The Impatient Cook and The Scallion Pancakes

When I was a kid, my mom would sometimes say, “Do as I say, not as I do.” And even as a kid, the line, which came to feel like an adage, didn’t seem right to me. In fact, I thought it branded my wonderful mother as a hypocrite and, in a mental note to self, I instructed myself to never say that. That I ended up saying it last night, and that I directed the line to myself, is proof that one should never say never.

Sometime around 7:30 last night, Joshua (the son formerly known as “The Kid”) and I decided that it would be fun to make scallion pancakes, something neither of us had ever done. That it was late and that one of us (it turned out to be me) would have to go out to buy sesame oil, scallions and just about everything else that was needed for the noodle salad we thought should go with it, didn’t daunt us.

The recipe said that the dough would have to rest 30 minutes after it was mixed, so I stirred up the dough (just a matter of minutes), kneaded it and set it out to rest. Then I did a little of the mise-en-place for the salad and went on my quick shopping trip.

When I came back, I delegated some of the dinner prep to Joshua and I started rolling out the pancakes. By now it was past 9, a little late, but we were having a good time and we were nibbling bits of stuff as we worked and we were drinking wine. In other words, we were having fun.

I rolled out the dough, brushed the circles with sesame oil, scattered them with scallions and shaped them into jelly rolls, which I flatted and rolled into spirals. And then I saw that the dough needed another 30-minute rest period. Hmmm. A little more wine, a few more nibbles, a consultation on the sauces Joshua was making, and we were still cool.

In fact, we stayed cool until I finished rolling out the spirals I’d made (9:45) and realized that the pancakes needed just one more 30-minute nap before frying. I’d run out of time and it was all my fault!

When my husband saw me stomping around the kitchen and grumbling, he said, “But didn’t you read the recipe?”

Well, yes – and no. I read it, but in the excitement of making something for the first time and in the rush of time, I hadn’t read it all the way through. In other words, I’d committed the cook’s cardinal sin.

Not only is it imperative that a cook read a recipe through before setting to work, I’ve been known to tell cooks they should read it through … and then read it through again! After all, there’s nothing worse than being surprised in the middle of making something.

So you can see why the next time Michael walked into the kitchen, I’d switched from a grumble to berating myself for not doing as I always say!

But here’s the good news: The pancakes were great!  While I might not have read the recipe well, I sure chose it well. The recipe was from Nina Simonds’ book, A Spoonful of Ginger.

No one knows Asian cooking as well as Nina and no one can come even close to explaining it as well as she does.

Here’s the recipe for Nina’s Flaky Scallion Pancakes – make sure to set aside enough time!

The photograph is by Beatriz da Costa from A Spoonful of Ginger.

Dorie Greenspan

Flaky Scallion Pancakes

From A Spoonful of Ginger by Nina Simonds

Makes 24 pancakes
  • 3 cups cake flour
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons corn oil
  • 1 3/4 cups boiling water
  • 1/4 cup or more all-purpose flour, if necessary, for kneading
  • 1/4 cup toasted sesame oil
  • 3/4 cup minced scallion greens
  • 3/4 cup canola or corn oil

Stir the flours and salt in a mixing bowl with a wooden spoon. Add the corn oil and the boiling water, and stir until a rough dough forms. If the dough is too soft, knead in about 1/4 cup more flour. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 5 minutes, or until smooth, kneading in more all-purpose flour as necessary. Cover with a cloth or wrap in plastic and let rest for 30 minutes, or longer if possible.

On a very lightly floured work surface, roll the dough into a long snakelike roll about 1 inch in diameter. Cut the roll into 24 pieces. Keep the unused dough covered with a damp towel as you work.

With a rolling pin, roll out one piece of dough, cut side down on the work surface, into a 5-inch circle. Brush the top with a little sesame oil and sprinkle with some of the minced scallion greens. Roll up the circle like a jelly roll and pinch the ends to seal. Flatten the roll slightly with the rolling pin, and coil it into a snail shape, with the seam on the inside. Pinch the end to secure it and set aside on a lightly floured surface. Prepare the remaining pancakes, and let them rest for 30 minutes uncovered.

Reflour the work surface and roll each coiled pancake out to a 4-inch circle. Place them on a lightly floured tray. Let them rest for 30 minutes uncovered, or longer if possible.

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees F.

Heat a large, heavy skillet, add the oil, and heat to 350 degrees F. Put a few of the pancakes in the pan, not touching, and fry over medium heat, turning once, until golden brown and crisp on both sides, about 2 to 3 minutes. Remove with a spatula and drain briefly in a colander, then transfer to absorbent paper. Arrange the cooked pancakes on a cookie sheet and keep them warm in the oven while you fry the remaining pancakes, reheating the oil between batches.

Serve immediately or keep warm in the oven.

A Spoonful of Ginger, Asian food, books, cookbooks, fried dough, Nina Simonds, scallion pancakes, scallions