China Daily recently published my column titled Shaobing stack up as perfect treat even in sultry August. Here’s an excerpt from that piece:
When I think of shaobing, the fried flatbread that has become a favorite treat of mine from my mother-in-law’s kitchen in rural Zhejiang province, I often recall a sultry August afternoon a few years back, when, amid the drone of late-summer cicadas, she invited me to sit at a wooden stool beside her well-worn cutting board to teach me how to prepare it from scratch.
Making her shaobing involves frying with oil at a high temperature, which might seem an unsuitable thing for the month of August, especially when the “autumn tiger” pounces across the country with its ferocious summer heat that lingers around.
But if you had ever sank your teeth into a piece of my mother-in-law’s shaobing just fresh from the pan－where the crispy, golden exterior gives way to a savory filling of onion mingled with salted bamboo shoot－you would understand that this irresistible delight inspires cravings that know no season or circumstances.
Besides, preparing her shaobing proved easier than expected－something welcome on those muggy days when you’d prefer to spend less time in the kitchen.
Read the full column right here! Additionally, here’s my my more detailed recipe for shaobing, first shared in a guest post for the Almost Indian Wife:
Easy Vegan Shaobing (Chinese-style Stuffed Flatbread)
Shaobing, a fried flatbread stuffed with savory salted veggies and then pan-fried until crispy, is a treat enjoyed in China. This Zhejiang-style recipe is from my mother-in-law -- it's totally vegan, and wonderfully delicious!
Pan or electric fryer
- Onions minced
- Pickled or salted vegetable of choice (such as bamboo, mustard tubers or even olives)
- Cold-pressed oil of choice (such as canola oil or olive oil)
Mince the onions and your salted vegetable of choice. Then mix them together with a spoonful or two of oil. (They should not be too oily – just enough to bind them together.) If the mixture is not salty enough for you, add salt to taste. (Note: There should be a half-half mixture of the onions and the salted veggie.)
Pour flour into a bowl and add in just enough water to make dough that you can knead without having it stick to your hands. On a cutting board surface, knead the dough until it is elastic, shiny, smooth and without lumps.
Roll the dough into a roll with a diameter of about four inches. Then, at about two-inch intervals, cut the dough with a knife into rounds.
Cradle the rounds in the palm of your hand, and using your fingers create a bowl-like crater. (Note: don’t make this too thin – the edges should still be around a half-inch thick.) Stuff it with the vegetable mix, then pull the edges of the dough over the top to seal it inside.
Place the stuffed rounds on a floured surface. Using your hand, press down first in the center of the dough, then out to the edges. Keep flipping it over and repeating this process, making sure to shape it into a circle, until it’s thin enough to roll out.
Using a rolling pin, roll the dough from the center to the edges applying medium pressure. Flip it over and repeat. Keep flipping and rolling out the round until the edges are very thin. (Note: the vegetable filling may occasionally poke holes through the round; this is expected with this type of flatbread and doesn’t affect the final product.)
Heat a spoonful of oil in a non-stick pan or wok over medium heat, or on electric fryer. Add the flatbread, cooking it until it no longer sticks to the pan and is crispy and slightly browned (about 1 and a half to two minutes.) Flip and repeat for other side.Once done, cut the flatbread into four pieces and serve immediately.
Tiny potatoes from my mother-in-law’s garden still litter the floor in the corner of our kitchen, ready to serve up their starchy delights in several more meals. Slices of crispy fried shaobing, my mother-in-law’s specialty flatbread, and heaping bags of the local smoked tofu from her village still cram the shelves of our freezer. We’ve barely dug into the jar of my mother-in-law’s mouthwatering homemade pickled kale, which perks up just about every stir-fried and stewed dish you could imagine, and we still have two more we haven’t even opened yet. And in the third drawer down next to the sink, bundles of rice noodles from my mother-in-law’s pantry have fed us for weeks already.
Whenever I gaze upon this abundance of flavors and foods for our next lunch or dinner, it reminds me of my mother-in-law and her boundless love for us, most often translated through treasures from her kitchen.
Like most Chinese parents, she would never say “I love you”, a phrase constantly showered upon me during my childhood. But over the years, I’ve found it in flavors of her lovingly prepared dishes, as well as in the items from her kitchen, pantry and garden that she always urges us to take home, with a forcefulness no less potent than any verbal declaration of affection.
Food has become a delicious means to bind us closer together, across cultures and continents. One of my favorite things to talk to my mother-in-law about is her home recipes, which I’ve come to miss since moving to Beijing. Sometimes we’ll call her on the phone, where I’ll ask her how to prepare potato cakes, a tempting stir-fry that turns these root vegetables into buttery cake-like morsels tossed with hot peppers and garlic. Or inquire about how much of the pickled kale I should use to make her classic tofu with pickled vegetables, a mouthwatering take on bean curd that transports me right back to her kitchen in the village.
Whenever she lovingly repeats every step with care and concern, making sure I understand her techniques, and patiently answers my questions, I know what she’s really saying to me. And it warms my heart, even long after we’ve said goodbye.
The Almost Indian Wife just featured me on Family Fridays, where I shared my own family recipe for vegan Chinese shaobing (stuffed flatbread), a snack food I’ve learned to prepare from my mother-in-law. Here’s an excerpt:
One of the coolest things about my mother-in-law is that she’s totally accepting of my vegan lifestyle. I never expected that a woman who grew up in Hangzhou’s mountainous countryside – where people tend to be pretty traditional when it comes to food – would embrace my dietary needs. But she does. Maybe it’s because the two of us have really bonded over food. I love asking her about her secrets for, say, crispy tofu or spicy pickled daikon radish. But when I discovered that one of the local snack foods was shaobing, a fried flatbread stuffed with savory salted veggies and then pan-fried until crispy, I knew I had to learn how to make it myself!
Most shaobing include bacon-like bits of fatty pork, making the food typically off-limits to vegans like me. But thanks to my mother-in-law, I’ve learned an amazing recipe for vegan shaobing. It’s even a little reminiscent of pizza back from home, so much so that I often jokingly call it “Chinese pizza”.
FYI, here’s what the shaobing look like when they’re done:
Head on over to The Almost Indian Wife for the full post and recipe. And if you love it, share it!