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Garlic Scape and Herb Pancake


 

Move over scallions.  I may have to cheat on you.

My love affair with dim sum scallion pancakes is no secret.  There are few times I can think of when they don't appeal to me.  (or make me start to go all Pavlovian as I even type the words.)  Though green and doing very well, the scallions planted in my garden are still about the size of glorified dental floss and won't be serving up any exotic savories for a few weeks.

However, we do have garlic scapes!  And herbs!  Lots of both!

Scallions?  Who needs scallions?

While not exactly a necessity, (more of an insatiable craving), mother invention shone down and offered up this bright, summery, mildly garlicky, herby, southeast Asian-inspired perfection on a greasy paper towel.  There is a tremendous (and tremendously cheap) hole-in-the-wall dumpling shop in NYC's Chinatown, to which I make frequent pilgrimages.  Alongside their dumplings, they have a monstrous cast iron pan in which they make a very similar sesame pancake.  You can get a pizza-slice-sized wedge "stuffed with veggies" for $1.25, which is split laterally and crammed with shredded carrot and chopped cilantro leaves and stems.  There was definitely some inspiration from there in this as well.

Give these a try, using all that summer is offering up right now.  Shredded zucchini, carrot or beet, torn squash blossoms, thyme, sage, thinly sliced chard could all be welcome additions.  Fried dough + farm fresh herbs and produce = What could possibly be bad?

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ebruary
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Scallion Pancakes
Scallion pancakes.  Oh how I love thee.



These remarkable, little chewy, salty, scallion-y, layered disks of oily crunchy heaven completely stole my heart when I first had them my first year living in the city a decade and a half ago.  Often I would grab a late night snack of scallion pancakes and dumplings on my way home from rehearsal near midnight, back when my metabolism could handle such an indulgence.

On our honeymoon in China three years ago, I stumbled upon a mirage-like goddess making scallion pancakes on a narrow back street in Beijing.



Just look at the size of that pan!  We got a New York pizza slice-sized wedge (see the table on the right), wrapped loosely in wax paper, that the newlyweds pawed at, stopped dead on the street, like malnourished tiger cubs.  Who got the last bite should have gone in a prenup.

Too recently I discovered that these treasures are not all that difficult to make yourself--however dangerous it could be to embark upon in the privacy of your own home.  Proceed with caution.  The management is not responsible for the abandonment of any new year's resolutions.

But if only in honor of Chinese New Year, give these a try.  The rolled out, uncooked, pancakes can be layered in slightly floured wax paper and stored in the refrigerator wrapped in plastic for about twenty-four hours, and then finished in a frying pan for two minutes on each side.  Do we hear a great Year of the Rabbit themed Super Bowl appetizer?


SCALLION PANCAKES
Makes three 8-10" pancakes.

I used half all-purpose flour and half cake flour. Cake flour, available in the baking aisle at the grocery store, has a lower gluten content, resulting in a dough that wasn't as tough, and I could roll out thinly much more easily, as it wasn't springing back as I tried to roll. However, you can make this entirely of AP flour, it might just be a little more challenging to roll out thin.

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cups cake flour
3/4 cup warm water
sesame oil, about 3 teaspoons
1/2 cup scallions, sliced thin
salt
peanut or canola oil, for frying

Combine flours together. Add water, either in a well in the middle of the flours, or in a stand mixer with a dough hook, and work to evenly combine. Knead for about three minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic. Place the ball of dough into a slightly oiled bowl, cover with a damp cloth, and let rest for about thirty minutes.



Divide dough into three equal pieces (or more depending on the size of pancake you wish). Roll one piece of dough out into a circle, as thinly as possible.



Brush one side of rolled out dough with a very thin layer of sesame oil. Sprinkle lightly with salt, and scatter scallions evenly and liberally over the dough, making sure to get the edges.



Starting at the edge, carefully roll dough in one direction, encompassing the scallions, until you have a long rope.



Coil the rope (think: cinnamon bun) into a tight bundle.  (Look at the large beehive-like coils on the table on the left with the man in the photo of Beijing earlier in the post.) Cover with a damp cloth and allow to rest for about thirty minutes.



After they've rested, flatten the coil slightly with your hand.



Roll the disk with a rolling pin, until it is an even circle about 8-10" in diameter.



Heat a tablespoon of peanut or canola oil in a pan over medium-high heat, until the oil shimmers. Gently place the pancake in the pan, laying it away from you as you put it in--so you don't get splashed with oil. Fry gently for about two minutes on both sides until golden brown. Drain briefly on a paper towel.

Cut into wedges. Serve warm with a dipping sauce of soy sauce infused with slices of fresh ginger.





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ebruary
02
Chinese Dumplings


Chinese new year begins tonight at midnight.  An integral part of the celebratory feasts are meat and vegetable stuffed dumplings.  Called jiao-zi in northern China, they are typically eaten right at the start of the new year.  Their crescent shape is reminiscent of the shape of ancient Chinese currency, silver and gold ingots, and eating them at the birth of the new year is thought to bring wealth and prosperity.

When I first moved to New York City in the mid-nineties, I had my first taste of really authentic chinese dumplings.  It was love at first slightly-burned-tongue.  More of an obsession, to be honest, as I would devour as many as I could afford, as often as I could justify.

Three years ago, my husband and I celebrated our honeymoon in China.  I had the wonderful good fortune of being able to learn a tremendous amount about the cuisine, with trips to many local markets, tremendous meals, and some cooking lessons at the Cloud 9 cooking school in Yangshuo on the banks of the breathtaking Li River.

One of the dishes we cooked in class were dumplings.  Here is one of our lovely teachers explaining how to fold the rounds of dough into the crescent shape.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aphirz7wcbM

So below are my recipes for both pork and vegetable dumplings.  I have adapted them through the years from what I learned in that class, what I've learned from a big assortment of great cookbooks, and most definitely from what I've learned from eating this favorite of any food I can think of.  On a desert island, these are what are coming with me.

I am sure there are Chinese grandmothers who will find unauthentic hues in some part of my recipes.  But they are as authentic as I've been able to learn through every best effort, and when I burn my tongue with that first divine chewy bite, send me back to China and Chinatowns I've loved, and make me feel very fortunate.


PORK AND VEGETABLE CHINESE DUMPLINGS

Each recipe makes approximately 60 dumplings.

Pork Filling (for 60 dumplings)
1 lb ground pork
4 inch piece of fresh ginger, unpeeled
1/2 cup scallions, white and green parts, thinly sliced
1 egg
1 tablespoon Shaoxing rice wine or medium-dry sherry
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 teaspoons sesame oil
2 tablespoons soy sauce

With the blunt edge of a cleaver or chef's knife, smash and bruise the ginger. Put into a 1/2 cup of cold water and let sit for at least 10 minutes.

Combine all other ingredients with the pork. Stirring in one direction, slowly add strained ginger water to pork mixture, making sure to squeeze out ginger to get as much juice as you can. Discard ginger solids. Stir until water is incorporated. Refrigerate until ready to fill dumplings.

You may pan fry a small spoonful of the filling to sample and adjust seasoning if desired.

Vegetable Filling (for 60 dumplings)
(Below is a combination that I enjoy and is fresh, bright and balanced. But these dumplings are a wonderful blank canvas for vegetable fillings in particular, and a great way to use seasonal produce throughout the year.)
3 large carrots
3 scallions, white and some of green parts
1 1/2 cups packed baby bok choy
8 large fresh shitake mushrooms
1/2 cup packed fresh spinach leaves
1 1/2 teaspoons salt, or more to taste
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoon finely grated fresh ginger (freeze first, and grate on a microplane for great results.)
3 teaspoons sesame oil

Grate or chop all vegetables as finely as possible and combine. Alternatively, you can chop all vegetables in a food processor, until it resembles a chunky paste. Combine vegetables with salt, pepper, ginger and sesame oil. Taste and adjust seasoning.




Dough (for approximately 60 dumplings)
(You can certainly use any of the round of dumpling wrappers that are widely available at grocery stores and asian specialty food markets, but if you have a little extra time, making the dough yourself is a well-rewarded effort.)
4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups water


Comine flour and salt. Make a well in the middle and pour in the water. Slowly combine from the sides of the well, and knead until all incorporated. Knead for at least 5 minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic. Cover with a damp cloth and let rest for 20 minutes.

Alternatively you can make the dough in a stand mixer using the dough hook.

After the dough has rested, roll out on a floured surface, into a rope about the width of your thumb. Cut pieces a little less than an inch, so when rolled into a ball they are about the size of a large cherry. Keep unused dough under a damp cloth as you work.

Flatten the balls into a disk and then roll out into a circle about 3-3.5 inches in diameter, using more flour as needed. You can also run them through a pasta roller, at number 4 thickness.

Assembly
(Please see video above.)
Place one circle of dough in the palm of your hand. With your finger, lightly wet the outer edge of the dough with water, to help make the seal.  Place about a teaspoon of filling in the center of the dough. Pinch the top and bottom together at one point, so that it is folded in half. Holding that point with one hand, use your other hand to make one fold on one side of the dough towards the center like a pleat. Repeat on that same side and then seal that half well at the top. Switch hands so the other is holding the center point. Do the same two pleats on the other side towards the center and seal.

Place finished dumplings upright on a baking sheet lined with parchment or slightly floured.
Dumplings can be frozen at this point, by placing the sheet in the freezer, freezing them individually. When frozen they can be removed from the sheet and consolidated to a freezer bag.

To Boil the Dumplings:
Bring a pot of water to a boil. Add fresh or frozen (directly from the freezer, no need to thaw) dumplings. Allow water to return to a boil and add one cup of cold water to the pot. Allow to come to a boil again and add one more cup of cold water to the pot. When the water returns to a boil, the dumplings should be cooked through. The addition of the cold water also keeps the water from boiling too vigorously and breaking apart the dumplings.

Dipping Sauce:
My favorite is:
3 parts soy sauce
2 parts Chinkiang vinegar, chinese black vinegar, or balsamic vinegar
1 part sesame oil

Mix well to combine.

Another version:
3 parts soy sauce
2 parts Chinkiang vinegar, black vinegar, or balsamic vinegar
Fresh ginger, peeled and finely diced, to taste
Sugar, to taste



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Catie Baumer Schwalb is a chef, food writer and photographer, who splits her life between the city and the country. Not too long ago Catie was a New York City based actress and playwright for more than a decade. She has her Master of Fine Arts from the National Theater Conservatory, and her Grand Diplôme in classic culinary arts from the French Culinary Institute in New York City. ... Read More

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