Pancakes for Dinner: Vegetarian Pa Jeon

February 24th was International Pancake Day. And I made these tasty Korean pancakes for dinner. But it was totally a coincidence.

When I started looking at recipes for Pa Jeon, I was not even aware of the existence of Pancake Day, which apparently arose from an old tradition of using up eggs and fat before Lent begins. But here I am with a belly full of pancakes. And you should make these for dinner, pancake day or no.

It’s a great tight-budget recipe, using a few pantry ingredients and giving you an opportunity to clean out the fridge. Depending on what you have around, these basically are free. Or, like, five dollars, max. Got some extra zucchini? Slice into matchsticks and throw it in. A few shrimp languishing in your freezer? Thaw, chop and add. I did a vegetarian version, but you could stir leftover cooked meat into the batter if you’ve got some around. Bits of sweet red peppers would be great, too. The only real essentials are a batter (preferably made with half rice flour, which gives it a sweetness and lightness, as well as crispy edges) and a vinegary dipping sauce.

I found the rice flour at a local asian market (M2M, in case you’re in New York.) The package just says “Rice Powder” and it looks a little suspicious, but it tasted great and I’ve lived to tell the tale. It wouldn’t shock me if Whole Foods had some, as well, maybe in the gluten-free section? In fact, I bet you could make these entirely gluten-free with minimal adjustment to the recipe, just subbing out the cup of wheat flour for something safely GF. Many soy sauces aren’t gluten-free, though, so watch out for that.

While I was making these for the first time, I was struck by the similarity to latkes, an old favorite. Even down to the trick of adding a bit of seltzer to fluff up the batter! (Trick courtesy Cathy of Not Eating Out in New York.) These are a bit more soft and pillowy, though. Perhaps we should try dipping latkes in ginger-vinegar sauce. Now that’s fusion.

Vegetarian Korean Pancakes (Pa Jeon)
adapted from Mark Bittman
Serves 2

For pa jeon:
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup rice flour
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/2 cups cold unflavored seltzer water
1 tablespoon canola oil, plus extra for the pan
1 cup garlic chives (scallions are ok), sliced in 2-inch lengths
1/2 cup carrots, peeled cut into thin matchsticks (if you grate them, they disappear into the batter)
1/2 cup shitake mushrooms, sliced
1 tablespoon prepared kimchi, chopped, plus additional for serving

For vinegar dipping sauce:
1/4 cup soy sauce
3 tablespoons rice vinegar (unseasoned)
1/4 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon sugar
2 teaspoons minced or grated fresh ginger
1 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds

To prepare dipping sauce, stir first first four ingredients in a bowl until sugar dissolves. Add ginger and stir, crushing slighly against the sides of the bowl. Let macerate, stir in sesame seeds when you’re ready to serve.

In a large bowl, gently mix flours, eggs, seltzer, and oil until smooth. Let rest a few minutes while you prepare the vegetables. Stir in vegetables, including kimchi, tossing to coat. Heat a large seasoned cast iron pan over medium heat and coat with a bit of oil. When pan is hot, drop batter with a ladle to form 4 or five pancakes (smaller pancakes are easier to flip than large.) Spread out batter so it’s no more than a half-inch thick. Turn heat down to medium-low. Cook about 4 minutes, flipping when pancake no longer resists, then cook about 4 minutes on the other side. Pancake should be crispy and brown, with no liquid inside. Remove to a plate. Repeat with remaining batter.

Serve hot with vinegar dipping sauce, extra kimchi, and hot sauce, if desired.

In asian, budget, korean, pa jeon, pa jun, pancakes, vegetarian

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