Welcome to Chow with Me, where Chowhound’s executive editor Hana Asbrink shares all of the irresistible things she’s cooking, eating, reading, buying, and more. Today: Savory Korean pancakes (or jeon) to enjoy all those summer veggies.
August is a glorious time to be at farmers’ markets. They really start hitting their stride here in New York, and you’d be hard-pressed not to walk away laden with ripe, juice-heavy peaches and tomatoes; one-too-many ears of sweet corn; and zucchini that one might easily mistake for small caveman clubs.
I will be the first to admit that I tend to overbuy during market runs. I just can’t control myself! Each stand is abundant with peak summer produce—if there were only a way to capture all this goodness for the root-heavy days of winter. In the meantime, in go the leafy bunches, hotter-than-hot Tristar strawberries, and all the sweet sungolds I can carry.
What to do, though, after you’ve had your fill of salads? Sure, you can venture into BLT Land (where 90 percent of my Instagram feed seems to be), and I certainly wouldn’t turn a beautiful heirloom tomato away, but even during the dog days of summer, a warm offering can be nice.
This is where the handy, delicious, weeknight-friendly Korean jeon comes in. Jeon refers to a general category of savory, pan-fried ingredients enveloped in a crisped-up batter, with the famous pajeon, or scallion pancake, being a popular Korean restaurant item to share. Theory in Korea goes that jeon is usually made on a rainy day and enjoyed with Korean rice wine, or makgeolli, as the sound of rain is reminiscent of batter sizzling away in a hot frying pan (Korean drama playing in the background, optional). It’s a crowd-pleaser and as flexible as can be.
I often make jeon with end-of-the-week bits and bobs rolling around in the crisper drawer. During the summer when fresh produce kicks into high gear, jeon becomes a regular fixture on the weekly menu. Scallions (any type of allium, really) feature prominently, with guest stars like zucchini (and its gorgeous blossoms, if you’re lucky enough!), baby greens, garlic chives (whose pancakes are known as buchujeon), shredded cabbage or carrots, sliced radish or peppers, corn kernels, kimchi (naturally), and leftover meat or seafood, like shrimp or squid. When more seafood is prevalent, it’s known as haemul pajeon, or seafood scallion pancake.
I cannot stress enough the adaptability of jeon. You can adjust the amount of batter to your liking, and even swap out the flours to your specifications. When I run low on regular all-purpose flour, I like to make a homemade mix incorporating rice flour, corn starch, or potato starch to make up the balance. If I’m lucky enough to have a bag of Cup4Cup’s multipurpose gluten free flour on hand, that is also a winner for producing crispy, crunchy bits. You can also buy a pre-seasoned Korean pancake mix, which a lot of Koreans do for ease because all you need to do is add the water.
Cup4Cup Gluten Free Multipurpose Flour, $12.41
Get a good nonstick skillet or frying pan (I like this one and this one), be generous with the vegetable oil (key point worth repeating: Do not be stingy with your oil!), and be prepared to have everyone at the table gobble them up faster than you can make them. As a parent, I can tell you firsthand jeon is the easiest vehicle by which my daughter will eat loads of vegetables (especially the green leafy ones) readily and happily. You can dip them simply in soy sauce, or make a super addictive dipping sauce with sesame oil, sesame seeds, vinegar, and chopped green onions (recipe below) that will have people clamoring for more.
Truth be told, I do not depend on a recipe when I make these, as the amount of batter often depends on what vegetables I’m trying to use. Here is my version of a loose, tweak-as-you-will jeon recipe using both scallions or spring onions and zucchini. Traditionally, you mix the flour and cold water in roughly equal parts, add in an egg or two, and pour the batter over the vegetables in the pan; but I just mix everything together in a single bowl before ladling the mixture out for pan frying. (I think, technically, that would make the result of this one-bowl method a buchimgae, but many use this term interchangeably with jeon.)
Here’s to the waning last days of summer!
Korean Vegetable Jeon/Pajeon
- 1 cup all-purpose or gluten free flour (I will occasionally do a mix of 3/4 cup all-purpose flour + 1/4 cup corn starch)
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 cup cold water, plus up to 1/2 cup more if it gets too thick or if you like a thinner batter
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- 1 bunch of scallions, chopped in 2-inch pieces (reserve 1 scallion for dipping sauce, if using)
- 1 medium zucchini, julienned
- 1 small carrot, julienned
- Vegetable oil, to pan fry
- Dipping sauce
- 1/4 cup low sodium soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons water
- 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
- 1 to 2 teaspoons sugar
- 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
- 1 tablespoon roasted sesame seeds
- 1 scallion, chopped (optional)
- 1 small red chili, chopped (optional)
- In a medium bowl, combine flour (and cornstarch, if using) and salt. Whisk to combine and slowly add the water and egg. It should be runny and not too thick; if it looks too dry, add a bit more water, 1 tablespoon at a time. Mix in scallions, zucchini, and carrot. Do not overmix. Set the batter aside.
- Make the dipping sauce: In a small bowl, combine the soy sauce, water, vinegar, sugar, sesame oil, sesame seeds, scallion, and chili (if using). Set aside.
- Heat a nonstick pan over medium-high heat with 2 to 3 tablespoons of oil. When it's come to heat, lower the heat to medium and ladle in the batter to almost fill the pan (it is usually 1 to 1 1/2 ladles per pancake). Spread it evenly and thinly. Cook until the bottom is golden brown (about 3 to 4 minutes). Flip and press down with a spatula or turner, and cook for another few minutes. I like to flip once more on each side for another 1 to 2 minutes each to make it extra crispy. Move to a cooling rack resting on a sheet pan.
- Repeat the process with remaining batter.
- Cut each pancake into small pieces. Serve with dipping sauce and enjoy!
How do you enjoy the bumper crop of summer produce? Let me know below!
Images courtesy of Hana Asbrink