September 17, 2004

Oily Scallion Cakes

I stole this from Mrs. Chiang's Szechwan Cookbook in 1994, and have since used, abused and simplified it many, many times. Posted now because I figure the statute of limitations must have expired.

4 cups wheat flour
1 1/3 cup water
20 scallions (about two bunches)
4 teaspoons salt
12 teaspoons sesame oil
Olive oil

Chop the scallions into disks, as thin as possible. Mix the scallions, the flour and the water thoroughly --- you'll find that a stirring-spoon is much easier to clean off than your hands --- and leave the whole thing alone for half an hour.

Take the mix and divide it into handfuls, say one for each cup of flour you used originally. Press a handful out on an oiled surface until it makes a circle about eight inches across. Sprinkle on this one tea-spoon of salt and three of sesame oil, and spread these evenly and thoroughly over the surface. (Getting the salt even is especially important.) Fold the circle back up into a ball and spread it out again. It is now ready to be fried in the oil. Fry each side until it's a dark but still golden brown; a very small degree of blackening doesn't matter.

Cold scallion cakes are, to my taste, fine (particularly the next morning...), but they reheat nicely in ovens and microwaves.

Notes on ingredients. Over-all proportions. This is scaled to make enough for about eight people. If you want more or less, simply change everything proportionally (i.e., 1/3 cup water and 5 scallions per cup flour). This kind of thinking doesn't work for baking, but this isn't baking. Scallions. Chives, leeks, or the herb called "Chinese chives" (gandana in Afghanistan) can be substituted to taste. Oil. Peanut oil, or even lard, is more authentic, but frankly does nothing for the taste or the already negligible nutritional value.

Things which don't work very well. (1) Adding the salt to the mix at the beginning --- it tends to dessicate the scallions, and so make the mix soggy. (2) Baking the cakes --- they don't taste nearly as good as they do when fried. (3) Leaving the scallions out of the mix and adding them at the same stage as the salt and sesame oil. This is the traditional way, and the one Mrs. Chiang recommends. It involves carefully rolling the cake up, and even more carefully folding it out again for frying, and then frying it with kid gloves. The cakes almost always burst on me, and it doesn't do anything for their taste when it works anyway.

A tasty dipping sauce

9 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons sesame oil
5 tablespoons vinegar
3/4--1 inch ginger root, chopped very fine.
Chili-garlic sambal, to taste

Mix everything thoroughly before setting out for people to dip their cakes in.

Notes on the sauce. Soy sauce. Almost any kind will do. I like using ponzu sauce instead of regular soy sauce. Vinegar. Especially if you're not using much or any sambal, consider using a hot vinegar, either from an Asian grocery store with Indonesian or Malay connections, or simply making your own. (Put dried red chili peppers in the vinegar to soak for a few days. In fact, leave them in there and keep refilling the jar with fresh vinegar.)


Posted at September 17, 2004 01:14 | permanent link

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