Quarantine Bake Along: Scallion Pancakes (蔥油餅, Cong You Bing)

My late grandpa used to make delicious scallion pancakes for our family. He taught my mom his recipe and she has been making them ever since. Growing up, I would often have them in the freezer at the ready. My mom would also bring them to me during her visits when I was in college. Scallion pancakes have gotten me through plenty of empty refrigerator/pantry times throughout the years.

I introduced these to J when we were dating, and now he probably likes them more than I do. I finally got around to asking my mom for the recipe so now I make them whenever we have extra scallions. They take a bit of time but it’s always nice to have a stack of scallion pancakes in the freezer for when you want a snack. We often eat them for breakfast with a fried egg too.

A Brief Scallion Pancake History

The scallion pancake has been around for so long and its origins have passed into myth, folklore, and guesswork. It’s difficult to tell where it was first created, but many of the tales point to Shanghai, China (where my dad is from!). The scallion pancake greatly resembles an Indian flatbread known as paratha. There is a story in China that suggests pizza is an adaptation of the scallion pancake, brought back to Italy by Marco Polo. Marco Polo missed scallion pancakes so much that when he was back in Italy, he tried to find chefs willing to make the pancake for him. Not finding success, Marco Polo suggested the filling be put on top rather than inside the dough. The change, by chance, created a dish that formed into today’s pizza.

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Ingredients

  • 3 cups unbleached all purpose flour
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil or neutral oil
  • 1 cup unbleached all purpose flour
  • 1 bunch of scallions, finely chopped

Instructions

  1. Start by preparing the dough. In a medium mixing bowl, mix the flour and cup of boiling water with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula until a sticky dough forms. The dough should be sticky, but not wet.
  2. Knead the dough for a few minutes until it forms a cohesive, smooth dough. Cover and let sit for 30 minutes.
  3. Make the flour and oil roux by combining the oil, salt, and flour. It needs to have the consistency of a paste–continue adding more flour if needed to get desired consistency. Set aside.
  4. Divide the dough into 10 equal pieces and roll each piece out into a thin circle. Next, take about 1 teaspoon of the roux and spread it across the entire circle of the dough. Take about 1/4 – 1/2 cup of the chopped scallions and spread them generously and evenly over the roux.
  5. Next, roll the dough up into a log and then shape that log into a spiral (see photos). Using a rolling pin, roll out the spiral to desired thickness of pancake. Be gentle but don’t worry if the scallions tear through the layers. Just stuff them back in and keep rolling. Repeat with the rest.
  6. At this time, I’ll often stack the pancakes with layers of plastic wrap or parchment paper between each, stuff them into a plastic bag, and then freeze them for future use.
  7. When ready to cook, heat a pan over medium low heat until hot. Place the pancake in the pan. The pan should be hot enough so the dough is sizzling, but browning slowly. When the bottom is browned, turn the pancake over gently and let brown on the other side.
  8. Remove pancake and enjoy! If you like, now’s the time to sprinkle some extra salt on top to taste.

Quarantine Bake Along: No Knead Crusty Bread

This quarantine has made it the perfect time for me to start a sourdough starter, but the cooler temps in my house and me running out of rye flour and unable to go buy any have made it slow to mature. I was hoping to make a sourdough loaf by now, but unfortunately, have had no such luck. We almost never buy bread from the store but I’m sure all the aisles are empty anyway.

Cue this recipe. This is the crusty bread recipe to end all bread recipes. It’s my go-to and it turns out beautiful every time. It’s a famous recipe by Jim Lahey and highlighted by Mark Bittman on NYT Cooking. To my initial disbelief, it’s also the easiest bread recipe I’ve ever encountered as it requires no kneading, no specific shaping, and no scoring. The only thing that it requires is time. It’s very little effort on your part but you do have to prep about 24 hours in advance and let it sit. You’ll impress everyone (even yourself) with this bread, and you won’t ever have to spend $7-11 for a similar loaf at the local bakery ever again.

This bread is perfect for sandwiches, dipping into balsamic vinegar and olive oil, a side for soup, or just by itself. It’s very crusty, which I love, but this isn’t the bread for you if you don’t like a supremely crunchy crust.

A Brief History of Bread

Bread (flour mixed with water) in its various forms has been a staple in many cultures for centuries once people were able to mill wheat (although more so in naturally fermented forms). The invention and popularization of commercialized yeast has made it easier and faster to leaven bread, hence the many kinds of yeast breads (cinnamon rolls, croissants, doughnuts, buns, etc.) and the loaves you see in the bread aisle. While naturally leavened sourdough loaves will always be the more nutritious option, there’s no dispute that yeast makes bread-making much more accessible and simple for those who don’t have the desire or time to keep up a starter.

Ingredients

  • 4 cups of all purpose or bread flour (I like bread flour and substituting up to 2 cups of whole wheat flour)
  • 1/2 teaspoon instant yeast
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 cups lukewarm water

Instructions

  1. In a large bowl combine flour, yeast and salt. Add 2 cups warm water, and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy and sticky. Cover bowl with plastic wrap or lid. Let dough rest at least 12 hours, preferably about 18, at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees. If your house is warmer, a couple hours less; cooler, a couple hours more.
  2. Dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles. Lightly flour a work surface and place dough on it; sprinkle it with a little more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice. Cover with a towel and let rest for 15 minutes.
  3. Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to a work surface or to your fingers, gently and quickly shape dough into a ball. Generously coat a piece of parchment paper with flour and place the dough ball seam side down. Sprinkle the top with flour and cover with a towel and let rise for about 2 hours. When it is ready, dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.
  4. At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 450F degrees. Put a heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) in the oven as it heats. You can also use the bowl of a slow cooker covered with a flat baking sheet. When the dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven. Grab onto the parchment and turn dough over into pot, seam side up; it may look like a mess, but that is okay. Shake pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes. Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 20 to 30 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a rack.

Recipe from Mark Bittman and NYT Cooking.

Homemade Hummus

For some reason, homemade hummus has always sounded daunting to me. But whenever I really thought about it, I knew it was probably the easiest thing to just blend everything together in the food processor. My thinking was right, but it does take a lot of time to end up with a batch of hummus (if you used dried chickpeas). I think it’s strictly the convenience of buying a tub of hummus at the store that kept me doing that. Now that I’ve finally made it at home, I think I’ve been converted.

Purists say that you can only used dried and cooked chickpeas to make authentic hummus. Again, for convenience sake, a lot of bloggers say that canned chickpeas work just fine and don’t really make a difference in the outcome. I used dried and cooked chickpeas for this hummus because J bought a ton on sale at the grocery store, but you do you! Whatever works best.

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Ingredients

  • 1 can chickpeas (15 oz), drained and rinsed or 2 cups cooked chickpeas
  • 1/4 cup tahini
  • 1/4 cup water (and more as needed)
  • 1 large garlic clove or 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • juice of 1 or 2 lemons, to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • Olive oil, for drizzling
  • Smoked paprika, for garnish

Instructions

  1. Place all ingredients in food processor and blend until desired consistency. Taste as you go and add more garlic, lemon juice, salt, water, tahini, based on your desired tastes and consistency.
  2. Serve with a drizzle of olive oil, paprika, and herbs. Serve with pita, veggies, or what have you.
  3. Store in airtight container in refrigerator for up to a week.

     

    You can easily make this hummus into whatever you want. If you’d like to add roasted garlic, do it! Or add some roasted red peppers. Or substitute some chickpeas for other beans. Honestly, you can experiment with whatever flavors you want.

Beet and Sweet Potato Galette with Almond Crust

Galettes are just rustic one crust pies. Or at least that’s what I think. They’re my lazy, often savory, pies.

I’m a huge lover of buttery crust so I’m always on board when a dinner is tasty and has a ton of crust. It’s probably not the most healthful thing, but oh well, I’m eating all my veggies too in this one!

In order to make myself feel slightly better, I made the crust with mostly almond flour. You can let me know whether or not that’s actually “better.” 🙂

Ingredients

For the crust

  •  cups almond flour
  • ½ cup tapioca or all purpose flour
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
  • tablespoons cold grass-fed butter, cubed
  • egg cold

For the filling

  • 4 oz softened cream cheese
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon thyme
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 small sweet potato
  • 1 medium beet, peeled
  • 1 small sweet onion, diced
  • Salt and pepper and thyme, for garnish
  • Feta or goat cheese, optional
  • Honey, for drizzling, optional

Instructions

  1. Combine the almond flour, flour, seasonings, salt and butter in a food processor, or use a pastry blender in a bowl. Pulse or blend until the texture of coarse meal.
  2. Add 1 egg and pulse/mix again until dough comes together. If you’re mixing in a bowl, you may want to use your hands to bring the dough together at the end. Turn out the dough onto a piece of plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to overnight.
  3. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 375°F.
  4. In a small bowl, mix together the cream cheese, paprika, thyme, garlic, and salt. Set aside.
  5. Thinly slice the sweet potato and beet in rounds.
  6. Roll out the dough into a rough circle about 1/4″ thick and place onto a parchment or silicone mat-lined baking sheet.
  7. Spread the cream cheese filling on the bottom, leaving about 1″ of dough around the circle.
  8. Arrange and layer the sweet potato and beet slices over the filling, piling it up in the center. Sprinkle the sliced onions on top and the cheese if using.
  9. Gently fold the edges up, creasing the dough together as you go. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and thyme.
  10. Bake the galette in the oven for approximately 40-60 minutes until sweet potatoes and beets can be pierced with a knife. This largely depends on how thinly you sliced them and how full your galette is.
  11. Remove from oven and let cool for 10 minutes before digging in! Feel free to drizzle some honey if you like the flavor combo.

Steamed BBQ Pork Buns (Cha Shao Bao)

I’ve been wanting to make homemade cha shao bao for a while now. I finally got my hands on some good BBQ pork (thanks mom!) and asked my grandma for her amazing man tou (steamed bread bun) recipe. Combine the two, and voila! You get these steamed pork buns.

When I called my grandma asking about her recipe, I should’ve expected that she would say she doesn’t have one. She just eyeballs and throws a bunch of things together. I was trying to listen to her list off her “recipe” in mandarin and translating it into something I could put numbers to. She said things like 3 spoons of oil and an unknown amount of warm water haha. I decided to give it a shot and it actually turned out!

This was my first time making them so they definitely didn’t come out 100%. I’ll continue learning with each time, but they’re still tasty either way. My first steam batch was a huge fail. I called my mom to ask what could’ve happened and she made me realize that I didn’t let the buns rise long enough the second time. My grandma didn’t mention a second rise so I’m glad my mom came to the rescue with that, saving the rest of the buns!

Ingredients

Steamed Bun Dough

  • 3 cups (360 g) all purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 1 tablespoon pure cane sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon yeast
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 cup warm water (90-110 F)

BBQ Pork Filling

  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 1 small sweet onion, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon rice wine or dry sherry
  • 3/4 pound BBQ pork, diced
  • 1 tablespoon corn starch
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1/2 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon oyster sauce
  • 1/8 teaspoon five spice powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon white or black pepper
  • Red chili flakes, optional, to taste
  • 2 bunches scallions, chopped

Instructions

  1. In a large bowl, mix together all the ingredients for the dough with a wooden spoon or chopsticks. It should come into a shaggy ball and most all the flour should be absorbed. Add more water or flour in small increments as necessary if not the right consistency.
  2. Place dough on clean surface and knead until smooth and elastic, just a few minutes.
  3. Return dough to a well-oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap or a damp towel to rise for about an hour or until doubled in size.
  4. In the meantime, make the filling. Add the sesame oil into a large pan and saute the onion and garlic on medium heat until translucent and fragrant, several minutes. Add in the rice wine and let it cook and evaporate. Then, add in the pork and cook together for a few minutes.
  5. In a small bowl, combine all the rest of the filling ingredients except for the scallions. Stir well to dissolve corn starch and make a slurry.
  6. Pour the sauce mixture into the pan and cook until filling has thickened. Remove from heat and let cool slightly. Add in the scallions and stir. Set aside.
  7. Cut up 16 little squares from parchment paper or gather 16 cupcake liners.
  8. Once done rising, remove the dough from the bowl and divide into 16 equally sized balls. Cover with a towel and let rest for 10 minutes.
  9. Roll each dough ball into rounds that are approximately 3.5″ diameter, making the middle portion thicker than the edges.
  10. Add 1 tablespoon of filling into the center of the round. Fold by pleating the tops and then pinching it all together at the center.
  11. Place the bun onto a parchment square and set aside. Repeat for all 16 buns and cover with a damp towel. Let rise until double in size, between 15-60 minutes, depending on the temperature.
  12. Prepare steamer (preferably bamboo) with water and place over high heat to get it boiling. Add buns to the steam basket and steam for 12 minutes on high heat. Be sure not to check on the buns/remove the lid.
  13. Turn the heat off and let sit for another 5 minutes before enjoying!