Say bread and most Filipinos conjure an image of something soft, fluffy and mildly sweet. We like our pan se sal that way and, until recently, we associated not-too-white loaf bread with inferior quality. We like our bread perfectly shaped too and with a soft and light-colored exterior. In short, we’ve come to associate good bread with commercial factory-produced standards.
But there is a world of unleavened breads out there — flat and often made without sugar — and they are delicious. The Mexican tortillas, Indian chapatis, rotis and naan, and Middle Eastern pita are only some of them. While most require traditional ovens and equipment to make, there are simple but equally delicious unleavened breads that you can make at home. One of them is the Chinese onion or scallion pancake.
Despite the name, the Chinese onion pancake is really a bread cooked in a frying pan as it starts with a dough that is kneaded and allowed to rest like most breads (In contrast, the Korean green onion pancake called P’ajon, prepared as a batter and poured into an frying pan, is closer to our Westernized idea of what a pancake is). The ingredients are few and simple — flour, salt, sesame seed oil and scallions — but the Chinese onion pancake is tasty, rich in texture, aromatic and filling.
2 c. of bread flour (all-purpose flour may be substituted), plus more for dusting
1 tsp. of salt
2 tsps. of sesame seed oil
¾ c. of finely sliced scallions (onion leaves)
vegetable cooking oil for frying
Stir the flour and salt in a large mixing bowl. Make a well in the center and pour in the sesame seed oil and a cup of warm water (you can use boiling water to make the pancakes more chewy than bread-like). Mix until everything comes together to form a ball.
Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured surface. Knead by hand for about five minutes. The dough should be soft but not sticky. Let the dough rest for half an hour.
Roll out the dough into a log and cut into eight to ten equal pieces. Take one piece and, with a rolling pin, form into a flat thin circle about seven inches in diameter.
Place a tablespoonful of onion leaves on the flattened dough.
Starting at the edge nearest you, roll the dough outward to form a “cigar”? pressing lightly to make the dough longer and thinner.
Lift one end of the rolled dough and swirl to form a coil.
Flatten with a rolling pin. Repeat until all the dough pieces have been filled, rolled, coiled and flattened.
Heat enough cooking oil to reach a depth of about a quarter inch.
Over medium heat, fry the pancakes, two or three at a time, until golden brown in places.
Flip halfway through the cooking to brown the other side as well.
Drain on paper towels.
Cut the onion pancakes into wedges and serve with your favorite dipping sauce.
Suggested dipping sauces:
- hoisin sauce mixed with a little sesame seed oil
- a mixture of light soy sauce, grated ginger, garlic, crushed chili peppers and sesame seed oil
- traditional basil pesto
- sun-dried tomato pesto