and it worked great. Spread out the sesame seeds on a plate and press the pancake into the seeds, on both sides, so that some seeds are sticking to the cake. Fry in oil, 3-5 minutes per side, checking frequently and flipping with tongs when the bottom is a nice golden color. When it’s perfectly golden on both sides, introduce it to the warm oven. Add another teaspoon or two of coconut oil, and repeat with the next pancake. Keep going until all the pancakes are crispy and ready to eat.

Cut each pancake into four, and serve with the ginger dipping sauce.

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