Crispy, flaky, salty, and very easy to make. Green onion cakes, after having spread to international fame via Edmonton, Canada, are now a firm favourite with food lovers around the globe.
You can make these delicious, savoury pancakes with only a few ingredients. Today, we’ll be sharing with you a recipe from the man commonly viewed as having brought green onion cakes from China to the West! We’ll also be having a look at the history of this fascinating, globe-trotting dish.
Get your sambal and soy sauce ready – we’re about to tuck in!
A Brief History of Green Onion Cakes
Green onion cakes are a great example of a dish that’s travelled around the world and back again. Many people mistakenly think they come from Canada. This is because they appear to have found Western fame in Edmonton, the state capital of Alberta, back in the 1980s.
However, the real origin of these savoury pancakes lies in Asia. As with any age-old culinary tradition, the exact origins are difficult to trace. There does, however, appear to be broad agreement that the green onion cake as we know it today likely has its roots in the Shanghai region of China.
Some have observed that the flaky, multi-layered, pan-fried style of the green onion cake has similarities with the famous Indian flatbread, paratha. This could be because the Shanghai region has historically been a very multicultural area. A number of Indian people have settled there across multiple generations, influencing various elements of the local cuisine.
So how did the green onion cake get from the East to the West? And how did it come to be so closely tied to the sleepy city of Edmonton, Canada?
It appears we owe our thanks to one man in particular, a Chinese restaurateur called Siu To. Siu To emigrated from Northern China and set up his first restaurant in Edmonton in 1978. Many of his first customers were Taiwanese expats living, studying, or working in Canada at the time.
One of To’s signature dishes was the green onion cake. Local historian Chris Chang-Yen Phillips decided to take a closer look at how this particular dish gained national prominence. It would appear that a number of food festivals and culinary events took the locally popular pancake to a whole new audience, its fame gradually spreading throughout Canada and beyond.
Now, green onion cakes have proudly been claimed as a local specialty by the people of Edmonton. Siu To has appeared pleased that his dish has reached so many people and been taken on so enthusiastically by his adopted country.
There are plenty of recipes available for green onion cakes, but what could be more authentic than the recipe shared by Siu To himself! Check out his video to see the true master at work and follow along with the recipe below.
As you can see, the ingredients are all affordable and easy to come by. You can even bulk prepare pancakes and freeze them, ready to be pan fried at your convenience. Depending on the type of shortening you use, this dish can be prepared to suit both vegetarian and vegan diets.
The recipe we follow here makes 8 servings. Here’s what you’ll need:
- 4 Cups All Purpose Flour
- 1 Teaspoon Baking Powder
- ¼ Teaspoon Baking Soda
- 450ml Water
- ¼ Cup Shortening- Shortening is the baking term given to any fat or oil that remains solid at room temperature. Non-vegetable options include butter or lard. Vegetable options could be dairy-free margarine or coconut oil.
- ¼ Cup Vegetable Oil
- 1 Teaspoon Sesame Oil – Gives the pancakes an authentic aroma and flavour
- A dash of cooking oil to fry the pancakes in – best to avoid anything with a very low smoke point, such as flaxseed, walnut, or extra virgin olive oil. Vegetables, sunflower, sesame, or peanut oil should all work fine.
- 2 Teaspoons of Sea Salt
- 2 – 3 Bunches of Chopped Green or Spring Onions, also known as Scallions (or approximately 300g)
- A bowl to mix the dough in
- Another bowl to mix the spring onions and oil
- A large, flat surface to roll out the dough and prepare the pancakes
- A rolling pin, for rolling!
- A flat frying pan, for frying!
Instructions for Cooking
This is a simple and satisfying dish to make. Impress your friends with an authentic, savoury, Asian pancake, without breaking the bank!
In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and water. This can be done by hand, you don’t need any fancy equipment!
Knead the dough until it’s nicely mixed together. Dust your hands with some extra flour to help remove any lingering bits.
Cover the bowl with a towel and set aside while you prepare the rest of the ingredients. When the mixture feels roughly the same as the soft part of your cheek when you tap it, you’ll know it’s perfect – this is a top tip from pancake master Siu To himself!
Whilst the dough is set aside, use a separate bowl to mix together the vegetable oil, shortening, sesame oil, salt, and chopped onions.
Spread the dough out in a circular shape on a lightly floured surface. Flatten it to roughly 1cm thin with a rolling pin. The thinner you can get it, the flakier it will be!
Spread the green onion and oil mixture evenly across your flattened pancake dough.
From the bottom of the sheet, gradually stretch the dough and roll it inwards, until you have a long, circular roll with multiple layers of green onion and pastry.
Cut this long stretch of rolled pastry into eight, equal sized pieces.
Take each individual piece. Squeeze and pinch the open ends shut.
Flatten each of these sealed pieces by hand into a pancake shape. You want to flatten from the sealed ends themselves.
Store each pancake between sheets of parchment or baking paper, flattening further. At this point, you can freeze any that you want to save for later.
Heat oil in a frying pan on medium-high heat. You want the oil to be hot enough to sizzle the pancakes, but it doesn’t need to be ridiculously high!
Place each individual pancake in the pan. Fry until they’ve turned a delicious, crispy, golden brown on each side.
Serve with your choice of side!
These pancakes are extremely versatile and can be served with all sorts of condiments and sauces. We recommend anything soy based, or anything with chilli flakes in! Sweet chilli goes a treat, as does black bean sauce, mayonnaise, or satay!
Amounts per serving –
Total Fat 14.5g
Saturated Fat 3.5g
Total Carbohydrate 50.7g
Dietary Fiber 2.7g
Total Sugars 1g
Vitamin D 0mcg
Are green onion cakes Canadian?
Although green onion cakes may have been launched to international fame via Canada, they actually originate from Asia. Restaurateur Siu To seems to be the one to thank for bringing this delicious dish from Northern China to the West, when he set up his first restaurant in Edmonton in 1978.
Green onion cakes and similar savoury pancakes are popular throughout China and the Far East, with many variations having been developed and perfected by generations of chefs.
Are green onion cakes healthy?
Though they may be prepared with oil, a single green onion cake is not ridiculously high in sugars or in calories. Served alongside vegetables, and used as part of a balanced diet, green onion cakes can be a relatively nutritious, filling centrepiece of a meal.
Green onions themselves are a healthy treat, providing an excellent source of Vitamin K, Vitamin A, and Vitamin C. They’ll also count towards one of your 5 a day!
What to eat with green onion cakes?
The possibilities are endless, but some firm favourites are sweet chilli sauce, mayonnaise, or soy sauce. Satay and other peanut based dips are also delicious.
You can also serve them alongside fried eggs or leafy salads, if you want to add a bit of leafy green colour to the plate! If you want to add a twist to the pancake itself, why not try scattering a few sesame seeds or fennel into the chopped onion mix before spreading it over the dough?
This really is a savoury gem, brought all the way from the Far East, and has found fans all across the West. The brilliance of the green onion cake is in its sheer simplicity and the wholesome feeling you get when you make it yourself.
Next time you’re having a rummage in the pantry and are unsure what to make, why not grab the flour, a few bunches of scallions, and your frying pan? Green onion cakes are a treat to prepare and a versatile, hearty joy to eat.