Humorously, each pancake is one leaf of cabbage that has been dragged through a batter and fried until crisp. Spoon on a little vinegary sauce and eat. It’s pretty easy and very satisfying. The recipe calls for Chinese cabbage, native to the area around Beijing in northwest China. It is commonly used in Chinese, Japanese and Korean cooking. It has a more delicate leaf and flavor than the more common cabbage found around here.
Chinese cabbage is called napa cabbage in California although I couldn’t find a reason for that; “nappa” is a Japanese word referring to leaves from edible vegetables. In Australia, it’s called wombok. The Korean word is baechu, so since this is a Korean recipe these pancakes are called baechujeon. Baechu is also an essential ingredient in kimchi, a pickled salad common on Korean tables and would do well alongside these pancakes. This recipe is from maangchi.com/recipe/baechujeon.
Napa cabbage comes in various sizes and I recommend buying the smaller ones so you can cook more leaves at the same time. Large leaves need to be fried singularly so it takes longer to fry them and they lose their crispiness when they sit.
Some of the flavor of the pancake comes from the stock so try not to use just water. Japanese dried Hondashi added to water makes an excellent stock. Four to five leaves make a nice lunch or dinner for two.
8 ounces napa cabbage leaves, 4 to 5 leaves
Vegetable oil for frying
1 cup stock (vegetable stock, anchovy-kelp stock, Japanese dashi or chicken broth)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2/3 cup all purpose-flour
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon coarse ground chili pepper or gochu-garu
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1 green onion, minced
1 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds
Prepare the napa cabbage by cutting off one inch of the thick base, depending on the size of the cabbage you bought. Wash and dry the leaves. Use leaves that can fit into your large frying pan. Cut a slit about an inch or so into the thick stalk so the leaf lies flat when pressed down.
Make the sauce. Combine the soy sauce, ground chili pepper, vinegar, green onion, and sesame seeds in a small bowl. Mix well and set aside.
Make the batter by combining the stock, salt, flour and the egg in a large bowl. Mix together well with a whisk.
To fry the cabbage leaves, heat up some vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Swirl to coat pan evenly. When the pan is hot, dip a cabbage leaf into the batter, making sure to coat the whole leaf. Place it in the skillet. Repeat with another leaf if possible.
With a spatula, press down on the base of the leaves for about 10 seconds to flatten them out. Cook until lightly crisped on the bottom, about 2 minutes. Flip and add more oil if necessary. Cook another 2 minutes, until the other side is lightly crisp, too. Flip and cook for another 1 to 2 minutes, until both sides are crisp but not brown.
Transfer to a plate and serve right away with the dipping sauce. Work in batches with the rest of cabbage and the batter.
To eat, cut the pancake into bite size slices crosswise with a kitchen scissors. Add some dipping sauce and eat. Serves 2.