Sunday, August 7, 2011

Just Like Mom's

My mother is a simultaneously wonderful cook, and a very bad one. She can make really good food if she wants to, but most of the time, since it's just her and my father, she doesn't really want to. Most of their meals, near as I can tell from our weekly phone conversations, involve lots of vegetables, a little fish and rice, and no sauce. Healthy stuff--boring stuff, even by my standards, but as this was what I ate growing up, mostly, I'll make something similar for myself if Karel's out working. Karel, on the other hand, was spoiled by his professional-chef-brother-in-law since he was eight, and a main course of vegetables without adornment is not only boring, it's damn near inedible. Personally, I'm willing to put up with boring if it means getting things chopped, cooked, and cleaned up in 30 minutes or less. Karel would rather eat cardboard.

But when she wants to cook something well, oh boy--not even Karel, finicky though he can be, can resist her dumplings, though now that I've learned how to make them, I suppose they really should be "my dumplings" all other family recipes, there is no recipe, just a bit of this and a smidge of that and a whomping serving of some other thing. Happily, I've been able to replicate the dumplings and the dipping sauce even in the relatively food-restricted Netherlands, and when we have space again in our freezer Karel can stuff his own damn dumplings.

One of the things my mom used to make very infrequently was something that you can call "Chinese Pancakes", although they only resemble pancakes in the sense that they're flat and made with flour. The translation literally means "onion and oil biscuit", and if you're going "eewww" right now I can't say I blame you. But to me, these chewy bits of fried dough were like manna from the heavens when I was little, mostly because my mom only made them every few years at most. I loved the way the chewy layers peeled away from each other, and no matter how many scallions she put in, they were always a delicious sweet rarity in the dough. For whatever reason, I got a craving for them last week and called my mom for the recipe. I was afraid she wouldn't remember, as the last time she'd made them for us, I was in high school or something like that. She, in turn, was surprised that I remembered what they were.

But it turns out that she did remember how to make them, and, unlike the mind-maze of instructions required to replicate her dumplings, they're actually pretty easy to make:
  1. Make a dough with flour and water. The exact proportions of flour and water don't really matter, but it's about 3:1--as long as it sticks to itself more than it sticks to your fingers, it's fine. Add a bit of salt. The recipe that I've linked to recommends 1/4 teaspoon; my mother made it without salt.
  2. Roll out the dough into a thin sheet. My mother was terribly vague as to exactly how thin the sheet should be; my own sheet ended up being about 3/8 of an inch thick. Spread both sides with a layer of oil.
  3. Sprinkle green onions (sesame seeds, if you're using them) all over the sheet, and roll it up tightly into a long thin rope. I
  4. Coil the rope into a circle, and then flatten the circle into a pancake.
  5. Coat a skillet with oil and pan-fry on a medium flame until each side is mottled, crispy, and slightly burnt. If you're doing this on a cast-iron skillet, it takes a little longer than 5 minutes per side.
  6. Let it cool and enjoy. Or, if you're like me and haven't had this in a million years, don't let it cool, burn your fingers, and enjoy it anyway.
Karel, as expected, was less than enthusiastic about these. It's one of those things you really just have to grow up in, I guess. But yeah, it tasted just like Mom's.

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