I’m going to try a little honesty here. The truth is, I could probably season just about anything with green onion. Call it whatever you like–green onion, spring onion, scallions–I will gladly work it into any recipe. I’ve started replacing parsley with green onion in whatever recipes I can get away with it.
My hankering for green onion goes back a couple of years now. From 2010-2011 I lived in Yilan City 宜蘭市, Taiwan and green onion pancakes 蔥油餅 are considered one of the specialties of Yilan County, and they’re pretty generally available anywhere in Taiwan. In Yilan’s biggest night market, in the town of Luodong 羅東 I even found green onion ice cream. I have to say, the night market was just about my favorite place to eat, especially at the beginning of my time in Taiwan because I could get away with saying “I want this”/我要這個 and pointing. My skills were a little limited at the time, so it was a relief not to have to read a menu or come up with any real complicated words.
There were two styles of scallion pancake that I really enjoyed. At the night market, I usually had 蔥抓餅 , which translated more or less to pulled scallion pancake. It was very fluffy, and for about $1 I was able to get it with an egg cracked over it and a brushing of some sort of delicious and mysterious brown sauce. It was kind of savory and sweet, mostly because I avoided the spicy powder when asked if I wanted it spicy. Any time I went to the Luodong night market, I stopped off at the same stand. The food was always delicious, and the guy who owned the cart always recognized me, no matter how long it had been since I’d been there, and he had a lot of patience with my stumbling Chinese.
The other style of scallion pancake I really enjoy I usually bought at my favorite lunchtime haunt. I think Taiwanese beef and noodles is a great dish. Generally if you order “beef noodles” 牛肉麵, you get a delicious bowl of beef and noodle soup. Despite many efforts, I couldn’t seem to eat a bowl of this without making an absolute mess with the broth. However, when I went to lunch with my co-teacher one day, he introduced me to what was to become my favorite beef noodle shop. I mentioned that I didn’t like broth very much, and from that day forth, the family owned shop knew when I came in that I wanted beef and noodles with a little bit of sauce or thick broth, and not a soup. If that wasn’t enough to make me absolutely fall in love with the place (and believe me, it’s love to walk 15 minutes each way in that sort of heat), my co-teacher asked if I wanted a “Chinese pizza.”
Picture taken by Simon Oliver, October 2011. Congyoubing 蔥油餅 with sesame seeds.
It turns out, he was referring to a rather flatter and denser scallion pancake than what I’d usually eat at the night market, cut in little triangles like a small pizza. I could even get it topped with sesame seeds for a little extra flavor. It was delicious. I’d find myself wandering into that shop at lunch time fairly often, and if not for lunch, dinner. The people were friendly, and I think half the time they were expecting me. Eventually I moved away from Yilan. I came back for a visit 4 months later, and the family remembered me. Seriously, if you get the chance to visit Taiwan, take some time to wander around Yilan County–the coast and mountains are both beautiful, and the people in pretty much any of the towns I’ve been to are friendly, helpful, and very down-to-earth.
I could probably bore you for an hour telling you all the things I loved about being in Yilan, but since this blog is geared toward focusing on my successes and failures at making things, it’s probably about time for me to relay my failures at duplicating these delicious dishes.
I browsed the internet for scallion pancake recipes 蔥油餅. The premise seemed pretty basic–flour, water, green onions, and oil. Mix flour and water together, add chopped green onions, roll it into a spiral and flatten it, and cook in oil. It sounded simple enough.
Flour, scallions, water, and oil, what could be simpler?
Somehow, I managed to fail, not once, but several times.
It was Saturday, and quite frankly, the creative juices weren’t flowing to get any writing done, and there was flour sitting in my fridge just begging to be used. Of course that meant it was the perfect day to start experimenting with scallion pancakes. For the record, scallion pancakes do not remotely share a texture with American pancakes.
Some of the recipes I found recommended using warm water, others cold, some recommended both at different times. They all roughly seemed to have the same flour to water ratio, give or take a quarter cup. I was pretty pleased with my dough mixture and set it out on the cutting board to roll it out flat.
Well, it looks about right.
Mistake #1: With my first batch, I did not give the dough any time to set before attempting to do something with it. This made it rather difficult to get the dough into any sort of shape.
One website recommended coating the cutting board and rolling pin with oil to keep things from sticking. All I ended up with was a greasy mess.
Another website recommended coating the cutting board and rolling pin in flour. I didn’t have much luck with this either, because once I’d flattened the dough out and a non-floured part came in contact with the pin, it started sticking to everything again.
My best bet ended up being to flour my hands and not squish the dough down too much.
I’d like to tell you that I have a picture of my first batch, but the truth is…I ate it. It didn’t come out the way I wanted, but it disappeared all the same.
Mistake #2 & 3: With these two batches, I gave the dough some time to set, which seemed to help. I attempted to make it fluffy like the pulled scallion pancakes I had at the night markets. All I managed to do was to pull it to pieces with the tongs I was trying to use to fluff it up. Yes, I tried this with two batches before deciding that it just did not work. Mostly I ended up with smaller, somewhat overcooked pieces. Some time during the process I decided to get creative and make a brown sauce to go with it–garlic, soy, a little sesame oil, sugar…mostly it tasted like soy sauce.
Not remotely the fluffy deliciousness I was aiming for.
Mistake #4: This last attempt was the best of the lot. I finally had the sense to stop trying to make the dough behave in any way light and fluffy. I flattened it, added my scallions, rolled the dough up, created a spiral, and flattened it with my hands. It probably would have been better if I’d managed to make it thinner, but, at least this time it managed to be a little flaky and chewy and not overcooked. Topping it with sesame seeds helped of course too.
It didn’t turn out like a tortilla chip! I’ll call it a win.
So there you have it, my first publicly blogged failure. It was a good learning experience though, and it gave me a good excuse to eat plenty of green onion. On the other hand, a better recipe where I use green onions is my Kung Pao Chicken and Egg Drop Soup recipes, located here. I’ll be blogging that recipe soon, along with some healthier alternative ways to cook the dish. Creating that video was also a learning experience–it was my first attempt at vlogging anything, let alone a recipe. My camera work improved in later videos, but after all these months, it’s still one of my favorite recipes.
再見！I’ll be back soon,
AKA the Girl Who Keeps Making Stuff