Thursday, April 19, 2012

Oily Ramp Cakes

I logged on to the excellent 3 Foragers blog a couple of days ago, and was admiring an appetizing ramp photo collage. As my eyes wandered to the upper right corner I uttered the archetypal "Doh!", and might have even slapped my forehead. The stimulus for this Homeric response was a comely shot of Chinese scallion cakes. Except, of course, they weren't scallion cakes, but ramp cakes. I've been making scallion cakes for, maybe, three decades, gathering ramps for the better part of a score of years. Never did it occur to me to make ramp cakes. Doh.

I call mine Oily Ramp Cakes, which might not sound so appetizing, but I learned my version from the recipe in Mrs Chiang's Szechwan Cookbook, which I've owned since the early 1980s, and she calls them Oily Scallion Cakes. The Chinese name, in pinyin, is cong you bing--cong means scallion, you is oil, bing is a sort of pancake or flatbread.  I imagine the you here might just indicate that it's fried.  But I'll always think of the original as Oily Scallion Cakes, so Oily Ramp Cakes it must be.

They're not that greasy.  They're chewy, savory, very fragrant, a fine vehicle for that pungent springtime flavor.  Make them as an appetizer or cocktail snack, or as part of a dim sum spread.  Or have them, as I did recently, for lunch, along with a wild Sichuan nettles salad with charred ramp dressing (recipe coming soon).

Oily Ramp Cakes (after Mrs Chiang's Szechwan Cookbook, with thanks to The 3 Foragers for the inspiration)

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour*
1/2 cup water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dark sesame oil
1 teaspoon cooking oil (peanut, canola, or the like)
1 cup chopped ramps, white and greens, approx. 1/4 inch chop (the number of ramps required will vary radically depending on size--10 to 12 small ramps, perhaps only 4 or 6 large ones)

Mix the flour and water to make a stiff dough.  Knead briefly, let it rest for 10 minutes, knead again for a minute or two, cover and let rest for 30 minutes.  Divide the dough in two and form into balls.  Roll and stretch each ball out into an 8-inch square.  Spread 1/2 teaspoon each of the sesame and vegetable oils onto each square, then sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon salt and half the chopped ramps.  Roll the dough up, jelly roll style, and pinch closed the ends.  Cut each roll in half, again pinching the exposed ends closed, and flatten into discs, sort of hockey puck shape.  Let rest 15 minutes.

When you're ready to cook,  roll the cakes out to circles 6 to 7 inches in diameter.  Heat a heavy skillet and add cooking oil to a depth of about 1/8 inch.  Cook each cake for a total of 6 minutes over medium heat,  turning every minute or so.  The first side will brown much more evenly than the second, unless you use quite a bit more oil in the frying.  Drain on paper towels.  Add a bit more oil for each cake.

Eat hot, plain, or with hoisin sauce for dipping, or this honey-soy-chili sauce I concocted because I had just warmed some crystalized honey to empty the jar, and the bowl was sitting near the stove:

1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 teaspoons honey
1 teaspoon cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon sambal

Combine and mix well.

Rolled out and ramped--note that I made rectangles here, not squares as in the recipe; but after making them this way I realized an 8-inch square would work better.  Not that big a deal.

Rolled up, cut and pucked.

Rolled flat pre-frying.



* I like to use something with a little character, like the Gold & White from Natural Way Mills in Minnesota, which is milled with the germ included.  With plain grocery store AP flour, I would add a couple tablespoons of whole wheat flour as part of the one cup.

Text and photos copyright 2012 by Brett Laidlaw


rose (@bryiarrose) said...

this is on the list to try this weekend, thanks!

Teresa M said...

Hey Brett--I also have Mrs. Chiang's Szechuan Cookbook--it's a classic, isn't it?--and have made the oily scallion cakes many times. In fact, I have a camping version of it in The Back-Country Kitchen (featuring home-dehydrated green onions). I've made it with ramps also, and find it excellent. Like your sauce idea; I will try that next time.

Good year for ramps up here, and such an early start. I'd never seen white-necked ramps, BTW, and was interested to see that in your earlier post. I'll keep an eye out for them; wonder if it's a local phenom.


Trout Caviar said...

Hi Rose: So did you try them? How'd they turn out?

Hey Teresa: It is a classic, really stands up over the...decades, yikes. I've only seen the white-necked ramps in that one area. Wasn't sure they were even ramps at first--but Sam notes that they have that variation. I need to get your Back Country Kitchen book. I'm sure I could learn a thing or two.

Cheers~ Brett