Saturday, July 05, 2008


Tsung Yo Bing, or Scallion Oil Pancakes

Some days one cannot but try to recapture the past. I have recently been caught up in wistful reveries since learning of a food blog event hosted by my friend the inimitable Susan of The Well-Seasoned Cook: Pancakes on Parade: A Sweet and Savoury Event. Unless one has issues with gluten, pancakes are the friendliest, most accessible food. Almost always golden and circular, pancakes are like the sun: cheerful, warming, and good for you (at least mentally - and spiritually, depending on your needs for the day). I really had two choices: either my mum's pikelets or a variation on Taiwanese Scallion Oil Pancakes, Tsung yo bing.

My father often begs my mother to make pikelets, which are miniature pancakes (made with self-raising flour, generally), approximately 12cm/5" in diameter. They are common Kiwi fare, typically as a breakfast option, but since childhood, they have been a treasured dessert in my household, topped with a sprinkle of sugar and loads of freshly-squeezed lemon juice from our sole fruit-bearing backyard tree. I decided not to make them for this event because my efforts are not as good as my mother's, and also because I was worried that they would not photograph well.

Tsung yo bing were new to me in 2001, when I moved to Los Angeles County. Being dutiful sons, we made sure that we spent regular time with Eric's mother, often going to lunch, a movie, and grocery shopping together. The first time I had Scallion Oil Pancakes was at a very small restaurant in Temple City, fifteen minutes east of Pasadena. I never saw a temple in the two years we spent having lunch or dinner there or in nearby Alhambra, but every Scallion Oil Pancake I had was a divine experience: crisp on the outside, fluffy inside, full of allium goodness, and caressed with oil. They are sooooo good when nursing a hangover - not that I ever told my angelheart's mom.

Soon after my angelheart Eric's mom moved to Orange County in 2004, we had moved from Pasadena to Long Beach, so it was both easy and convenient to continue our regular lunch dates (the restaurant locales for Taiwanese food, however, switched from Temple City and Alhambra to Cerritos and Huntington Beach). By then it had become a running joke - I would not need to read the menu, my angelheart Eric and his mom ordered my Tsung yo bing and beef with scallions (to gild the lily).

I decided to make scallion oil pancakes because I had never eaten homemade ones, thus I had no family member's reputation to live up to. Also, it was lunchtime. Because this is a submission to a food blog event, I wanted to spice up the pancakes and found a delightful recipe to follow.

After the experience of following the recipe, I have to warn you, reader, should you choose to follow this recipe: try to stick to the amount given regarding the paste to spread on the dough, for the paste is going to squirt when you flatten out your spirals, whether you do so lightly or with a rolling pin. It is a messy job at worst, but the result makes the constant wiping down of the rolling pin and surface area a means to a satisfying end.

Tsung Yo Bing, or Scallion Oil Pancakes
(closely adapted from Michele Cranston's recipe for Spiced Pan Bread in Marie Claire: Food + Drink)

For the dough:
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/3 cup hot water
1/3 cup cold water

1) Sieve flour and baking powder into a bowl.
2) Add hot water and cold water in quick succession, constantly stirring.
3) When dough comes together, cover with cling-film for 15 minutes.

For the paste:

1 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 cup / 2 fl. oz olive oil
1/4 cup / 2 fl. oz bran oil
2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1 cup sliced spring onions/scallions
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 cup fresh parsley, roughly chopped
1/2 roasted red capsicum/bell pepper, blistered skin and seeds removed

1) Blitz all ingredents together until a paste is formed.

To assemble:

1) Divide dough into four sections.
2) Roll out one section to a circle of approximately 17cm/7" in diameter.
3) Brush the surface with one tablespoon of the paste.
4) Roll the dough into a long, then form into a spiral, tucking the end under.
5) Flatten lightly with the palm of one of your hands or with a rolling pin. I did mine with a rolling pin, which proved unwise as the circles became misshapen despite my experience handling dough with a rolling pin.
6) In a frying pan/skillet, heat 2 tablespoons bran or olive oil.
7) Cook over medium-heat for 3-4 minutes, or until the underside is golden, and then flip over for the same result on the other side.
8) While cooking the pancake, prepare the next section of dough by following steps 2-5.
9) Add one extra tablespoon of oil before the addition of each section of dough to be cooked.
10) Drain on paper towels until ready to eat.

When I told my angelheart Eric that I had finally made Tsung yo bing, all he asked me was "Were they oily?" I answered in the affirmative, and he said that he was very happy for me. Admittedly the spring onion presence wasn't as great as I had hoped, so if you love touches of allium, I would increase the spring onion/scallion content by 1/4 to 1/2 cup. Of course, one could always make these the traditional way, which is simply to fold loads of spring onion into the dough before it rests - this, of course, also means that you avoid a mess when rolling out sections of the dough. It is a good idea to serve these warm, whether with food (such as stir-fried beef), a sauce (such as one of soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, garlic and fresh ginger) or on their own. Tsung yo bing make for fragrant bites, perfect as a submission to the inimitable Susan's Pancakes on Parade: A Sweet and Savoury Event.

Post-script: Please see Susan's round-up of Pancakes on Parade: A Sweet and Savoury Event.

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Why is it the memories of food exponentially make every dining experience taste that much better? And why, too, is it that one's hangover, while not miraculously cured, is certainly ameliorated by robustly oily starches? (Follow your cravings, I say!)

This recipe rocks, Shaun. I am very new to experiment with pancakes of the Orient, but the spice paste is so novel to me, that I can't help but read through the roster of ingredients over and over.

Thanks for sharing a slice of pancake and life with all of us, dear friend.
Hi! I just discovered your blog and am so jealous that you live in New Zealand!! My best friend just studied abroad there last year and she fell in love with everything.
Those pancakes look so soft and flavorful!! You should feature pikelets sometime... they sound delicious!
These look wonderful! I love green onion cakes (as they are called here) but they have never looked that good. And I agree with Antonio - please tell us more about the pikelets!
They sounds great, will check out Susan's event!
Those look great!

I have always wanted to travel to New Zealand...what is it like?
Susan, lovie ~ Food that unlocks the past is as deeply resonant as new (to the consumer) flavor combinations. Here, we seem to have struck both notes. This is the first time I have made Tsung yo bing, albeit somewhat elaborate. I love the spice paste but was concerned that so little could actually be concealed. More pancake dough needs to be made.

I am only too glad to have participated in another one of your fabulous food events.

Antonio ~ Welcome! I love your blog and twists on Middle Eastern fare. Pikelets aren't so wonderful a subject, I suppose...they're just small versions of fluffy pancakes.

Sara ~ Thank you for the nice comment. I know that it is risky blogging about something cooked for the first time, but I couldn't help myself. The food event was worth it!

Kelly-Jane ~ The submissions to Susan's event are wonderful. I'm sure you'll take inspiration from many of them.

Katie ~ Thank! It is hard to describe a country, a place, but I'm sure that when you come here New Zealand will be what you want it to be.





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