A scallion pancake recipe is layered with thoughts of family, China and a tiny secret (2024)

All Things We're Cooking is a series featuring family recipes from you, our readers and listeners, and the special stories behind them. We'll continue to share more of your kitchen gems throughout the holidays.

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Lily Liu's parents left China when they were just high school students. It was a quick decision made one night in 1948 amid the country's Civil War. The two wanted to escape the prospect of life under communist rule. They didn't take a lot with them, and what they did take, they mostly ended up throwing out. But one tradition they held onto was a recipe for scallion pancakes, Liu said.

Those pancakes help keep the memory of Liu's father, Tai, alive more than a decade after his death and remind the family of where they came from.

"The memories still are with us of waking up on a Sunday and the aroma of these crispy, wonderful scallion pancakes would be wafting up the stairs," Liu said. "But it meant that he had woken up early because it takes a while to get the flour ready and then to make them."

Liu lives in Washington, D.C., now, but said she can still picture walking down the stairs in the family's Delaware home to see her father standing in front of the stove. The house could be drafty during the winters. So, there he was, London Fog raincoat draped over his shoulders like a "Superman cape," making pancakes.

After a handful of years in a refugee camp and in Taiwan, where the couple got married in the mid-1950s, Liu's parents landed in Indiana, which was fitting because they came from what she calls the Midwest of China, where there are a lot of wheat fields, and flour is a core ingredient in many recipes, including the pancakes.

"It's so simple when you think about it. Flour, scallions, salt, and that's about it. And oil to cook it," she said. "But from that simple thing, the layers I feel of the flaky inside show the layers and the nuances of the love of parents."

These days, Liu's siblings carry on the tradition by making scallion pancakes for their children on the weekends, just like their father did for them — always following his guidance.

"He said the secret was to stand there at the range, turning it so that the outside would be crispy, but the inside would be nice and flaky," she said. "That was his forte."

Liu said she has thought more about the traditions her parents brought to the U.S. as she has watched the war in Ukraine unfold this year, with many people leaving everything behind. She sees a common thread between Ukraine's refugees and her parents, who left China more than 70 years ago.

"The traditions are in our minds and in our hearts, and sometimes that is enough — better than any monetary inheritance or some gold bracelet or something that someone was able to bring out," she said.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup warm water (if needed, add a tablespoon or two of warm water)
  • 1/4 cup Mazola corn oil
  • 4 scallions, sliced very thin


Directions

Pour the flour into a medium bowl. Add the warm water to the flour and stir with a spoon. Continue stirring until all of the water has been absorbed by the flour.

With your hands, knead the dough in the bowl. You may need to add up to 2 more tablespoons of warm water until all of the flour comes together.

Knead the dough for about five minutes. If it sticks to your fingers, sprinkle in some more flour.

Finally, shape the dough into a ball. Cover the bowl with a towel and let the dough rest for about 30 minutes.

Next, sprinkle flour on top of your workspace. Cut the dough into four pieces. Keep one piece on your work surface and place the three remaining pieces back in the bowl.

Shape the first piece of dough into a small ball. Use a rolling pin to shape the dough into a thin circle. The size should be about 6 inches in diameter.

Spread some corn oil on top of the entire dough circle. Sprinkle the thinly sliced scallions all over the circle of dough. Pinch some salt and sprinkle it evenly across the scallion pieces.

Pull on the top end of the circle of dough and roll downward to the bottom, forming a log-like strip. Put your right palm on one end of the strip and your left palm on the other end and push toward the middle, bunching up the strip of dough. Turn the patty of dough face up and place it on your work surface.

Use one palm to flatten the dough into a circle. Using the rolling pin, roll the dough circle out thinly, about half an inch thick. The thinly sliced pieces of scallions may come to the surface of the dough circle.

Transfer this scallion pancake to a plate and prepare the remaining three pieces of dough using this process.

Using a medium-size nonstick skillet, dribble 4 tablespoons of the corn oil around the pan. Turn on the stove to medium heat and place one pancake in the middle of the skillet. Using a heat-resistant cooking spatula, swirl the pancake around in the skillet repeatedly. Fry each side about five to seven minutes until the crust is crunchy and golden brown. The heat should be turned lower toward the end of the cooking time.

Repeat this process for the three remaining pancakes, adding oil to the skillet before cooking each pancake.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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A scallion pancake recipe is layered with thoughts of family, China and a tiny secret (2024)

FAQs

Where did scallion pancakes originate in China? ›

Some have speculated that cong you bin may have been inspired by paratha, the Indian flatbread with a visibly similar construction; chopped scallions, a typical Chinese garnish, were possibly added to the dough along the way. By that theory, a busy international port city like Shanghai may have birthed them.

What is a scallion pancake made of? ›

To make the pancakes, all you need are four basic ingredients: flour, hot (boiling) water, scallions, and salt. READ MORE: The hot water makes the pancakes easier to flatten, especially during the first rollout.

Is Chinese pizza the same as scallion pancakes? ›

Scallion pancakes, also known as Chinese pizza, is one of my favorite foods. In mandarin it is 蔥油餅 which directly translates to: onion oil cake. Not only are the ingredients simple, but also the texture is flaky and crispy.

How to serve Chinese scallion pancakes? ›

They're served with a sweet soy-ginger-Sriracha dipping sauce and paired with a lightly dressed red cabbage-cucumber salad for a classic Chinese treat you won't be able to get enough of.

What is the history of scallion pancakes? ›

Since the making of scallion pancakes dates back to early Chinese history (legend has it they first became popular in Shanghai), there are legends that have traveled with them. In fact, it's rumored that Marco Polo was a huge fan of scallion pancakes (according to blogs and research websites).

What is a fun fact about scallion pancakes? ›

Here's a fun fact about the scallion pancake: according to legend, Marco Polo loved these pancakes. When he returned home to Italy, he had some chefs make a different type of pancake so he could have some more. But what he got was the ancestor of another dish we all know and love her in modern day America: pizza.

Why are scallion pancakes so good? ›

The secret to scallion pancakes is the crispy, flaky exterior that gives way to a slightly chewy interior of thin layers.

Why do people like scallion pancakes? ›

Scallion pancakes are a pan-fried Chinese flat bread appetizer that are savory, slightly crispy, with bits of chopped green onions embedded in between layers of a chewy wheat dough. When served hot and fresh, they're crispy and smell wonderful.

Why are my scallion pancakes tough? ›

It's not okay: To use hot water because it'll make the dough tougher. To not rest the dough in Step 1 because it'll make the dough harder to roll. To skip the slamming in Step 5 because the pancake will be dense rather than fluffy.

Who invented scallion pancakes? ›

Many believe Cong You Bing originated in Shanghai, where many Indians had once lived. This makes sense due to the scallion pancake's similarity to Indian naan bread.

What do Chinese call pizza? ›

Mostly pizza is called “披萨” or “匹萨” in Chinese, though youngesters (especially those from the South) prefer using pizza directly.

What are other names for scallion pancakes? ›

A scallion pancake, also known as a green onion pancake or spring onion pancake is a kind of pancake made with scallions. It is usually chewy, flaky, and savory. Examples include: Cōng yóu bǐng, a Chinese pancake made with scallions.

What are scallion pancakes called in Chinese? ›

Cong you bing (cōngyóubǐng) (Chinese: 蔥油餅; pinyin: cōngyóubǐng; Wade–Giles: Ts'ung1-yu2-ping3; lit. 'scallion oil pancake'; Mandarin pronunciation [tsʰʊ́ŋjǒʊpìŋ]), also known as scallion pancake or "green onion pancake", is a Chinese savory, unleavened flatbread folded with oil and minced scallions (green onions).

What pairs well with scallion pancakes? ›

The scallion pancakes can be eaten whole or cut into wedges for easier handling. Enjoy with congee, as a snack with some Chinese black vinegar, soy sauce, and/or chili oil!

What to serve with Trader Joe's scallion pancakes? ›

Scallion Pancakes With Pork Belly and Fried Egg

Place a few slices of pork belly on top of the scallion pancake and top with a fried egg. TJ's tip: If you don't eat pork (or don't like pork belly) there are plenty of proteins you can swap in here from Korean-style short ribs to pre-marinated teriyaki chicken.

When were Chinese pancakes invented? ›

The 3rd Century Origins Of Chinese Pancakes

The snack, similar to what is known in China as “Jianbing,” traces its roots all the way back to the Shandong Province during the Three Kingdoms Period (220 – 280 AD).

What is China scallion in Chinese? ›

In Chinese, scallions (AKA green onions) are often simply referred to as, cōng (葱).

Where did scallions originate? ›

Harvested before the onion develops its bulb, they're also called green onions, spring onions, Welsh onions, salad onions and Japanese bunching onions. Cultivated since 3,500 B.C. and native to Asia, scallions were one of the earliest cultivated crops.

Did they have pancakes in ancient China? ›

Well, the first ever documented pancake was made in Ancient China in fourth century BC. They were fragile cakes made of wheat flour that were enjoyed by many. In the 1st century AD, the Ancient Romans wolfed down fried cakes made of milk flour, eggs, and spices.

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