Saturday, January 15, 2005

Onion Bread

from Hugh Carpenter's Pacific Flavors

3 tablespoons white sesame seeds
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 cup boiling water plus (see note)
1 tablespoon Oriental sesame oil
2 tablespoons finely minced green onions
2 tablespoons finely minced fresh cilantro
1/4 cup peanut oil

Sold by street vendeors all across northern China, Onion Bread consists of layers of unleavened dough alternated with sesame oil, green onions, and toasted sesame seeds. Pan-fried and cut into wedges, it makes an excellent appetizer or picnic dish, or is a superb way to sop up gravy from pot roasts, curries, and stews. Easy to make in advance, the bread can be rolled out in the morning and refrigerated for hours before being cooked.

Advance Preparation

In a small, ungreased skillet set over high heat, stir sesame seeds until light golden. Tip out immediately and set asaide.

Place flour in a mixing bowl and add boiling water. Stir well, then turn out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead, pressing with the palms of your hands until the dough is smooth and no longer stickey about 8 minutes. Let dough rest 15 minutes, covered with a towel. Note: you may need more water--perhaps another 1/4 cup; the dough should be soft, not stiff. As the dough is worked it gets stiffer--the flour absorbs the water slowly.

With the surface lightly floured, roll the dough into a circle 1/2 inch thick. Rub the top with sesame oil. Sprinkle on about 2 teaspoons salt, then evenly spread on the green onions, cilantro, and some sesame seeds.

Roll dough circle into a tight cylinder. Pinch the edges closed, then twist cylinder several times. Taking one end, wind the cylinder into a coil, tucking the end into the center of the coil. With your palm, flatten the coil. Sprinkle remaining sesame seeds on both sides.

With a rolling pin, roll the flattened dough coil into a 10- to 11-inch circle about 1/4 inch thick. Place dough between waxed paper lightly dusted with flour, then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to cook.

Last-Minute Cooking

Place a heavy 12-inch skillet over medium heat. When very evenly heated, add oil. When oil is hot (bubbles form around the tip of a wooden spoon), add dough and fry on both sides, turning frequently, until golden, about 8 to 10 minutes.

Cut bread into wedges and serve as an appetizer, with soups, and stews, or at room temperature for picnics. It can also be reheated in a warm oven (but not in a microwave oven, which roughens the bread).

Serves 6 to 8 people as an appetizer.

Notes: Always add more salt than you think is necessary; without a generous amount of salt the bread will be tasteless.

There are many other ingredients you could place inside the bread, such as olive oil, garlic paste, chopped fresh parsley, greated Parmesan cheese, and finely chopped Chinese sausage.

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