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Scallion pancakes are quick and light

(ran ST edition)

The scallion pancake I've always made is similar to the kind served in Chinese restaurants. It is essentially bread.

I like its tough, chewy, slightly sharp nature, but it has two drawbacks. One is that the scallion flavor is never strong enough, and, because the pancakes are made with what amounts to bread dough, which actually requires rising time, they take a couple of hours. This disqualifies them as a last-minute side dish.

I addressed both of these considerations by making what amounts to a simplified, scallion-laden pancake batter. The liquid is a scallion puree, rather than milk, and the flour is barely enough to hold everything together, so that all you really taste are scallions, a touch of soy and the oil used for cooking.

The result is not the usual hand-held, pizza-dense scallion pancake but a fork-tender pancake reminiscent of a vegetable fritter.

The flavor is great, and the preparation time has been cut to about 20 minutes.

Because the batter is so delicate, it is better to make individual pancakes, which are easy to turn, rather than one big cake. They are good not only as a side dish but also as a platform for stews and juicy roasts. Place a couple on a plate and spoon the stew on top.

Although I still associate them with Asian-flavor dishes, omitting the optional soy sauce makes them a perfect accompaniment to braised foods that use European seasonings.

The same formula can be used to make pancakes with other members of the onion family, especially shallots and the spring onions now in many markets (they look like scallions on steroids). I use peanut oil for this recipe, but that's only because I associate it with soy sauce. If you omit the soy, you can use any vegetable oil or even a good olive oil.

Fast Scallion Pancakes

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

4 bunches scallions or spring onions, about 1 pound

1 egg

1 teaspoon soy sauce

{ cup flour

Peanut, canola or olive oil as needed

Bring a medium pot of salted water to a boil while you trim the scallions. Roughly chop three bunches and mince the fourth.

Add the larger portion of scallions to the water and cook about 5 minutes or until tender. Drain, reserving about { cup of the cooking liquid. Puree the cooked scallions in a blender, adding just enough of the cooking liquid to allow the machine to do its work.

Mix the puree with the egg and soy, then gently stir in the flour until blended. Add pepper to taste, then the reserved minced scallions. Film a nonstick or well-seasoned skillet with oil and turn the heat to medium-high. Drop the batter into the pan by the tablespoon or quarter cup and cook about 2 minutes to a side or until lightly browned. If necessary, the pancakes can be kept warm in a 200-degree oven for about 30 minutes.

Preparation time: 20 minutes. Yield: 4 servings.