There is a world of pancakes beyond breakfast. Some are familiar to experienced cooks: potato pancakes and their Swiss cousins, rosti; corncakes and their South American relatives, arepas; and the earthy buckwheat crepes of Brittany. Others are a little more advanced, like the ones we cook here.
What all of them have in common is a certain off-the-cuff friendliness and flexibility. Once you understand that the batter essentially holds the more important ingredients together, and once you get the hang of what that batter looks like, you’re free to start adding food almost at will, as you would with a soup or salad.
Certain components are basic, especially eggs and flour. Eggs offer lightness, flavour and protein. Flour can be augmented with or even replaced by breadcrumbs. Both eggs and flour are needed to bind moist ingredients and both provide bulk.
There are three splendid starting places here, all quite different. Italian-style pancakes are the lightest. Grated raw or cooked vegetables are bound minimally with flour or breadcrumbs and seasoned with Parmesan and onions. They’re so soft that they can be difficult to cook, so be sure the first side is nicely browned before attempting to turn them. Serve them after pasta, to complete a meal, or as a side dish with sauted or roasted meat, poultry or fish.
On the other side of the spectrum is the Korean pa jun, whose batter is stout enough to handle just about any ingredient you can think of, including chopped vegetables, seafood, meat, bean sprouts or kimchi. Pa jun are fun and easy to handle; with a little practice and a nonstick skillet with sloping sides, you can flip them without a spatula. They are strongly seasoned and real crowd pleasers.
The spinach pancakes made in northern Europe nicely demonstrate what you can do when you have a wet main ingredient, like spinach, but want to wind up with a firm but moist pancake. This is a slightly more elaborate production than the previous two recipes, nevertheless, these are easy to cook and delicious.
With all of these, if the batter looks or cooks too thin, add a little flour, or more vegetables. If it is too thick, stir in some liquid—milk, water, stock—a spoonful at a time. The batter should be spoonable but not pourable, essentially vegetables that are just moist enough to hold together.
Even with minor adjustments, none of these pancakes take more than a half hour to prepare. How easy can a delicious supper get?
u KOREAN VEGETABLE PANCAKE (PA JUN)
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon corn, grape seed, canola or other neutral oil
5 scallions, green parts only, cut into 3-inch lengths and sliced lengthwise
In a medium bowl, mix flour, eggs and oil with 1-1/2 cups water until a smooth batter is formed. Stir scallion greens, chives, carrots, squash and shrimp, if using, into batter.
Place an 8-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, then coat bottom with oil. Ladle in about a quarter of the batter and spread it out evenly into a circle; if first pancake is too thick to spread easily, add a little water to batter for remaining pancakes. Turn heat to medium and cook until bottom is browned, about 3 minutes, then flip and cook for another 2 minutes. Repeat with remaining batter.
As pancakes finish, remove them and, if necessary, drain on paper towels. In a small bowl, mix together vinegar, soy sauce and sugar. Cut pancakes into small triangles and serve with dipping sauce.
u ITALIAN VEGETABLE PANCAKES
About 900gm of zucchini, eggplant or turnips
Grate vegetable by hand or with grating disk of a food processor. In a bowl, mix together all ingredients except the butter or oil. Mixture should be fairly loose but not liquid; add a little more flour or breadcrumbs if necessary.
Put butter or oil in a large skillet and turn heat to medium-high. When pan is hot, put large spoonfuls of batter in pan. Cook, turning once, until nicely browned on both sides, 10 to 15 minutes total. Serve hot or at room temperature.
u SPINACH PANCAKES
283gm fresh spinach, well washed, large stems removed, or one package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained
2 tablespoons melted and cooled butter, plus unmelted butter for cooking
1 cup sour cream, optional
1 tablespoon minced lemon peel, optional
Put spinach in a covered saucepan over medium heat, with just the water that clings to its leaves after washing; or plunge it into a pot of salted boiling water. Either way, cook it until it wilts, just a couple of minutes. Drain, cool, squeeze dry and chop.
Preheat large skillet over medium-low heat, while you make batter. Preheat oven to 200 degrees. In a bowl, mix together dry ingredients. Beat eggs into 1-1/2 cups buttermilk, then stir in the melted butter. Stir this into dry ingredients, adding a little more buttermilk if batter seems thick; stir in spinach.
Place a teaspoon or two of butter or oil in pan. When butter foam subsides or oil shimmers, ladle batter onto skillet, making any size pancake you like. Adjust heat as necessary; first batch will require higher heat than subsequent batches. Add more butter or oil to pan as necessary. Brown bottoms in two to four minutes. Flip only when pancakes are fully cooked on bottom because they won’t hold together well until they are ready.
Cook until second side is lightly browned; as pancakes are done, put them on an ovenproof plate in oven for up to 15 minutes. Mix sour cream and lemon peel together and place a small dollop on each pancake.
The New York Times
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