Savory Watercress and Shallot Chinese Pancakes

Chinese Watercress and Shallot Pancake | Appetite for China

Continuing with my May and June of cooking with watercress, I’ve come up with a lot of ways to use the nutritious leafy green. Stir-fries. Salads. Dumplings. Pasta. Tartines. And now, a riff on Chinese scallion pancakes.

Sure, you’ve had scallion pancakes before in restaurants and possibly from street vendors if you’ve been to China. But have you ever made them at home? Whenever I teach cooking classes on making scallion pancakes, students are always very surprised by how easy it is. The dough that I make is a simplified version of the one my dad taught me (which involves putting your hands in practically boiling water…Eek.) Sure, the boiled water dough makes the final pancake a smidgen flakier, but the simplified is so easy you’ll want to make Chinese pancakes again and again.

So what’s the secret to getting flaky layers? It’s all in the folding. It might be helpful to watch this video first that I made a few years ago for the folding portion, and then proceed to the directions. What you do need to end up with is a very thin pancake that can pan-fry for 2 to 3 minutes on each side.

Chinese Watercress and Shallot Pancake | Appetite for China

I used shallots for a change but you can always stick with scallions; both are in the onion family. And for this recipe I used baby watercress from B&W Quality Growers, but you can also substitute regular watercress.  In order to make the watercress a bit more wilted, you just have to sauté a small bunch for 30 to 60 seconds, then cool.

Adding watercress gives this appetizer more nutrition than the traditional scallion pancake. If your kids are picky eaters who otherwise love carby snacks (and pretty much every kids LOVES scallion pancakes), this is an easy way of sneaking some vegetables into their meals. 

Give this a try and let me know in the comments how it goes!

Chinese Watercress and Shallot Pancake | Appetite for China

Savory Watercress and Shallot Pancakes

Serves 4

  • 5 tablespoons vegetable oil, plus more as needed
  • 8 ounces baby watercress
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more if necessary
  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • 1 large shallot or two medium shallots, minced
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  1. Heat 2 tablespoons of the vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the watercress and sauté until wilted, about 30 to 60 seconds. Set aside to cool for 10 minutes.
  2. Oil a large mixing bowl and set aside.
  3. (For steps 3 through 10 you can refer to this video in my scallion pancakes post if you need a visual reference. It helps a lot!) In a separate large bowl, mix together the flour and water until a smooth dough forms. If the dough seems sticky, as it tends to do in humid weather, add a little more flour (starting with 1 tablespoon and up to 1/4 cup total, if needed) and mix again until the dough is no longer sticky.
  4. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured work surface and knead for 5 minutes. Place the dough in the greased mixing bowl and turn until it is lightly covered with oil all around. Cover the dough with a barely damp towel and let it rest for 30 minutes.
  5. Flour your work surface again and roll out the rested dough. Divide the dough in half, then roll each half into a 1-inch-thick cylinder. With a pastry scraper or butter knife, slice the dough into 2-inch-long segments. Dust your rolling pin with flour and roll out each segment into a 5-inch circle.
  6. Lightly brush the top of each circle with peanut oil, about 2 tablespoons total for all the pancakes. Sprinkle with the watercress, shallots, and salt.
  7. Roll up each circle into another cylinder, making sure the scallions stay in place.
  8. Coil the dough so that it resembles a snail.
  9. With a rolling pin, flatten again into disks about 1/4 inch thick. The pancakes will get a little oily from the watercress and shallots popping through the dough. Place the rolled-out pancakes on a plate and repeat with the remaining dough. If you stack the pancakes, put a piece of parchment paper between each layer to prevent sticking. (Whatever you don’t cooking immediately can be frozen for future use.)
  10. Heat a nonstick flat-bottomed skillet or cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat and add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil. Working in batches, pan-fry the pancakes until golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes on each side. If the sides or middle puff up during the cooking, press them down with a spatula to ensure even cooking. (You may also need another tablespoon of oil between the batches.) Transfer the pancakes to a plate, cut into wedges, and serve, either alone or with chili sauce or soy sauce on the side.