Scallion Pancakes with Ginger Dipping Sauce

There are some weeks when I hardly cook at all. Last week was one of those weeks. I figure that I generally cook at least three times a week, often four. This week I cooked once. The rest of the nights were dining out and leftovers. There were plenty of leftovers for lunches and snacks, thanks to the huge batch of meatballs that came out of Smitten Kitchen’s lamb meatballs recipe (which used up some pretty old feta cheese). Then Matt brought home the rest of the individual pastrami sandwich he ordered for lunch from Harold’s New York Deli. To get some perspective on the size of their portions, I once took a picture of a single slice of their cake next to a wine bottle, which matched it in length. Too bad I can’t find that photo.

It’s as though I’m still in that pre-vacation mode, careful to be realistic about how much time I’ll actually have to cook before the kitchen is abandoned for restaurants or food truck tasting events. As a result, I didn’t have a whole lot prepared when Mother’s Day crept up, and I had the assignment of appetizers for my family gathering.

With leftover scallions, ginger, shredded mozzarella and other italian cheeses from home, the provisions of my mom’s pantry, and a dozen and a half button mushrooms, Matt and I cranked out two crowd-pleasing hot apps with little to no shopping, and minimal labor!

DSC_8555I did a variation on this stuffed mushroom recipe. I will admit that hollowing out the mushrooms is a bit labor-intensive.
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This is an accomplishment for me, considering that I generally bite off way more than I can chew when it comes to recipes for entertaining. In addition, the first recipe I ever tried (and still use) for scallion pancakes is much more challenging, and has added steps. The most difficult part of making scallion pancakes is getting the scallions distributed throughout the dough, and not having them squeeze out everywhere and make a mess. The other recipe I use, an older one from Cooking Light, adds slippery sautéed mushrooms to the mix; those little suckers don’t like to stay in the dough.

But for a simple Sunday afternoon appetizer, a simplified recipe is the winner. You get most of your flavor from the dipping sauce, and it is much less messy to make.

Scallion Pancakes with Ginger Dipping Sauce
from Ming Tsai via The Food Network
Makes at least 24 slices of pancake for dipping

Pancakes:
2 Cups all-purpose flour
1 Cup boiling water
1/2 Cup scallions
, sliced
1 Tablespoon sesame oil
1/2 Cup canola oil

Salt and black pepper

Ginger Dipping Sauce (makes more than you need for 1 recipe of pancakes):
1/4 Cup soy sauce
1/4 Cup vinegar
, preferably Chinese rice vinegar, but don’t worry about substituting other light vinegars you have
1/4 Cup scallions, sliced
1 teaspoon ginger, minced
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon sugar

First, prepare the dough, which needs to rest for 30 minutes once made.
Sift flour into a bowl or a food processor. Pour the boiling water in at a steady stream while mixing, either with a wooden spoon or spatula or in a food processor. Add water until a ball is formed. After starting to mix with a spoon, we switched to mixing by hand to get the dough into a ball.
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Let dough relax for at least 30 minutes, under a damp towel, while you slice and dice.
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Prepare the dipping sauce. My substitution for Chinese rice vinegar was half seasoned rice vinegar and half regular white vinegar.
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Prepare a lightly floured surface and roll out the dough into a thin rectangle. Brush to the edge with sesame oil.
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Sprinkle evenly with scallions. Leave a little bit of room around the edges. Season with salt and pepper.
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Roll from the long side like a sponge cake. Cut with a knife into 4 pieces.
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(I should have gotten more pictures of this next part, but I was distracted. Guests would be arriving soon, and my dear husband needed assistance.)

Take one of the four pieces and gently twist three times, like a Tootsie roll wrapper. As you are doing this, it should stretch the piece a bit lengthwise. Take that snake and make a spiral, like a lollipop.

This definitely doesn't look like a lollipop. Do what you can-it doesn't have to look good at this stage!

This definitely doesn’t look like a lollipop. Do what you can-it doesn’t have to look good at this stage!


Take a rolling pin to this circle and flatten into a 5 to 6 inch pancake. Repeat.
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The pancakes are then basically fried in canola oil. If you have a larger nonstick pan, you can do more than one at a time. With a smaller pan, I fried one at a time, adding canola oil as I went. You need a good coating of canola oil in the pan to get a golden brown.
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Cut into wedges (I prefer using kitchen shears) and serve immediately with dipping sauce. They will be gone before you know it!
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Bottles Upon Casks Upon Jars

Last week, I decided it was about time that I found a way to use some of the specialty ingredients that have been sitting patiently in my refrigerator or pantry, expiring away.

It takes a sincere effort to use up an entire jar or bottle of these things, before they pass their date.  I lamented about this fact when my friend Kristen and I discovered expired and unusable Sriracha in my pantry once when cooking together in my kitchen.  I told her I liked having it on hand, but didn’t want to have a full bottle. She is an avid Sriracha eater, so she offered to transfer some of hers over to a small jar for me to have. How great is that? This kind of friendly/neighborly trade makes so much sense to me, and it harkens back to the idea of neighbors lending a cup of sugar.  Do neighbors even do that anymore? I have trouble imagining myself knocking on someone’s door to ask for some sugar, flour, sauce, etc., even in my safe and relatively comfortable suburban neighborhood. It would be interesting, though, if groups of people in a local vicinity “went in on” smaller quantities of goods.
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I won’t tell you how long past expired the sweet chili sauce was, but unlike the Sriracha, there was little difference in taste, and I searched through the web to find a recipe that could take advantage. Here’s what I settled on.

Spicy Shrimp with Thai Peanut Rice Noodles
Based on recipe found via the Food Network here
Servings: ~4

~6 ounces rice stick noodles
1/4 cup peanut butter
1 tablespoon lime juice
2 tablespoons sweet Thai chili sauce
(Trader Joe’s)
1 teaspoon spicy chili garlic paste
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/2 cup broth
,
plus extra as needed. Use whatever kind you have around–I had an open container of vegetable broth in the fridge, and I thought it worked fine.
1/3 teaspoon curry powder
1 teaspoon canola oil
2 -3 green onions
, chopped
1 tablespoon garlic
, chopped
1/2 pound frozen raw shrimp, peeled and deveined
, tail on,
thawed overnight in the fridge or if you need to cheat, carefully thaw in bag submerged in room temperature water, replacing the water as it cools.
Chopped peanuts
Lettuce

Optional Thai Sauce:
1/3 cup cold water
1/2 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 teaspoon vinega
r, white or rice
1/8 teaspoon sweet chili sauce
1 pinch crushed chili flakes
1 small carrot
, shredded

Prepare rice noodles according to package directions, placing in a bowl with hot water until soft. Noodles can be al dente since they will be added to the pan and simmered for a few minutes with the shrimp and sauce.

Melt peanut butter in a small microwave safe bowl for 15 seconds. Whisk in lime juice, sweet Thai chili sauce, chili-garlic sauce, fish sauce, soy sauce, broth and curry powder. This can be made ahead of time and re-whisked immediately before adding to noodles.

Make optional sauce ahead of time, if using. This sauce is for drizzling over the noodle bowls upon serving. I was skeptical, because it didn’t taste like much on its own, but it does add to the final taste product. Prepare sauce by combining the following in this order: cold water, sugar, fish sauce, vinegar, sweet chili sauce and crushed chili flakes. Grate carrot, add to bowl, and stir.

Heat oil in a large nonstick fry pan at medium-high heat. Add onions and let cook for about 30 seconds. Add garlic and sautee for about 1 minute. Add thawed shrimp to hot pan. Cook for about two minutes per side until just pink.
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Add drained rice noodles to the pan along with prepared peanut sauce. Cook for a few minute until all ingredients are heated through and rice noodles soften. If mixture seems dry, add 1/2 cup more broth to loosen up.

Place lettuce on serving dishes and top with rice noodles and shrimp. Drizzle with 1-2 Tablespoons of optional sauce. Top with fresh cilantro, if you have it, and chopped peanuts. Additional carrot can also be shredded on top.
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Enjoy! Try not to dwell on the fact that you haven’t made a noticeable dent in the various bottles and casks and jars…