Cooking Inspiration: Korean Scallion (Green Onion) Pancakes

“You want to eat pancakes, not Buddha.”

According to my parents, when my brother and I were little, we would mix up the Korean words for Buddha and pancakes. To be fair to us, the words are extremely close — buchini (boo-chin-nee) versus buchimi (boo-chim-mee) — and for Korean celebrations such as a 100 days birthday or New Year’s, the tradition is to make pancakes, some of which you place before a statue of Buddha with the hopes of bringing good luck. and the rest of which you eat.

As a grown-up in the United States, I don’t make pancakes for Buddha, but my daughters and I really enjoy eating Korean Scallion (green onion) pancakes. They’re usually made with mung beans which is similar to a yellow split pea, and sometimes people actually use yellow split peas instead. Fortunately for me, I can find mung beans at my local grocery store and don’t even need to go to an Asian store to find some.

As I thought about this new year — 2016 — I remembered a conversation I had with a friend who was in turn remembering meals his wife had made him during their first year of marriage. His comment was that over the years, their meal plan had become a rut, and he missed the different experimental dishes she made that first year.

Often, that’s exactly what happens to families. Busy schedules, finicky children’s palates, frugal living, and lack of inspiration can all lead to meals being the same week after week, and when a friend emailed me yesterday asking about something to serve which was different, I thought about Korean Scallion Pancakes. What I like about them is that they’re fairly easy to make, are made with protein (beans), that you can make them with vegetables, and they’re tasty.

What’s important to know is that the mung beans need to soften, so you do need to give them time to sit in water. A couple of hours is normally fine. I often soak them in the morning and just let them sit until when I need them in the evening. You simply put enough water to cover the beans and then add water as needed.

The other thing to know is that you don’t want to skimp on the green onions. A mung bean batter is simply there to hold all the wonderful, tasty green onions, and if you choose to add them, other vegetables. I usually make mine with green onions and thinly sliced sweet white onion. Sometimes, I also add thinly sliced carrots and red pepper. My mom makes hers with Korean kimchee, which is basically hot, fermented cabbage or spinach or any other type of vegetable she’s chosen to make kimchee out of.

Another consideration is that you do need to bind the beans to keep them from being too grainy. Recipes online will often call for you to mix the mung beans with some rice and soak the two together. I’ve found it’s easier to just mix in rice flour after the beans soak. At the stores, you can find white rice flour, brown rice flour, and sweet rice flour. My mom prefers the sweet rice flour, and that’s how I’ve always made them over the years.

A final thought is that there are two ways to make the pancakes when you cook them. After you’ve pureed the mung beans and added the rice flour and seasonings, you have to choose how you want to make the pancakes. My mom’s preferred method is to ladle some of the mung bean batter onto the pan, artistically arrange the green onions, onions and vegetables onto the batter, and then add a little bit more of the mung bean batter on top of the vegetables. This is very pretty, but takes time. Because I’m often in a hurry, wanting to make a lot and get them onto the table for dinner, I choose to mix all the green onions, onions, and vegetables directly into the mung bean batter and then ladle the batter and cook the pancakes. The pancakes aren’t as beautiful but they’re still tasty, and this way fits my more time-pressured schedule.

So, if you’re looking for something new and different to try in this new year, I have a recipe below. No quantities, because it all depends on how much you want to make, but if you purchase an 8 ounce bag of mung beans and let them soak, you’ll make enough pancakes for a family of four.

Happy New Year!

Korean Scallion Mung Bean Pancakes

Ingredients:

Yellow Split Mung beans

Water

Salt

Black pepper

Sesame oil

fresh ground ginger (optional)

Fish powder (optional)

Sweet rice flour

Green onions (chopped into longer pieces, about 2 inches — you want a lot!)

Sweet white onions (chopped into thin, long pieces, about 2 inches)

Vegetables (optional: very thinly sliced – carrots, peppers, etc…)

Cooking Instructions:

  1. Cover mung beans with water and let it sit for several hours during the day or overnight. Check the beans occasionally, and add water as needed. You want the beans to become soft enough to puree. You’ll see that the beans are absorbing the water and swelling and becoming softer.
  2. Use a food processor or blender to puree the mung beans with some sweet rice flour to make a smooth, slightly thick batter. You don’t want the batter to be too think but neither do you want it to be too thick. You can add more water as needed to think the batter or more rice flour to thicken it.
  3. Season the batter with salt and pepper, a small amount of sesame oil, and ginger and/or fish powder (if you choose). The flavor for the pancakes comes from the green onions and the mung beans themselves, so you don’t want to add a lot of the seasonings.
  4. Slice lots of green onions and mix into the batter with slices of sweet white onions and other vegetables if you choose.
  5. Over medium high heat, in a pan seasoned with sesame oil, pour batter into round pancake shapes. Cook on one side until browned and crispy, and then turn over and cook the second side. Serve with soy sauce.
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