Posts Tagged ‘Breakfast’

Recently I’ve been craving my standard weekday breakfast from my time in China: 煎饼 (jian bing).  Jian bing is a typical Beijing street food, sort of like a crepe and an omelet fused together, seasoned with delectable sauces, cilantro and green onion, then filled with a crunchy cracker.  Fortunately, before we left China, I thought to ask for the name of the main sauce.  It’s English name is sweet flour (or sweet noodle) sauce.  It did take a trip to China town and a bit of legwork to find, but I got it, along with shrimp sauce and Chinese chili paste.  Whole Foods supplied millet flour and I was ready to go.  You’ll want several basting brushes (preferably with heat-resistant silicone bristles) for applying the sauces.  Although it sounds like a lot of instructions, these are actually quite quick to make (aside from the wait time for the batter).


1/2 c. millet flour
1/4 c. whole wheat flour
1 c. whole milk
5 eggs
3/4 tsp. salt
3 tbs. vegetable oil (plus more for frying)
2 tbs. roughly chopped cilantro
2 tbs. chopped green onion (scallion)
Sweet flour sauce
Shrimp sauce (optional)
Chili sauce (optional)
Wonton wrappers (you can often get these at the supermarket either fresh or frozen)

To make the batter, sift together the two kinds of flour and the salt.  If you can’t find millet flour, you can definitely experiment with other flour blends – all whole wheat, whole wheat and white, buckwheat, etc.  I would advise always using at least partially wheat flour (whole wheat or white).  I am not sure the batter will hang together well enough if you use all gluten-free flours, but if you are gluten-sensitive you could certainly experiment with 100% millet or similar.  In a blender combine 3 eggs, the milk and the sifted flour mixture and blend until smooth.  You can also do this in a bowl with a whisk.  Let the batter rest for at least an hour.  Just before you’re ready to start cooking, whisk in the 3 tbs. of oil (I used grapeseed, but you could use soy, peanut, or any other relatively flavorless vegetable oil – definitely don’t use olive oil, though).

To prepare to assemble jian bing, break the remaining 2 eggs into a small bowl and beat lightly (just to break up a bit).  Chop your cilantro and green onions and mix them together.  Put a tablespoon or two of the sweet flour sauce in a small bowl (I use a ramekin or custard cup) and blend it with a tablespoon or two of water to think it out to an easily brush-on-able consistency.  If your chili paste is very thick you may want to thin it a bit too.  Chili paste is often made with an oil base so you may find it easier to think with a bit of vegetable oil.  The same applies for shrimp sauce if you choose to use it.  I am not 100% certain that shrimp sauce is the right third sauce, but it was the only pink-ish sauce we saw and I remember there being a pink-ish sauce.  I made the first jian bing with the shrimp sauce to test it out and didn’t care for the flavor.  I think at least some jian bing makers may use it, but the ones whose jian bing I loved, maybe not.  In any case, I left it off the remaining ones.

To create the crunchy cracker filling, heat about 1/2 in. of vegetable oil in a pan.  When it’s very hot, slip in the wonton wrappers 1-2 at a time.  They should get large bubbles all over pretty quickly.  After a minute or two, turn them over and cook for another minute or so.  They should be a nice golden brown all over.  Drain them on paper towels.  I found that they tended to curve a little.  I put them concave side down on the theory that more oil would drain off that way.  Fry up one wrapper for each jian bing you intend to make.  With the size hot plates the jian bing makers in Beijing have, 1/person is plenty.  I found that 2-3/person of the size I have the facilities to make was about right.

Now you’re ready to begin cooking your jian bing.  Heat a large, frying pan (preferably non-stick, and preferably of the variety with relatively shallow, sloping sides) over medium heat or very slightly higher.  When the pan is hot, brush it with a bit of vegetable oil.  Pour in a few tablespoons of the crepe batter (don’t forget to whisk the oil into the batter first).  The amount you need will vary depending on the size of your pan.  Swirl the batter around quickly to coat the bottom of the pan thinly and evenly.  In China they then break an egg directly onto the crepe and spread it out in a thin layer.  Since their eggs are smaller and crepes bigger, I found that 1/2 egg/crepe is about right (I was using a 10 in. pan) which is why I break the eggs into a bowl and beat them a bit.  Pour a tablespoon or two of egg (about 1/2 egg) onto your crepe as soon as the top no longer looks liquid.  Smear the egg out to cover the top of the crepe in a thin layer.  Sprinkle on a little of the cilantro/scallion mixture.  As soon as the egg is no longer runny, flip your jian bing over.  Quickly brush the crepe with a thin layer of each sauce you’re using.  I usually cover the whole surface with the sweet flour sauce, but just put a little chili sauce on.  Place one of the fried wonton wrappers in the middle, and fold the side of the crepe up to cover the wonton wrapper.  Use your spatula to crumble the wonton wrapper up some.  Slide out of the pan and eat.  Yum!

The batter recipe should make 8-12 crepes, depending on size.   The total amount of egg, scallion and cilantro listed is actually only enough for about 4 10 in. jian bing.  Just figure 1 egg and 1 tbs. each of cilantro and green onion will make about 2 10 in. jian bing.  Use however many eggs and herbs you need for the number you want to make.

You can definitely cut the batter recipe in half if you want to.  I am also going to experiment with cooking extra crepes and freezing them so I need only defrost them and pick up with the “smear with egg” step.  Also, wonton wrapper tend to come in packs of about a zillion.  They can definitely be frozen, though.  I’ll probably separate them into small stacks, then wrap and freeze each stack separately so I don’t have to thaw dozens to get just 4-6 when I want to make some jian bing.  The sauces should keep pretty much indefinitely in the fridge.

If you have trouble finding the ingredients, you should be able to order them online.  Your best bet for sweet flour sauce is Asian Food Grocer.   Any supermarket will have some kind of chili paste/sauce that will do.  Shrimp paste/sauce is optional and you can definitely do without, but if you want to try it, Asian Food Grocer will probably work.  My Whole Foods had millet flour so that wasn’t a problem, but if you don’t find it, I googled it and found plenty of places to buy it online.  Or, as I mentioned, you can experiment with other flours.

A few notes on authenticity.  I am quite confident in my use of sweet flour sauce for the main sauce.  It definitely tasted right.  Similarly for the cilantro and green onion (although I’ve had some that used regular onion instead).  The crepe batter was pretty much a guess.  I just picked a whole wheat crepe recipe I’ve used before then substituted millet flour for some of the wheat flour.  I was pretty sure they’d use millet flour in China and the crepe it produced had the yellow-ish color and a similar taste and texture to what I ate in China.  I would guess they use soy milk rather than regular milk, but I opted for regular since I hate soy milk and would just end up throwing out whatever didn’t go into the batter.  Also, I have zero experience cooking with soy milk and had no clue how I might need to adjust the recipe to accommodate any differences in cooking characteristics.  Also, I suspect they may use less egg and more milk in the batter than I did, but don’t know for sure.  I am sure the crispy, friend filling crackers they use aren’t precisely like wonton wrappers, but wonton wrappers are a suitable size and produce just the right texture.  At any rate, what I produced was close enough to what I picked up every day on my way to work to satisfy my craving.


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Dinner time crept up out of nowhere and grocery shopping never happened.  Not many leftovers in the fridge and I didn’t feel like pasta so those sauces in the freezer didn’t help.  I contemplated the empty fridge and bare cupboards and concluded that pancakes were perfect for dinner.  I didn’t have much but milk, flour, eggs, butter and, of course, maple syrup were all on hand.  Besides, what could be more fun than the occasional breakfast for dinner.  And it doesn’t get much easier than pancakes.


Source: Time Life Foods of the World, American Cooking

2 c. all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
3 eggs
2 c. milk
1/4 c. melted butter

Sift the flour, baking powder, sugar and salt together into a large mixing bowl.  Beat the eggs with a whisk then add the milk to them.  Pour the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir.  It’s important to stir just enough to incorporate the wet ingredients.  Your mixture will be quite lumpy.  That’s fine.  You don’t want to over mix or your pancakes will be tough.  Fry the pancakes in butter over moderate heat.  You’ll probably need about a tablespoon of butter to start and then a bit more between batches.  Use a large spoon, ladle or pitcher to pour batter into approximately 4 inch rounds in the pan.  Let the pancakes cook until little bubbles appear all over the surface and when you use peek underneath the pancakes look a yummy golden-brown color.  Use a spatula to flip the pancakes over.  When the pancakes fill springy (not soft) when you prod them with the edge of the spatula and the undersides are also a nice golden-brown the pancakes are done.  If you want to cook a bunch of batches before serving you can put them on a warm platter in a 200° oven to keep them warm.  I like to eat them with melted butter and (real!) maple syrup.  Of course, you can eat them how you like.

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