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Local And Seasonal: Spring Onion Pancakes

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Photos: Maria Zizka

Long, slender onions with green stems and white bases have a bit of an identity problem. If you live on the East Coast of the United States, you would probably call them scallions. A West Coast dweller would be more comfortable describing them as green onions, and an Australian would say they are shallots.

To complicate matters further, there is another fresh, green-stemmed onion that makes an appearance during May and June, when farmers thin the fields to create space for expanding bulbs. The spring onion has similar hollow leaves, but it forms a distinct swollen bulb at its root base. Depending on how much time this onion spends growing in the soil, its bulb can be barely curvy or positively buxom and sometimes tinged with a layer of red-violet skin. If a spring onion were left underground, it would become a "regular" onion, the familiar rounded vegetable with papery skin that can be found in grocery stores around the world.

Spring onions differ from green onions in looks, botanical classification, and, perhaps most importantly, in taste. Their flavor is brighter, characteristically sulfurous, though milder than fully mature onions harvested at the end of the growing season. In their raw state, spring onions are mellow and moist, perfect for stacking on a burger or tossing into a hearty salad. Cooking them brings out their natural sweetness.

It's not that scallions are any less valuable in the kitchen; it's just that their flavor is subtler. For dishes that showcase the onion in a starring role, spring onions contribute a savory complexity. Take the classic scallion pancake, for instance. I've always thought it could be improved by more scallions or, even better, by scallions with more punch. One day it occurred to me that what a scallion pancake really needs is a spring onion.

Spring Onion Pancakes
Serves 4
These savory pancakes are crispy, flaky, and slightly chewy. They are made by pan-frying unleavened dough in a manner quite similar to cooking Indian parathas. The idea is to build up a stack of many thin dough layers, each separated by a small amount of fat. I substituted a bit of whole-wheat flour for the all-purpose flour called for in most scallion pancake recipes. It might not be traditional but it adds a pleasant heartiness.

1¾ cups all-purpose flour
¼ cup whole-wheat flour
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
¼ teaspoon chile flakes
¼ cup milk
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1½ teaspoons rice vinegar
¼ teaspoon sriracha hot chile sauce
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened
1 cup very thinly sliced spring onions, green parts only
¼ cup olive oil

Combine the all-purpose flour, whole-wheat flour, salt, and chile flakes in a large bowl.

Bring the milk and ¾ cup water to a boil, and then pour it into the flour mixture. Use a fork to stir until the dough clumps together. Turn the dough out onto an un-floured surface and knead it for a few minutes. It should be barely sticky with a satisfying squishiness like that of Play-Doh. Divide the dough into four equal balls, cover them with a damp kitchen towel, and set aside to rest for 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the dipping sauce by combining soy sauce, rice vinegar, and sriracha in a shallow bowl.

Flatten one dough ball into a 1/8-inch-thick circle. Brush a little of the sesame oil across it, and then tightly roll up like a yoga mat. Starting at one end, coil the rolled dough around itself to form a tight spiral. Repeat with remaining dough balls, keeping the others covered with the damp towel.

Flatten each spiral into a ¼-inch-thick circle. This time spread the softened butter across the dough instead of the sesame oil, and repeat the same rolling and coiling process. (If the dough sticks to the rolling pin, sprinkle some flour on it; if the layers start to separate, simply pinch them back together.)

Repeat the same flattening, rolling, and coiling process once more but this final time sprinkle the sliced spring onions across the dough instead of spreading oil or butter. Roll out each coiled, onion-filled dough spiral into a ½-inch-thick circle.

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat for a few minutes. Pour in the olive oil, and then place one pancake into the skillet. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes, or until the bottom side is nicely browned. Using a stiff spatula, carefully flip the pancake and pan-fry the second side for another minute. Transfer the pancake to a warm plate.

Repeat with remaining pancakes. You shouldn't need to add any additional olive oil to the skillet.

Cut each pancake into four wedges and serve with little bowls of dipping sauce.

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