Yeh-Yeh’s Chinese Scallion Pancakes

I have a profound love of Asian foods, especially Chinese and Thai, and Dan and I were dating, we would go out to eat to family-owned Asian restaurants in the Twin Cities and we would eat while he told me stories of cooking traditional Chinese recipes with his grandparents and cousins when they gathered on the East Coast. He told me how when the whole family would get together for the holidays and other celebrations, they would make jiaozi and each of the six cousins would be assigned a task by the grandparents to help prepare the meal. Dan’s job was usually to prepare the pork for the jiaozi filling, which would be minced and mixed with ginger and chopped scallions. To this day, the aroma of sesame oil and scallions always reminds Dan of those family get-togethers and time spent with his grandfather (Yeh-Yeh) and grandmother (Nie-Nie) in New York City and Connecticut, and the meals they all enjoyed preparing and eating together. It was family time at its best: mouth-watering smells in the kitchen, Nie-Nie’s musical presence humming and playing the piano, Yeh-Yeh’s stories of his international travels, lots of games with the cousins, and the incredibly delicious Chinese food made from recipes from the old country. In turn, when the grandparents visited Minnesota, Dan and his parents had a favorite Chinese restaurant in their hometown, where they would always take his grandparents for dinner. Yeh-Yeh would go into the kitchen and talk to the cook in Mandarin or Cantonese and get special dishes from his childhood that were not on the menu. In Flushing’s Chinatown, the street vendors, waiters, and cooks knew him as soon as he walked in and would bring out his favorites and spend hours chatting and laughing together reminiscing about the old country and their travels. He truly had a gift for connection with people across cultures, like nobody else in the world, and clearly, he went into the kitchen not just for his favorite childhood dishes, but also for that special sense of fellowship with other fellow Chinese expatriates who had made America their home like he did. 

It took awhile before Dan and I got around to trying some of these family recipes at home. I must confess that Chinese cooking at home was unfamiliar and somewhat intimidating to me when I first contemplated it, and Dan himself had never tried making any of the dishes on his own without the help of his grandparents. Also, when he was single he basically lived on takeout and the one-pot jambalaya he learned to make in graduate school. (There weren’t even vegetables in his fridge! *gasp*) He also confessed to me that, living in North Carolina and the Twin Cities, he had never found Chinese food that could live up to his hometown restaurant and his grandparents’ home cooking, and had essentially stopped eating it as a result. The bar was set very high; however, as we made more and more recipes from our families’ legacies, we wanted to make some of these old favorites at home, even if it meant trying it a few times until we got it right. The first recipes we tried were jiaozi and whole steamed fish for Lunar New Year in 2020. I also tried making snowskin mooncakes last summer, and it was delicious but tricky. This year, when Ann from @ann.bites and Jocelijn from @munch.mountain hosted a #savorybakescollab, the opportunity presented itself for Dan and me to try the much-beloved family recipe of Chinese scallion pancakes, cong yue bing (蔥油餅), affectionately known to the Li family as bing bing. Making them at home is super fun, easy, and will make your kitchen smell heavenly! They are a savory flatbread, so in that sense, they are more flatbread than Western pancakes, because they are made from a dough, not a batter.

Chinese scallion pancakes are one of the most famous and traditional Chinese foods, a popular street food, and are available in every region of the country, varying from place to place. In the northern provinces, the pancakes are thinner, chewy, and with less oil. Yeh-Yeh was from Beijing so his family recipe is most similar to the northern version, and it is the one we are sharing today. In Southern China, the pancakes are made with a different recipe; they are thicker and fried with a larger amount of oil. Shanghai pancakes are one version of these Southern Chinese pancakes; they are crispier and do not use any cold water in the making of the dough. They also have an oil-flour mixture in which to fry the green onions, so while it’s a very similar pancake, the methodology is different. Nie-Nie was from Shanghai, which I think is really cool, because in one set of grandparents you have two major types of Chinese cuisine represented in our family. We will try Nie-Nie’s Shanghai-style scallion pancakes in another post!

Today’s recipe for bing bing produces scallion pancakes that are vegan, healthy, delicious, and made with the most basic everyday ingredients. Usually served by themselves for breakfast, as a complement to a meal (like with a savory soup such as tomato egg drop soup), as an appetizer, or with a sweet soy milk as a snack, they are always a crowd-pleaser and a favorite. The recipe calls for sprinkling the scallion on the dough before it is rolled, which infuses the dough with the flavor and aroma of the green onions and sesame oil. An added convenience is that they can be made ahead and frozen by storing them in an airtight zip-top bag. Then on the day you want to make them, you simply remove them from the freezer and fry them directly. Traditionally, there is no dipping sauce to go with the pancakes because they are already savory without it, but if you wanted to have a dipping sauce on the side, we included it as well, because Dan’s family ate it with a soy dip. 

I hope you will enjoy making this recipe as much as Dan and I did! It was so fun and we enjoyed sharing it with his parents. Dan’s Dad proclaimed it as good as the street food he had in Beijing! Well almost as good, anyway! I would have to travel to Beijing to verify that! It was so kind of him to say so, and it was so good to see father and son sharing in this experience and carrying forward the tradition of their ancestors, and I was super lucky to be a small part of it. Enjoy!

Yeh-Yeh’s Chinese Scallion Pancakes

Prep time: 20 min.

Frying Time: 5 min. per pancake

Resting Time: 1 hour 30 minutes, non-consecutive

Servings: 4 pancakes or 16 wedges

Ingredients: 

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup +1 tbsp hot, boiling water
  • ¼ cup +2 tbsp cold water
  • 2 tsp cold water for adjusting, if necessary
  • 1 tbsp sesame oil
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 1 tbsp Chinese five spice powder
  • 2 cups chopped green scallions (do not use the white parts)
  • Sunflower oil for frying

Instructions:

  1. To make the bing bing, mix the salt with the all-purpose flour. Dig a small hole in the center of this mixture and then pour the hot water in. 
  2. Mix slowly and thoroughly, until the hot water is absorbed. In the traditional method, the mixing is done using chopsticks. You may, however, mix it with a dough hook and a stand mixer on the lowest setting. 
  3. Let that mixture rest for 10 minutes.
  4. Add ¼ cup of the cold water and sesame oil slowly while constantly kneading. If the dough is too floury, add the remaining 2 tbsp cold water.
  5. Continue kneading until the dough is not sticky and can form a ball. The use of hot, boiling water and cold water yields a hot, boiling water dough (烫面) that is soft when cooked, while the cold water dough will yield a chewy texture. You can do all of these steps on the lowest stir setting of a stand mixer, or you can do it by hand. If the dough is too floury, you might need additional water, but only add it 1 tbsp at a time. 
  6. Once you have formed a ball, let it rest for 5 minutes.
  7. Knead the dough for about 5 minutes or until very smooth. The dough should be quite soft and smooth.
  8. Place the ball of dough in a bowl and cover with a damp cloth, letting it rest for 30 minutes to 1 hour. The damp cloth is important so the surface of the pancake doesn’t crackle or dry out. The resting of the dough is very important at this step, and also before rolling out the snails.
  9. While the dough is resting, chop the scallions. You can save the white part of the scallions for another recipe. We will only use the green parts for the bing bing.
  10. Prepare the surface where you will be assembling the bing bing, making sure you have your salt, sesame oil, Chinese Five Spice, and chopped scallions, plus a brush nearby.
  11. After the dough has rested, the dough should feel spongy and very soft. It should be easy to roll out. Divide the dough into 4 pieces.
  12. Roll a piece of dough into a circle 9 to 10 inches wide.
  13. Brush some sesame oil, sprinkle Chinese Five Spice powder, salt, and chopped scallions, leaving ½ inch of the edge of the circle free of toppings.
  14. Roll up the circle into a scroll and pinch up the edges Then, coil this tubular scroll into the shape of a snail, seam down.
  15. Cover with a damp cloth and let rest for 15 minutes.
  16. Repeat with this process with the remaining 3 pieces, until you have 4 snails.
  17. Flatten each snail into a circle. Be gentle and use your hands as much as possible instead of a rolling pin or other instrument. You can push with the fingers to spread the dough gently.
  18. Brush some sunflower oil on a frying pan and move one of the pancakes into the pan.
  19. Use middle to low heat to pan-fry on one side for about 2-3 minutes, or until the surface has brown spots.
  20. Turn the pancake over and fry for another 1-2 minutes, until it is golden and has spots too. From time to time, use a spatula to press the circular pancake in the central part to ensure that the pancake is evenly fried and cooked.
  21. Remove the pancake from the frying pan and repeat with remaining pancakes.
  22. To serve, cut the pancakes into wedges and serve them with soy sauce.

© 2021 Carol’s Baking Adventures