Korean scallion pancakes a savory comfort food
Varied ingredients, crispy texture make this dish special
Kyong Ok Lim pokes her head out the door of her shop, New York Oriental in Cambridge, and looks up at the darkening sky. She says it's on days like these that Korean families wish for scallion pancakes.
Rain or shine, however, on Saturdays Lim is in the kitchen in the back of the shop making her signature savory pancakes. A steady stream of devoted customers comes through the door welcomed by an enticing aroma and shouts of "Hello" in Korean.
Chung Lee, owner of a convenience store in Brookline, has made his way to Lim's kitchen. He picks at the hot, right-out-of-
the-pan pancake cut for him by Lim's husband, Tae Pok, with a pair of long, stainless-steel chopsticks. "Mrs. Lim is the best Korean cook!" he says. "Just like my mother and grandmother. Her food is so natural, healthy, and traditional." Lim smiles shyly while her husband beams at the flood of compliments.
Her pancakes are made with mung beans that have been soaked and pureed, then mixed with rice flour and potato starch. Shredded ribbons of carrot, zucchini, and scallions are tossed into the batter, which is then fried in oil in a nonstick pan. She turns one pancake many times to achieve a crispy texture.
Mung bean pancakes are only one of many types of Korean pancakes. Others are made with one or a combination of flours. Most Korean housewives do not go to this kind of trouble, hence very good pancake mixes are available at the Lims' shop and at other Asian grocers. Add fresh vegetables, seafood, or kim chi (the fiery pickled Chinese cabbage salad) to make a wonderful pancake.
Scallion pancakes generally are served as a family snack. They are also available from street vendors in Korea. Americans have become familiar with scallion pancakes in recent years through the profusion of pan-Asian restaurants, many owned by Koreans. Here, scallion pancakes are a popular appetizer choice. Jackie Jung, co-owner with her husband, Yasu, of the restaurant Sushi Yasu in Waltham, suggests to her customers that this is like Korean pizza. Jung says the oil must be hot and the pancake cooked on medium heat. She serves perfectly cooked, platter-size pancakes, one chock full of seafood and scallions with crunchy edges, the other with vegetables and scallions with a tangy sauce.
These flavorful pancakes can be made easily at home. A dipping sauce with a base of soy sauce, minced scallions, sesame seeds, and sesame oil is a delicious accompaniment. Red pepper flakes, minced garlic, and vinegar can be added to give the sauce a bolder character.
Every Korean woman who came through the Lims' shop this recent day had a slightly different twist on the batter and fillings. All agreed, though, that just about anything goes.
New York Oriental, 355 Fresh Pond Parkway, Cambridge (617-868-9850); Sushi Yasu, 617 Main St., Waltham (781-894-9783).
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.