RECIPE

The ultimate Chinese pancakes are vegan — and way better than takeout

Salon Food talks to Bay Area author Kristina Cho about mooncakes, milk bread and the best savory pancakes

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Published October 28, 2021 5:00PM (EDT)

Scallion Pancake (Mary Elizabeth Williams)
Scallion Pancake (Mary Elizabeth Williams)

You can't call a book "Mooncakes and Milk Bread" and not have it come out in the fall. Bay Area author and food writer Kristina Cho's warm, inviting debut arrived right around Mid-Autumn Festival season, when Chinese bakeries teem with elegant, intricate and dense traditional mooncakes. If you're yet unfamiliar with the joys of Chinese pastries, this is definitely the time of year to discover them.

They are, however, something of a challenge for the home cook. "When I asked my pau pau if she'd ever attempted to make mooncakes at home or knew anyone who did," Cho writes in her book, "she couldn't fathom the concept."

If, like me, you love to bake, the pleasures and rewards of Cho's recipes are numerous. And once you master basics like milk bread dough, you can use them as the foundation for endless sweet and savory goods.

RELATED: A 3-ingredient cheesecake, no measuring needed

On a less project-oriented day, if you want to dip in to Cho's inviting world of home cooking, there's perhaps no better place to start than her sensational, incredibly customizable pancakes. They're a kin of the kind you've probably ordered out a thousand times — except so much better.

"I think everyone loves granny pancakes," Cho says. "It's really hard to find any fault in crispy fried dough with some type of of aromatic in it."

She adds, "Everything that I do, I like to put my own twist or take on it and push the recipe a little further than the classic. I have experimented with other recipes and put in cheese or pesto and other tender herbs in there — just whatever I have in my fridge or laying around in my little herb container. It's a great quick and dirty recipe because you can, if you have dill, if you have tarragon or if you have basil that's looking a little sad in your fridge, grab it and throw it in this dough and give it a second life. And it's really delicious."


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While Cho specifically created her cilantro and Chinese sausage version to challenge the traditional green onion pancake, I decided to make mine old school for a recent family dinner. It takes a little bit of extra time to let the dough rest, but they require very little actual effort and are easily the cheapest, most satisfying dinner you can make this week.

And just like Cho's book, the result is a dish that's exactly the kind of thing you want to curl up with when you're having a bleak, foggy San Francisco day — or just wish you were. I serve these with chili oil and a little soy sauce mixed with vinegar and brown sugar. 

***

Recipe: Green Onion Pancakes

Inspired by Kristina Cho's "Mooncakes and Milk Bread"

Makes 6

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 3/4 cup warm water
  • 1/4 cup canola or other neutral-flavored oil
  • 2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil (It's not the end of the world if you don't have it and use vegetable oil.)
  • 1 cup cilantro leaves and stems, chopped (Hate cilantro? Use any herb you prefer!)
  • 4 green onions, trimmed and chopped
  • Optional: Crumbled cooked bacon or sausage

Directions:

  1. Combine flour, salt and warm water in a medium bowl. Knead with your hands or a mixer until smooth, about 8 minutes. (You may need to add a little more warm water.)
  2. Form dough into a ball and coat with a little oil. Cover and leave at room temperature at least 30 minutes. (You can also just make the dough in the morning and leave until dinnertime.)
  3. Cut the dough into six equal pieces. On a lightly oiled cutting board, roll one piece into a roughly 6 x 10-inch rectangle. If you don't have a rolling pin, use a wine bottle or even a can.
  4. Brush your piece with a little sesame oil. Sprinkle green onion and cilantro (and meat, if you're using) evenly over it.
  5. Starting at the wide end, roll your dough into a cylinder. Next, roll your cylinder into a coil. Tuck the end into the dough. It should be pretty tightly wrapped with as few air bubbles as possible, but don't stress it.
  6. Repeat the process with your remaining five pieces of dough. Cover the dough, then let your pancakes rest about 15 minutes or so while you clean up.
  7. Heat your 1/4 cup of oil in a deep skillet until shimmering.
  8. Flatten a piece of dough with the heel of your hand, then roll out into a roughly 6-inch disc.
  9. Fry 1-2 minutes, then flip and fry about another minute. The pancake should be deeply golden. Transfer to a baking sheet and keep in the oven on low heat. Repeat for your other pancakes. Serve hot.

Note: You can reheat leftovers at 400°F for about 8 minutes. They're ridiculously good the next day for breakfast.

 

More Quick & Dirty


Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a senior writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

MORE FROM Mary Elizabeth Williams


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Chinese Food Chinese Pancakes Food Kristina Cho Mooncakes And Milk Bread Quick & Dirty Recipe