You’ve seen them on Chinese recipe menus, and maybe you’ve even ordered Chinese scallion pancakes for the table.
A scallion pancake is a flatbread filled with aromatic green onions that’s typically served with a sweet and salty dipping sauce.
It is basically the Chinese version of tortilla, roti, naan, pita, focaccia, and so on.
I love it because it is filled with healthy, tasty greens, and it is usually one of the few vegetarian items on the menu.
When I saw my chive plants present themselves in full glory in my backyard garden this spring, I started to imagine what they would be like in a scallion pancake.
I substituted my chives for the scallions (which are also known as green onions), since they are both basically onion greens of the same allium family.
You can use any of those listed in the previous paragraph for this recipe.
The only one you might not want to use are spring onion greens. Spring onions look like scallions, but they have a small bulb on the bottom.
Spring onions are actually regular onions that have been picked early, so the greens are not designed to be eaten as much, and they can be tough.
Luckily, we’ve been blessed with a lot of chives, because it took multiple rounds of experimentation to arrive at a recipe that I think you’ll love.
In the process, I learned many lessons that I’ll call scallion pancake secrets.
I am going to share all these secrets with you, so that you will have success should you decide to make this recipe.
Scallion Pancake Secrets
# 1: Use Hot Water
My first batch of pancakes were so tough, it was just ridiculous. And I didn’t know why at the time.
But now I know that the secret to soft flatbread dough is to mix hot water in with the flour, and let it rest before kneading.
Hot water makes the dough soft and a pleasure to knead, and it also adds softness to the finished flatbread.
In this recipe, we mix in boiling water and cold water, so it is a mix of soft and crispy. Hopefully you find it is the perfect balance.
Kneading a small dough like this is the perfect opportunity to get your hands dirty and feel the dough. Sounds exciting right?
But seriously, if you are anything like me, you dream of kneading dough like a pro. But, a mass of dough, as in a bread dough, seems overwhelming.
I can assure you that two cups of flour in this recipe is not overwhelming.
It is fun to knead this a bit, and it’s a good chance to learn. I’ve been learning with Indian roti and paratha flatbreads, which are similar. And in the end, you will have a tasty treat you can be proud of.
You will also let the dough rest to develop the gluten before kneading, as well as after.
This way, when you get to the rolling stage, that too is a breeze.
#2: Use Loads Of Scallions
This recipe calls for about half a cup of chopped scallions per large pancake.
This is a pretty good amount, but it is not too much.
Just be sure to chop the scallions finely, and they’ll cook up just fine and give you the satisfying aromatic onion experience you want.
#3: Add Seasoning
I will tell you that my first scallion pancake attempts tasted a little bland. I was adding salt, but was searching for something more.
That is when I discovered this wonderful recipe from China Sichuan Food blog, that called for Chinese five spice.
Chinese five spice is a spice blend that contains cinnamon, anise, fennel, ground black pepper, and cloves, with the cinnamon and anise being dominant.
And you could substitute the black pepper for Sichuan peppercorns, which are a very spicy peppercorn with a smoky, tongue-numbing taste.
Many of you will have a bottle of Chinese five spice powder in your spice drawer, but if you don’t just add in what sounds good to you out of the list.
I’d go with black pepper definitely, and star anise or a bit of clove if you have it.
#4: Add Extra Oil While Frying
If you are going for that luscious fried look and the ultimate in crispiness, you’ll want to add a bit of extra oil to your skillet when cooking these scallion pancakes.
However, if you want to go low fat, it does not require much oil if you have a non-stick pan.
The cooking part is really easy. I guarantee you will end up with lovely looking pancakes.
BONUS: The Correct Rolling Pin
This point should really be counted as a fifth secret, but it is not something I learned this time, so I am not counting it.
I was fortunate enough to already have the right tool, but I would guess that many of you don’t.
The secret to your enjoyment while making flatbreads is in having a tiny rolling pin.
You do not want to contend with one of those giant monster pins with handles that most of us have hanging around.
In India they use perfect little wooden sticks known as a belan. I’ve got one of these, and of course it makes rolling these little breads a breeze.
However, more commonly available, and also very workable, are the wooden Italian rolling pins.
These are also sticks. They come in different sizes, either tapered on the end, or straight.
I recommend that you have the right rolling pin for this project. I’ve listed some good options for you below.
Flavorful Chinese Scallion Pancakes
Prepare the dough
- Mix flour and salt together in a medium mixing bowl. Dig a small hole in center of the flour, and add the boiling water. Wait for 10 minutes and stir in the cold water and vegetable oil. Use a wooden spoon to mix the dough into a shaggy mass. Cover with a clean, wet dish cloth, and rest for 5 minutes.
- Transfer rested dough onto the counter, sprinkle with flour, and knead until very smooth (around 3-5 minutes ). If the dough is too wet, sprinkle in extra flour until you have a dough that doesn’t stick to your hands. It is much more manageable to work with this way. You’ll know the dough is ready when it is well mixed and quite soft. Cover, and let it rest for 20 to 30 minutes.
Make the Chinese scallion pancakes
- Divide the dough into four equal pieces and roll the first piece into a large round circle (about 8 inches in diameter). Brush some sesame oil onto the circle, and cover with a half cup of scallions, leaving about half and inch uncovered around the edges, and sprinkle on some Chinese five spice powder.
- Start at one edge and roll the pancake up like a jellyroll, or fold it like a fan. Now spiral the length of dough together like a snail’s shell, starting tight from the middle and working outward. Gently smush the spiraled dough flat with the palm of your hand, sprinkle liberally with flour on both sides, and roll the scallion pancake out again to an 8 inch diameter.
- Repeat steps 1 and 2 for the remaining dough before moving onto the cooking part. Use parchment paper to separate the uncooked pancakes, or sprinkle each liberally with flour, so they don’t stick to anything before you start cooking.
- Heat a non-stick skillet on medium heat. Spread about a teaspoon of cooking oil (or more) onto the pan and add the first scallion pancake. Cook about 2-3 minutes until the bottom is golden brown. Flip it, add extra oil, and cook the second side. If it looks like it is cooking unevenly, use a spatula to press the pancake down.
- Slide your perfectly cooked pancakes onto a cutting board and cut into wedges. Serve with dipping sauce. You can get my recommended recipe for soy chili dipping sauce here.
- Another option for dipping sauce is to use purchased Chinese hoisin sauce. Thin it out with a bit of water, and you are good to go. Hoisin is sweet, pleasantly savory, and a little sour.