It might be the easiest sourdough recipe out there.

By Margaret Eby
May 08, 2020
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Photo: Margaret Eby

There are two living things in my kitchen that I check on every day. The first is my sourdough starter, named Enya, bubbling vigorously in a quart container on my counter. The second is a small jar full of regrowing stubs of scallions. Before shelter-in-place orders took effect, I was not a plant person. I’ve managed to murder all the plants you’re supposed to be unable to kill, but the scallions seemed impervious to my gardening haplessness. Stuck in a few inches of water, they’re shooting up wildly, and it feels good to have small things that are thriving right now. It also turns out that these two quarantine mainstays combine to make an extremely easy, tasty lunch: Sourdough-discard scallion pancakes. 

These aren’t the super flakey scallion pancakes that you can get at Chinese-American restaurants. Though if you have scallions and a little time, you should make those, too—they’re delicious, and make for excellent bread for fried-egg sandwiches, I’ve found. This sourdough variety is a cheater’s version that takes much less time, harnessing the umami from the starter to make a quick savory pancake that’s fritter-adjacent. You can make them entirely with sourdough discard—the portion that you take away from the starter when you feed it—a little water, and scallions, though I like to add a few other components, too. The coolest part is that you don’t need to then use the discard as part of a new dough. The discard—which is, after all, just flour and water that’s been allowed to ferment a little—already is a dough. That’s it! It’s all you need.

Here’s how you do it. Take your sourdough discard and add in a pinch of salt and a few turns of black pepper. I usually end up with about three-fourths of a cup of discard and that gives me two or three good pancakes, but if you have less, you can still coax it into one or two pancakes. If you want, now’s the time to mix in a few extra flavor-boosting ingredients: a little grated ginger and garlic, a splash of toasted sesame oil, and a teaspoon or so of chili crisp are excellent. You can skip those, or play around with whatever you’ve got. Chopped up kimchi would be amazing, or a few finely chopped pickled red onions. Don’t be shy! If you think it would taste good in a savory pancake, throw it in.

Mix those into the starter so they’re evenly distributed. Then add water, a tablespoon at a time, until your starter thins into a pancake batter-like consistency. For me, this usually takes about five tablespoons of water, but it’s going to vary based on how thick your starter is. About a fourth-cup of water is a good rule of thumb. 

Then heat up a pan over medium. I love this cleverly shaped radical pan for this, since it’s both nonstick and has a super-extended lip, allowing me to flip the scallion pancake without using a spatula, but anything you have that you’d cook pancakes on will work. Add a glug or two of oil, whether canola, vegetable or olive. Then pour out roughly a third to half of your batter into the oil and sprinkle a handful of sliced scallions clipped from your everlasting windowsill scallion plant on top. You want enough batter to spread and coat the pan you’re using, so use your judgement here. I’ve also been adding some za’atar because I have some really good za’atar right now, but you do you. Sesame seeds could also be great. Whatever works. 

Let the pancake fry for two to four minutes, depending on the conditions of your household. The thinner the batter is, the faster it’s going to cook through, so keep an eye on that. The edges will start getting brown and you might spot a few bubbles. That’s when you flip it, and cook for another two to four minutes, until it’s looking browned and crispy. Move to a plate and repeat with the rest of the batter.  I eat mine with a dipping sauce of Japanese mayonnaise mixed with chili crisp, or soy sauce cut with some rice wine vinegar. It might take a little while to figure out the right heat settings for your preferred level of crispiness, like with any pancake. But it’ll be worth it, because now you have an incredibly easy snack made out of things that might have just been discarded.