Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Cong You Bing

It has been a while since I have made a baked good in conjunction with my Around the World reading challenge.  The past few weeks, I have been reading books set in China.  My original idea was to read Wild Swans, but then Mo Yan won the Nobel Prize for Literature.  I read his novel Big Breasts and Wide Hips (linking to my review), which had a lot of food mentioned, but more often the food of severe poverty, where the peasants were eating anything they could find.

One of the plants growing in the wild where the Shangguan family is trying to live is the scallion:
"Mother took the cloth covering off of her basket, and Zaohua handed her a peeled scallion, which she broke in half and stuffed into a flatcake."
Flatcakes are mentioned throughout the book, and reminded me of a recipe I had set aside for China back in 2011 when I was still researching potential recipes for the challenge.  The recipe for Scallion Pancake, or Cong You Bing, comes from The Best International Recipe Cookbook, put out by Cook's Illustrated. 

It makes sense that the families in Big Breasts and Wide Hips would eat something like these flatcakes, because according to food writer Fuschia Dunlop, people in the north are often referred to as "wheat-eaters."  The other book I read for China was Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper: A Sweet-Sour Memoir of Eating in China. While she did include some recipes, there weren't any without meat that I could try, and most of the ingredients wouldn't be nearly the same as they would be in China anyway.  But this book made me hungry and I had to stop and make cong you bing just to make it through. 

My cong you bing are not as thin as what I see elsewhere on the internet.  The process is a quick bread of flour, salt, and water that is kneaded and allowed to rest.  I actually think that since I made half the recipe and could fit it in my palm, I may have overkneaded the dough.  After resting, balls of dough are rolled out (I used my hands again), sprinkled with sesame oil, scallions, and I added sesame seeds; coiled into a ball-shape, and rolled out again.

These flat pancakey breads are then pan-fried and served with a scallion dipping sauce.  In both books, any time flatbreads were discussed, they were always wrapped around meat of various kinds, despite where Fuschia would travel in China. The breads might change, but it was pretty prevalent. 

They were pretty tasty, probably best in the course of a larger meal.  I'd recommend both books, although book are pretty dense and will require some time from you as a reader.

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