Thursday, July 25, 2024
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Use ramps in a simpler, made-for-spring riff on scallion pancakes

Hannah Selinger

THE WASHINGTON POST – Every once in a while, when I’m scrolling through pictures on my phone, I recall the early days of the pandemic. In the spring of 2020, my children were one and three, just babies. To see those pictures is to ache for the years that I lost, and the years that they lost, the years when we were waiting for the world to stand up from kneeling. For a while, we were all together as a family, hanging on together.

For a while, I was just getting by. I was just cooking dinner.

I had stopped going to restaurants, but I had also given up on takeout. I’m not sure why I made that obscene sacrifice.

Still, I searched for a way to distinguish between a weekend and a weekday, to make food that seemed more memorable than something one might have on the average Monday.

What’s the difference between work and leisure when everything takes place at the kitchen table anyway? What’s the difference between weekday dinner and weekend dinner when no one is rushing home from the office?

The difference, I discovered, was mood.

On a Friday night, I would re-create a restaurant meal, right in my own kitchen. One night: pizza and a bright salad, the kind you might find at your favourite Italian spot. The next: the closest I could come to comfort food, or, put another way, Chinese takeout. That’s how I learned to make scallion pancakes and, later, through a process of trial-and-error, my own ramp pancakes – using the seasonal ingredient as a stand-in for scallions. The traditional Chinese pancake is made with a denser dough that is rolled out, sprinkled with scallions and rerolled, but this simpler batter is a tasty option for this harried mom.

Ramp pancakes. PHOTOS: THE WASHINGTON POST

Ramps, also in the allium family, are in season for just a second, and they lend a soft, deeply aromatic quality to the interior of these pancakes. Crunchy on the outside, the pancake’s inside turns almost creamy, like a latke.

If ramp season overlaps with the appearance of garlic scapes in your community, add the scapes as well in place of scallions for an even tastier pancake.

Ramp season is short, but you can freeze them while you wait for the garlic scapes to come in. Here’s how: Wash the ramps, then blanch them in boiling water for 30 seconds and place them in an ice bath to stop the cooking. Separate the leaves from stems and use the green portion right away. Place the white stems and bulbs in an airtight, freezer-safe container and freeze for up to three months.

If you’re using garlic scapes, which usually emerge in late May or early June, thinly slice them so that they don’t overpower the dish. If you can’t get your hands on them, use scallions instead.

Regardless, spring produce deserves to be front and centre in this recipe, a gentle bloom that promises warmer months to come. This dish is an easy entry into frying, too, a path to freeing yourself of the fear of dealing with hot oil.

You’ll need a sturdy non-stick pan that retains heat, a heavy ladle for spreading the pancake as thin as you can, and a spatula (I like my metal fish spat) for flipping.

The oil should be ripping hot – shimmering, but not smoking. If, in between pancakes, the oil begins to smoke, let the pan cool down. If it burns, discard it, give the pan a quick wipe, and start fresh. You want these delicate pancakes golden brown, and the smell of too-far-gone oil can – and will – haunt your food and your kitchen.

Good pancakes require patience; you can only cook one at a time. But this, too, is something for which I’m momentarily nostalgic. I miss the time in the kitchen that was languorous and purely mine, a time where I had nowhere to be. I imagine that, someday, I’ll have to explain to a generation of grandchildren about the moment when time was meaningless, when we all just cooked and watched Tiger King and caught up on The
New Yorker.

Or maybe I won’t have to explain anything at all, because these pancakes, developed during that singular moment when grief and fear and anxiety were held briefly at bay by time in the kitchen, speak for themselves. They say: Our home was delicious.

RAMP PANCAKES
Inspired by the Chinese scallion pancake, this simplified recipe features ramps to create a subtle and deeply flavourful pancake, complemented by a sauce rich with black vinegar and more ramps. If you have access to garlic scapes, try substituting them for the remaining scallions in this variation.

INGREDIENTS

FOR THE SAUCE
One (half-inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated
Three tablespoons soy sauce
Two tablespoons minced ramps (may substitute with two thin scallions)
Two tablespoons Chinkiang (black) vinegar
One tablespoon rice vinegar
One teaspoon granulated sugar
One teaspoon toasted sesame oil

FOR THE PANCAKES
One cup (125 grammes) all-purpose flour
A quarter cup (15 grammes) cornstarch
Three quarter teaspoon fine salt, or more to taste
One teaspoon granulated sugar
One cup (240 millilitres) chilled club soda
One tablespoons soy sauce
Two teaspoons toasted sesame oil
One cup (136 grammes) ramps, cut into quarter-inch-thick diagonal pieces (may substitute four to six scallions)
One cup (136 grammes) garlic scapes or scallions, cut into quarter-inch-thick diagonal pieces
Half cup (120 millilitres) vegetable or another neutral oil, divided, plus more as needed

DIRECTIONS
Make the sauce: In a small bowl, whisk together the ginger, soy sauce, ramps, black vinegar, rice vinegar, sugar and oil until combined. Set aside for at least 20 minutes before serving; you should have about half cup.

Make the pancakes: In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cornstarch, salt and sugar until combined. In a separate bowl, whisk together the club soda, soy sauce and sesame oil until just combined. Add the wet ingredients to the dry, whisking until smooth. Taste a drop of the batter and season with additional salt, if desired. Fold in the ramps and garlic scapes or scallions.

Using a 10-inch non-stick or well-seasoned cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat, heat a quarter cup of the oil until it ripples but doesn’t smoke. Ladle a quarter (about half cup/120 millilitres) of the batter into the centre of the pan, using the back of the ladle to distribute the batter as evenly as possible; it will largely stay in the pan’s centre, but you want to spread it to be thinner. The pancake should be about four inches wide.

Cook the pancake until it starts to brown, two to three minutes. Using a thin spatula, flip the pancake and cook until golden brown, another two to three, adding more oil as needed.

Transfer the pancake to a cutting board and repeat with the remaining oil and pancake batter. (If waiting to serve until all the pancakes are cooked, lightly tent with foil to keep warm).

Slice each pancake into quarters, transfer to a plate and serve with the sauce on the side for dipping.

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