Cook this: Flaky ribbon pancakes — shou zhua bing — from Vegetarian Chinese Soul Food

'It's one of those things that is just universally loved and so satisfying,' says Hsiao-Ching Chou

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Our cookbook of the week is Vegetarian Chinese Soul Food by Hsiao-Ching Chou. Over the next two days, we’ll feature another recipe from the book and an interview with the author.

To try another recipe from the book, check out: Home-style egg foo yung with curry gravy.

Hsiao-Ching Chou‘s shou zhua bing (flaky ribbon pancakes) are as fun to make as they are to eat. In her first book, Chinese Soul Food (Sasquatch Books, 2018), Chou included a recipe for a closely related flatbread, green onion (or scallion) pancakes.

“When I teach my potsticker class, I always show people how to make the green onion pancake and that’s always super popular. And so this is just a variation on that theme,” says Chou. “I love once I show people how to make it, their eyes light up and they’re like, ‘Oh, I’ve always loved eating these but didn’t know how simple they are to make.’”

Layer upon crispy layer makes this version especially joyful to eat. Its name translates to “hand (or fingers) grab pancake” — pulling apart the layers is part of the enjoyment. There are many different ways to produce the coiled ribbons that create the layers, Chou explains. And while not complicated, her method incorporates a few more steps than her previous recipe for green onion pancakes.

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More On This Topic

  1. Home-style egg foo yung with curry gravy from Vegetarian Chinese Soul Food.

    Cook this: Home-style egg foo yung with curry gravy from Vegetarian Chinese Soul Food

  2. Vegetarian Chinese comfort food takes centre stage in Hsiao-Ching Chou's latest cookbook

Both green onion and flaky ribbon pancakes are extremely forgiving, she says. You don’t need to have nailed rolling a perfectly round shape and it’s fine if some of the green onions slip out.

“As far as the ribbon pancakes are concerned, it’s even more forgiving because you’re actually cutting into it, and that gets the onions everywhere,” says Chou. “But it’s like, ‘OK. I can deal with this.’ You just follow the steps and there’s flexibility in the dough. It’s one of those things that is just universally loved and so satisfying.”

Vegetarian Chinese Soul Food by Hsiao-Ching Chou
Vegetarian Chinese Soul Food is Seattle-based author Hsiao-Ching Chou’s second cookbook. Photo by Sasquatch Books

FLAKY RIBBON PANCAKES

For the dough:
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for flouring
1 tsp kosher salt
3/4 cup warm tap water, roughly 90°F (32°C)

For the roux:
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup all-purpose flour

For the pancakes:
2 tsp kosher salt
3 stalks green onions, finely chopped, divided into 4 portions
1 tsp toasted sesame seeds (optional), divided
4 tsp vegetable oil

Step 1

To make the dough, combine the flour and salt in a medium bowl. Swirl in the water and stir with a rubber spatula to combine. Then, using your hands, gather and knead the dough together to create a ball. It will look shaggy. If it isn’t coming together, you may need a splash more water. Add about 1 tablespoon water and see if that helps. If not, add 1 more tablespoon. If the dough is too damp and sticks to your hands goopily, then work in 1 tablespoon flour. The texture should be tacky but not wet. Dust your work surface with flour. Knead the dough for 1 to 2 minutes. It will still look a bit rough, but it will smooth out once the dough has had a chance to rest. Place the dough in the bowl and drape a damp tea towel over the bowl or use a piece of plastic wrap to cover. Let rest for 30 minutes.

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Step 2

In the meantime, make the roux by heating the oil in a small pan over medium heat. When the surface of the oil starts to shimmer, turn off the heat. In a small heatproof bowl, add the flour. Pour the hot oil over the flour and stir immediately, but carefully, to combine. Continue stirring until well combined. Set aside to cool while the dough finishes resting.

Step 3

Once the dough has rested, knead it for 1 minute, or until it’s smooth. Place the dough on the counter or your workbench. Divide the dough into 4 equal pieces, about 4 1/2 ounces each. Working with one piece at a time, roll out the dough until it is a rectangle roughly 10 inches by 5 inches (25 cm x 13 cm), with the long edge facing you. To begin making the pancakes, brush a thin coating of the roux on the dough. Sprinkle on 1/4 teaspoon of the salt and 1 portion of the onions. Add 1/4 teaspoon of the sesame seeds.

Step 4

To fold the pancakes, imagine what a trifold brochure looks like. You will mimic that shape with the dough. Starting on the bottom edge, fold up one-third of the way. Then fold the top edge down to overlap. Now you have a strip of dough. Visualize about a 1-inch (2.5-cm) border on each of the short edges. With a sharp knife, make two evenly spaced cuts down the length of this strip of dough, without cutting through those 1-inch (2.5-cm) borders. The goal is to have “tabs” on the end that you can hold, but there will be three strands of dough in the middle.

Step 5

Picking up the ends of the dough, gently stretch until the strands are about 20 inches (51 cm) long. Starting from one end, roll the dough into a tight coil, making sure to keep the strands of dough from splaying out. When you get to the end, turn the dough so that it stands up on one of the coiled sides. Tuck the loose end under the bottom side of the coil and press to secure. Now, using the palm of your hand, press down firmly on the coil to flatten. Use a rolling pin to roll out the coil until it is about 6 inches (15 cm) in diameter and about 1/4 inch (6 mm) thick. Set aside and repeat the process with the remaining dough.

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Step 6

Preheat an 8-inch (20-cm) nonstick or cast-iron skillet over medium heat for about 1 minute. Reduce the heat to low. Drizzle 1 teaspoon of the vegetable oil on the skillet and swirl to coat. Place a pancake in the skillet, cover with a lid and let cook for 2 to 3 minutes, or until golden brown. Flip the pancake and cook the other side for another 2 minutes, or until golden brown. Pay attention to the heat and adjust as needed. You don’t want the pancakes to brown too quickly. Repeat with the remaining pancakes.

Step 7

As the pancakes come out of the pan, you want to scrunch the sides together to loosen the inner ribbons. There are a few ways to do that. You can use your hands if you wear some oven mitts. Or you can use two sturdy spatulas or a pair of large tongs. Serve the scrunched pancakes on a platter, with dipping sauce on the side. It’s finger food!

Makes: 4 pancakes

Recipe and image excerpted from Vegetarian Chinese Soul Food by permission of Sasquatch Books. © 2021 by Hsiao-Ching Chou.

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