The city where I’m from, Edmonton, Canada, is known for embracing its multicultural heritage. From our beginnings with native peoples living off of the land in harmony with nature (and their own battles to be fair) to the growing European settlements over the last century plus. Being such a young region, a culinary identity of our own is relatively in its infancy compared to other parts of the world. This is both intimidating and incredibly empowering. We can create our own identity as we go along.
One such culinary creation that Edmonton has firmly attached to as its own is the green onion cake. Sometimes called a scallion pancake in many Chinese cultures, it is a lightly leavened or unleavened dough, folded with green onions like one would fold a croissant or puff pastry dough and fried. It is often served as a snack with a sambal dipping sauce. This dish has become iconic around Edmonton. From pubs to festivals to restaurants all around the city, it has been something to miss when away from town and to relish in every culinary situation.
It has begun to evolve as a flatbread to hold Turkish donair (another Edmonton culinary adoptee) or as a base for pizza. The green onion cake has come to represent the culinary evolution of this part of Canada. It shows how a new immigrant to our country can share his family’s background through food, become embraced as a valued citizen, not by government-issued certification, but by the collective enjoyment of a part of his culinary history.
I thought the next step in the green onion cake’s evolutionary history should involve using as many Edmonton area ingredients in the creation of this snack as possible. I enjoy the heritage wheat flour varieties from local farmer Gold Forest Grains, the cold pressed (extra virgin) oils from Mighty Trio Organics, and the green onions from Peas On Earth, another family of Chinese heritage who’s passion for growing Asian ingredients like green onions, bok choy and baby corn (seasonally) adds another level of passion and culinary history to the dish.
Is my version the definitive one? No. It is a dish, that in my hands, has its own character. We seem to seek words like “ultimate, perfect, best ever, or greatest” to describe food, or life in general and it doesn’t really exist. Food is a moment. A time to share that joy of preparation and subsequent flavour with others. A time to see how life can be unique and different at any given moment. So celebrate the uniqueness of your region, wherever that may be, smile and share it with those around you. This is a piece of my region. One moment in time.
Green Onion Cakes with Strawberry Sambal Dipping Sauce
For the Homemade Sambal Oelek:
6 or 7 long red finger chillis, roughly chopped, stems removed, seeds removed for a milder heat (I kept my seeds in)
1 tsp salt
3 Tbsp rice vinegar
In a food processor, add the chopped chillis with the salt. Pulse and grind the chillis until just starting to come together. Add the vinegar and grind until the mixture starts to smooth out, but still very chunky. It can keep in the fridge for about a month. It’s good as a spicy addition to stir-frys, Asian noodle dishes or dipping sauces.
For the Strawberry Sambal Dipping Sauce:
6 Tbsp strawberry jam (I used a locally produced variety from a nearby organic farm August Organics)
2 Tbsp Homemade Sambal Oelek (or store bought sambal oelek)
2 Tbsp rice vinegar
In a small bowl, whisk together the strawberry jam, sambal and vinegar until uniformly combined.
For the Green Onion Cakes:
2 cups red fife wheat flour (spelt flour also works great; or other whole wheat flour)
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
7/8-1 cup water
2-3 Tbsp cold pressed flax oil (or other extra virgin oil)
2-3 tsp salt
1 bunch green onions, green part only, finely chopped (about 14-15 green onions)
Oil for frying
In a medium bowl, combine the red fife flour, baking powder and baking soda. Add the water and stir together with a fork until a loose dough starts to come together. Knead and press the dough while still in the bowl to gather as much of the dough together as possible. If the dough is too dry, add a bit of water. If the dough is too wet, add a bit of flour. This dough, because of its simplicity, can be greatly affected by environmental conditions (humidity, arid conditions, etc) or the ingredients themselves (older flour can be drier, fresher flour can have more inherent moisture both from natural oils and natural liquid content).
Turn the dough on to a lightly floured counter and knead more to make a very soft and smooth dough. Shape it into a rectangle and roll the dough out into a larger rectangle about 1 cm (1/2″) thick. Brush the entire surface with flax oil.
Fold the rectangle in half, keeping the width.
Roll the dough out again, thinner this time, about 1/2 cm (1/4″) thick. Brush again with flax oil, sprinkle liberally with salt and scatter the chopped green onions over 2/3 of the surface, to leave room to roll the dough.
Start to roll the dough, encapsulating the green onions inside, ensuring to roll tightly from the green onion end to the unadorned end.
Once it is rolled into a log, cut the log in half. Then each half in half. Repeat this cutting until you have 16 equal portions. Turn the cut end on each portion so they are facing down on the counter.
Using the palm of your hand, press down on each portion with a slightly circular, massaging motion to press them flat.
Roll each portion to a thickness of 1/2 cm (1/4″).
Preheat a wok filled with 2 cups of oil to a temperature of 190C/375F. Drop the rolled green onion cake portions in the hot oil, one at a time. Fry for no more than 45 seconds on one side, flip them and fry for no more than 20 seconds on the other side. Remove to drain on paper towels. Repeat with remaining portions or freeze the unfried portions on individual sheets of parchment paper for upwards of a month, frying when you need them. Makes 16.
Cut the fried green onion cakes into quarters, stack them on a plate with a small serving dish of Strawberry Sambal Dipping Sauce. Serves 3-4 as a starter, appetizer or snack.