my grandfather was well-loved in the town where he spent most of his retirement. he rode on a rickety scooter with an orange helmet, up until his 89th birthday — my uncle took away his privileges after a series of minor accidents. most early mornings, you could see him leading a class on advanced tai-chi at the nearby track and field stadium. a few years back, he unfolded for me a wrinkled up article that had been published in local papers about the tai-chi classes. he kept it in his journal like a proud secret. in the afternoons, he ran the local chapter of a christian church. he could strum the guitar and carry a tune.
he died last february, surrounded by his family. at the funeral a few days later, a thousand friends came to pay their respects. i think it was about half the town.
at first glance, my grandfather and i hardly look related. i tower about a foot above him (bovine hormones, i guess!). i probably weigh a few stones more than him. he has an oval face; i have a round one. it’s the little things that reveal our relation. i inherited his crooked pinkie, his love of adventure, and his love of carbs.
scallion pancakes were the very first food item that i learned to make. as a child, i learned by watching my grandfather make them. my grandfather, in turn, learned how to make them from a northern chinese corporal in his regimen during the war a lifetime ago. they are a bit labour intensive but once you get the hang of them absolutely addictive. plus, it’s a “bread” that you can make and eat almost instantaneously — no rising involved. And, once you get the hang of it, you can cook up all sorts of variations!
here we go…i’m about to divulge the family secret!
Grandpa Louis’s Scallion Pancakes
(makes 4 six-inch pancakes)
Flour 2 cups and some extra for dusting the table
Water ~1 cup
Salt a few sprinkles
Veg Oil 8 tsp + 4 tbsp fry pan-frying
Scallions ~4 stalks
- Mix together flour and water until it forms a dough. I use a dough hook in my Kitchen Aid Mixer. Pour in water slowly, a bit at a time. You may need more or less depending on the humidity
- Continue to knead the dough until it is smooth (about 3 minutes after dough is formed)
- Separate dough into 4 even balls.
- Sprinkle surface with flour.
- Take 1 ball and roll out into a flat sheet. It should reach a diameter of about 10 to 12 inches. It’s a bit elastic. But keep going, you’ll eventually roll it out to the maximum size. You may need to stretch and roll the dough simultaneously.
- Rub 2 tsp of oil on top of the flattened dough and sprinkle a pinch of salt over it.
- Sprinkle about 1-2 tbsp of chopped scallions on the dough. (Note: the classic scallion pancake only has these elements. You can, however, at this point put in extra elements. The scallion pancake in the picture above contains some extra roast pork filling that I had left over. There’s also a sweet version with red bean, and one with egg that they sell on the street in Beijing as a hearty and cheap breakfast).
- Carefully roll up the dough, starting from the bottom, until it forms a long tubular shape
- Then, take the tubular piece of dough and form it into a coil. Tuck the end of the coil under.
- Sprinkle some flour onto the bottom of the coil before setting aside.
- Repeat for 3 other pieces of dough
- When complete, take each coil and roll flat, very carefully so as to not puncture the dough, into a flattened piece of dough about 6 inches in diameter
- You can stack / store the pancakes on top of each other, as long as you put a piece of plastic wrap between each one. Otherwise, it will stick and become a unseparable mess. They last in the refrigerator, when well wrapped, for about 2-3 days. They can be frozen for several months.
- When ready to eat, heat about 1 tbsp of oil per pancake in a non-stick pan over med/high heat. Pan-fry until golden on both sides.
- The pancake is typically cut into 1/8th pizza-like slices. I like to eat the pancakes straight-up but they are sometimes served with a sweet soy-sauce dip.