Pajeon, those crisp-edged, scallion-filled Korean pancakes, are delectable in any weather. But it’s on rainy, blustery days, when the skies seem bleak and the air feels damp, that chef Sohui Kim craves them the most.
Kim, an owner of Insa and The Good Fork restaurants in Brooklyn, N.Y., told me this as she was walking down the streets of Red Hook. It was drizzling, and I could hear the wind howl through her cellphone.
“I could use one now,” she said. “I need something comforting and crispy.”
I got hooked on Kim’s seafood pajeon at Insa, where its crunching sounds markedly improve the karaoke renditions of “Bohemian Rhapsody,” or at least drowned them out.
When she told me the pancakes were easy enough to make on a weeknight, I begged her to tell me how.
“If you think about the sweet pancakes you make in the morning, it’s the same thing,” she said. “You can throw anything in the batter — blueberries, apples, chocolate chips. When you turn the whole notion savory, the possibilities are limitless.”
Kim, who lived in South Korea until age 10 when she moved the United States, learned to make the pancakes, called jeon, from her mother. (“Pa” means scallions and is added to the word when they’re a part of the batter.)
“My mother would use whatever was available,” she said. “Sometimes she’d grate zucchini and throw it in with kim chee juice, or she’d use mushrooms or edible roots.” (Kim is partial to jeon made with leftovers like Brussels sprouts.)
Most important, she said, is to finely chop or shred raw vegetables, so they cook quickly in the batter. Precooked vegetables and seafood can be cut into bite-sized pieces. Then, fry the pancakes in just enough oil to coat the pan in a thin layer, but not more. These are pan-fried, not deep-fried, and you don’t want them greasy.
Kim mixes potato or other starches into the batter to give the jeon a slightly sticky chew. She adds baking powder for lightness. But her mother sometimes won’t bother with either. Recently, when the two were making kim chee jeon together, her mother used only kim chee, flour and water.
“I said, ‘Mom, let’s jazz it up,’” Kim recounted. “But she said: ‘I’m too tired. Let’s just eat it.’”
“And you know what, it was great.”
VEGETABLE PAJEON (KOREAN SCALLION PANCAKES WITH VEGETABLES)
By Sohui Kim
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup potato starch (or 1/4 cup each rice flour and cornstarch)
- 3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt, plus more as needed
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 3/4 cup ice water
- 1 large egg
- 1/4 cup finely chopped kim chee
- 4 cups finely chopped or grated mixed vegetables (carrots, zucchini, bell peppers, kale, whatever you’ve got)
- 4 scallions, cut into 2-inch-long sections and thinly sliced lengthwise
- 2 tablespoons grapeseed or peanut oil, plus more as needed
- >> Dipping sauce:
- 3 tablespoons soy sauce
- 2 teaspoons rice wine vinegar, plus more to taste
- 1 teaspoon finely grated fresh ginger or garlic (optional)
- 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil, plus more to taste
- Pinch sugar
>> To make dipping sauce: In a small bowl, combine ingredients; set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk together flour, potato starch, salt and baking powder.
In a medium bowl, combine water, egg and kim chee. Add mixture to flour mixture; whisking until smooth. Fold in vegetables and about three-quarters of the scallions. (Save the rest for garnish.)
In a large nonstick skillet over medium, heat 2 tablespoons oil. Scoop 1/4-cup portions of batter into skillet, as many as will fit without touching, flatten and fry until dark golden on bottom, 2 to 3 minutes. Flip; continue to fry until other side is browned, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate and sprinkle with more salt. Sprinkle sliced scallions over pancakes; serve with dipping sauce on the side. Serves 3 to 4.
Nutritional information unavailable.