Chinese Squash Pancakes are a summer treat in Southern China, made when the water squash are plentiful. Hard to find in North America, you can still make these delightful fritters, they can be made with zucchini–one of the summer veggies we have by the bushel.
This dish, a specialty of the Chiu Chow, calls for a vegetable native to southern China, the water squash, or soi guah in Cantonese. It gets its name from the fact that it is customarily planted along riverbanks, lakeshores, and the edges of fish ponds so that its vines can draw nourishing water. It’s a summer vegetable and only occasionally available in Chinese markets, but zucchini can be used in its place. The squashes have a similar texture and both are green and long, though the water squash tends to be larger, growing to 18 inches in length with a diameter of more than 3 inches. Look for zucchini about 7 inches long and weighing about 12 ounces each.–Eileen Yin-Fei Lo
Chinese Squash Pancakes
- 2 tablespoons raw peanuts
- 1 1/2 cups peeled zucchini cut into 1/2 inch (12 mm) thick slices and then cut into 1/4 inch (6 mm) wide strips
- 3 tablespoons scallions cut into 1/4 inch (6 mm) thick slices
- 1 large egg lightly beaten
- 1 tablespoon light soy sauce
- 1 1/2 teaspoons Shaoxing wine
- 4 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar
- Pinch white pepper
- 3 1/2 to 5 tablespoons peanut oil
- First, dry roast the peanuts. Heat a wok over high heat for 30 seconds. Add the peanuts, spread them in a single layer, lower the heat to medium, and let roast for 30 seconds. Turn the peanuts over and stir continuously for about 5 minutes, or until they are light brown. Turn off the heat and transfer the peanuts to a dish. Allow them to cool completely, then place them on a sheet of waxed paper and crush them with a rolling pin.
- In a large bowl, combine the peanuts, zucchini, scallions, egg, soy sauce, wine, flour, sugar, and pepper and stir until a smooth batter forms.
- Heat the wok over high heat for 1 minute. Add 2 1/2 tablespoons peanut oil and, using the spatula, coat the wok with the oil. If making a single pancake, pour in the batter and spread in a thin layer. Using both handles of the wok, move the wok over the burner in a circular motion so the pancake moves around as well and does not stick. Cook for about 2 1/2 minutes, or until the bottom browns. If making individual pancakes, separate the batter into 4 equal portions. Then, cook each smaller pancake, 1 at a time. Using both handles of the wok, move the wok over the burner in a circular motion so the pancake moves around as well and does not stick. Cook for about 2 1/2 minutes, or until the bottom browns.
- Slide the pancake from the wok onto a large, flat plate. Invert the pancake onto a second plate of the same size. Lift off the top plate. Slide the pancake, browned side up, back into the wok and lower the heat to medium. Cook, occasionally patting the pancake down with the spatula, for about 3 minutes. Adjust the heat as needed so that the pancake is neither undercooked nor burned, and add the remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons oil only if the pan becomes too dry and the pancake begins to stick. The pancake is done when the zucchini has softened and tiny brown spots appear on the second side.
- Turn off the heat. Slide the pancake(s) onto a heated platter, cut into wedges, and serve.
Recipe Testers’ Reviews
I made these as part of a Chinese New Year brunch that also included Asian Noodle Salad with Peanut Dressing. As suggested, I made this dish with zucchini instead of the hard-to-find and out-of-season water squash. I sought out zucchini the size and weight described, which was not hard to do. With a savory pancake such as this one, I’m always concerned about whether it will hold together, from mixing bowl to pan to dish. This batter worked beautifully and our pancakes were surprisingly easy to maneuver, visually pleasing, and a delicious melding of zucchini, peanuts, and egg, accented by scallions and soy. It was appealing in the combinations of textures and flavors.
A friend with whom I cooked did get a little bit caught up in the directions of the multiple inversions of plates in step 4. Once done properly, it was easy from there on out! I initially wondered whether a wok would be the right pan, and it turned out to be just right. The pancakes moved easily in our well-seasoned wok. We made the larger version described, then cut them into wedges. The next time, I’ll try the option of smaller, individual-size pancakes as suggested in the recipe. Though these were served as part of a Chinese brunch, they would also work well as an appetizer, passed or plated, if made in the smaller individual-serving size.
The flavors are fresh and not predictable: The peanuts, for example, are not immediately obvious, creating a surprise when first tasted. This leads to a note of caution regarding nut allergies: Since it’s not evident there are peanuts in these pancakes, it’s especially important to check with guests and friends before serving, in case of health issues they might not think to disclose if they assume the pancake is a squash-and-egg concoction.
Originally published January 08, 2010