Last summer during one of its more interminable days, I took a walk down to the library. With my littlest brother I ascended the stairs to the stacks, and stood among the many cookbooks, searching out one that might add a little life to my summer, so necessary on that hot and humid day. Sadly, deciding which books to choose didn’t call for triage. The book choice wasn’t the broad range I’d hoped for. But there were a few good ones. Scratch that, one really good one.
The New Best Recipe International Version. That summer I made three of its creations, and each was divine. Even making enchiladas at camp with the impossibly small oven was a success using its recipe. This book also taught me to make Saag Paneer…including the paneer.
But this summer my mom went and got the book for me from the library, not because she wanted enchiladas, or copious amounts of homemade cheese, but because she wanted Cong You Bing, Chinese scallion pancakes. Having lived in China for two years, and in China Town for another, she adores simple Chinese food. She could eat stir-fried cabbage and tomato with a little soy sauce and garlic over white rice for every single meal.
This recipe is straight-forward. The dough is flour, water, and salt. All that goes inside are scallions, some toasted sesame oil, and a little cilantro. The rolling is a little tricky but not too difficult. Just remember that you really need to mince the scallions, not just slice them thinly. Mincing keeps them from poking through the thin layers of dough. You can eat these alone or with the dipping sauce. We don’t have mirin at home, and I think our chili oil is many years expired so those two ingredients never make it in. I must say these are fast becoming one of my favorite treats, go ahead and see what I mean!
Scallion Pancakes (Cong You Bing)
Barely Adapted from The Best International Recipe
1 1/2 cups all-prurpose flour plus extra for dusting
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup room-temperature water
1/2 cup minced (not thinly sliced) scallions
2 Tablespoons minced cilantro
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
2-3 Tablespoons vegetable oil for frying
With a fork stir salt and flour together in a medium bowl. Add water and mix until blended. I used my hands to do some of the blending and added some extra water and flour as needed so it came together. Knead dough on a lightly floured surface for five minutes so that it is smooth. Form the dough into a ball and brush with vegetable oil. Then place it in a clean bowl and let rest for half an hour while you prepare the filling.
After the half hour rest period, divide the dough into four equal pieces. Keeping three covered, roll the first ball of dough on a flour surface to form a 7-inch wide circle. I found that rolling this dough into a rectangle of perhaps eight inches or so was much easier. Brush the dough with a thin layer of sesame oil and sprinkle with 2 Tablespoons of minced scallions, and 1 1/2 teaspoons cilantro. Roll the dough into a tight log, then form the log into a coil, tucking the end under. Roll out the package into a 5-inch wide circle. Do this for all four pieces of dough and fry one at a time.
Heat one tablespoon oil over medium heat in a skillet (they suggest a nonstick skillet; I used a sauté pan which wasn’t nonstick) and add the first pancake. Cook for 1 1/2-2 minutes so that it is well-browned. Flip to the other side and cook a similar amount of time. Add more oil as necessary between pancakes.
Dipping Sauce for Pancakes
The Best International Recipe
2 Tablespoons soy sauce
1 Tablespoon rice vinegar
1 Tablespoon water
1/4 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1 Tablespoon mirin (I never use, but the recipe says you can substitute 1 Tablespoon dry white wine and 1/2 teaspoon sugar)
1/2 teaspoon chili oil (optional)
1 scallion, sliced thinly on the bias