- An astonishing fraction of my peer group has never knowingly eaten mung beans.
- People who’ve never eaten mung beans think I’m the freak.
“Mung bean pancakes!”
“Ohhhhh, that sounds… Great!”
The forced enthusiasm accompanies a look of thinly veiled disgust, as if I’d just passed gas, or secretly replaced the tuna salad with cat food. The striking thing is that it’s not as if I’m talking about durian or balut—both cases in which a person might have the foggiest idea why she’s repulsed by the concept. Rather, said person often doesn’t even know what mung beans look like. She simply doesn’t like the sound of it.
As the parent of a picky eater, I understand that certain keywords are a no-no for pitching new foods to a young child. For example, “spicy,” “green,” “new,” etc. On the other hand, Esme reacts positively to spicy, green, new foods that are tagged: “honey,” “chocolate,” “sweet,” or “halmoni,” (the Korean word for Grandma, with whom Esme associates the vast majority of her favorite foods).
In other words, it’s all in the packaging—an effect all too familiar to the Patagonian toothfish, whose wildly successful rebrand as “Chilean Sea Bass” propelled it to the brink of extinction.
There’s no need for me to sell Esme on the premise of “halmoni pancakes,” since she already adores them. I have, however, been able to repurpose the “halmoni” modifier to get her to try jajangmyeon, which she scarfed down with extreme prejudice, despite her general aversion to brown food and noodles.
For you, I offer another Mom Food staple: a savory pancake along the vein of the beloved pajeon, but with a more robust texture.
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Chilean Sea Pancakes, or
Bindaetteok (Korean Mung Bean Pancakes)
2 C dried, skinned mung beans (or, as I now like to call them, “Chilean Sea Peas”)
1/4 C uncooked, short grain white rice
about 2 C spicy cabbage kimchi
kimchi liquid (from the jar of kimchi you used above)
1 round onion, finely chopped
1 bunch scallions, thinly sliced
vegetable or grapeseed oil
2 korean or jalapeno peppers, sliced and seeded
Soak mung beans and rice in 4 C of cold water, covered, for at least 3 hours and as long as overnight. Hepinstall advises boiling them for 30 minutes as an alternative to soaking. That has never worked for me. In my experience, cooked beans will blend into a sticky paste that doesn’t form pancakes when fried.
Drain the soaked beans/rice and reserve liquid. Working in batches, puree the beans and rice until just smooth, slowly adding small amounts of the bean liquid as necessary to achieve a consistency slightly thicker than cake batter. Store in the refrigerator during the next steps.
Squeeze kimchi in paper towels to lightly drain. Chop coarsely and set aside.
Tip: Kimchi tends to stain like a motherfucker. Don’t chop it directly on a cutting board, since it’s impossible to clean thoroughly. Cover your cutting surface with a flattened milk carton.
Question: Does it matter what kimchi I use? Yes. There’s a huge dynamic range of flavor and quality here, but as a general rule, you should use kimchi that you’d be thrilled to eat straight. I do tend to use kimchi that’s more on the acidic side, as a chunk of that provides nice contrast with the rest of the pancake. Kimchi gets more acidic the longer it ferments, so don’t use super-young kimchi. Unless, of course, that’s all you have.
Combine pureed beans, chopped kimchi, onion, and scallions and stir well. Add kimchi liquid and bean liquid to achieve a cake batter-like consistency. How much kimchi liquid relative to bean liquid? It really depends on how spicy the kimchi is, and how spicy you want the pancakes. I find cooked kimchi to be pretty mellow, so I add enough liquid to make the batter distinctly orange. I backed off a bit in this case so as not to freak out my daughter:
The pancakes will be crisper if the batter is cold. So if you want, make the batter in advance and chill until you’re ready to cook.
To fry the pancakes, use a 12-inch cast-iron or nonstick skillet. An electric skillet or griddle also works. In any case, heat a liberal amount of oil over medium-high heat until just smoking. The oil should certainly cover the entire surface of the pan when swirled. Use slightly more than that. With a large dinner spoon or soup spoon, quickly spoon batter into the pan to make four pancakes roughly 3 inches in diameter. They should be about 1/2 inch thick when cooked—that should help you adjust the batter thickness as you go along. If desired, add a few sliced peppers atop each pancake. At this point, you have roughly 1 – 2 minutes before the batter sets. I use that time to make the pancakes uniform and round, tucking in the edges with the outside of my spoon. But you know, I’m a bit anal that way.
Once the bottom of the pancakes is browned and crisp (about 2 minutes—you’ll see the edges start to brown), flip the pancakes and cook for another 2 minutes. Optionally, flip once more and cook for a minute. Set pancakes aside and allow them to blot on paper napkins or brown paper bags.
After you’ve made the first batch of pancakes, remove the pan from heat. Taste the pancakes and adjust for thickness (bean liquid), spiciness (kimchi liquid), or other flavor (salt, fish sauce). The pancakes are by far the best when they’ve just come from the pan. They should be crisp on the outside, but not overly browned. The inside should be cooked, but tender. If they’re high and cakey, you’ll want to add more liquid.
Once you’re done futzing, heat the pan, adding more oil if necessary, and make the next batch of 4. I often make twice this recipe or more, so once I’ve got the batter dialed in, the frying goes very quickly. Cook the rest of the pancakes. This recipe yields 15 – 20 pancakes 3″ in diameter and about 1/2″ high.
Adaptation for meatitarians:
This dish is often made with pork. Make no mistake: it is very good with pork. However, that does take a bit more work, and I tend to be lazy/rushed/perfectly satisfied with the pescatarian version. If you must have pork, I don’t recommend doing what some recipes suggest, which is to add ground pork to the batter. My mom and I have each tried that technique, and agree that the flavor of the pork gets diluted in batter and doesn’t add much.
My mom boils about a pound of pork shoulder in water seasoned with ginger, garlic and soy sauce. When the meat is tender, she slices it thinly and adds coin-sized pieces of sliced pork to the pancake just after the batter has hit the pan. Alternatively, you could season the slices of cooked pork lightly with yang nyum soy sauce immediately before adding to the pancake.
Serve immediately, or let people eat as you go. I calibrate the amount of kimchi liquid so that they are perfectly delicious without any sauce. However, they are also commonly served with yang nyum soy sauce or any variety of soy dipping sauces. Substitute tamari if you want to keep it gluten-free.
Like I said, I tend to make a lot of these pancakes, which refrigerate and freeze well. When reheating, you can pan-fry them, which will restore the crisp exterior. They are also perfectly fine (albeit softer/soggier) microwaved.