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Scallion pancakes

The pancake puzzle

Leah Eskin

Home on the Range

September 8, 2013

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A puzzle seemed like a good idea. We'd all hunch together, stare at cardboard chips and puzzle.

We started with a starter set that snapped together in 100 quick "ta-das." Then we moved onto 1,000 slow "darn its."

The scene on the box captured a murky, underwater moment, full of blues and greens and blue-greens and green-blues. We puzzled over whale blue, dolphin blue and water blue.

I took frequent breaks to crisp scallion pancakes. The technique calls for flour-and-water dough, painted with oil and scattered with scallions, rapscallions of the onion world.

The dough is rolled, spiraled and flattened, like "a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma." Winston Churchill wasn't puzzling over pancakes. Same idea though. The process forms strata, much the way puff pastry folds into 1,000 leaves interspersed with 999 wafts of butter.

We crunched the pancakes and puzzled the puzzle deep into the night, finally fitting those last blue-on-blue rascals into their spots, all 999. One gone missing.

There were sighs. Stomps. Tears.

Days later the blue scamp was recovered by the vacuum. By then we'd had our fill of puzzles and pancakes.

Scallion pancakes

Prep: 1 hour
Cook: 4 minutes per pancake
Serves: 4 as an appetizer

Ingredients:

1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
Kosher salt
½ cup hot water
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
2 teaspoons hot chili oil
¼ cup finely chopped scallions
¼ cup finely chopped cilantro
¼ cup finely chopped chives
Peanut oil

Knead:
Whisk together flour, baking powder and ½ teaspoon salt. Pour in hot water and mix to a lumpy mess. Turn out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead smooth, adding a little flour if need be, about 5 minutes. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest, 20 minutes.

Mix:
Whisk together sesame oil and chili oil. In another bowl, toss together scallions, cilantro and chives.

Fill:
Knead dough again for a few seconds. Roll into a 1-inch thick snake. Cut into 12 segments. Cover with plastic. Use a rolling pin to roll 1 segment into a thin 5-inch circle. Brush with a little of the sesame oil mixture. Sprinkle with a little salt and 1 tablespoon of the greens.

Roll:
Roll up pancake into a carpet. Pinch seams closed. Roll the carpet into a spiral, pinching seam closed. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest, 20 minutes. Repeat with remaining dough and greens.

Flatten:
On a lightly floured work surface, roll each spiral into a thin 4-inch pancake. Work gently, but don't fret if some greens come popping out.

Crisp:
Heat a thin film of peanut oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Crisp each pancake brown, about 2 minutes per side. Serve whole or sliced into wedges.

Leah Eskin is a Tribune Newspapers special contributor. Email her at leahreskin@aol.com.