Mung beans have been a staple of the cuisines of India, China, Korea and Southeast Asia for thousands of years. And with good reason. They are a delicious and healthy source of protein and fiber.
In the U.S., we tend to know them mostly in their sprouted state, and by the rather simple name of "bean sprouts." But they also are delicious when consumed prior to sprouting, as you would a bean.
For this recipe, inspired by a classic Korean street food, the mung beans are soaked and ground, then combined with other ingredients to form pancakes that are fried. Called bindaetteok in Korea, they can be flavoured with scallions, kimchee, even ground pork. The batter is made ahead of time, then shallow-fried and served hot, with or without a dipping sauce.
The resulting pancakes are robust with a crispy exterior and a creamy interior. This recipe calls for ground pork, but you can leave it out to make them vegetarian. You're also welcome to swap in different vegetables, including shredded raw carrots or sauteed sliced mushrooms, or add some chopped kimchee. (There are all kinds of tasty brands of kimchee at the supermarket these days.)
The frying technique here is very important. The pancakes are cooked in 1/4 inch of vegetable oil. Which is to say, they are shallow-fried, not deep-fried. Even so, you'll want to choose an oil with a high smoke point, such as peanut, safflower or sunflower. The label will let you know if the oil is appropriate for frying.
Also, the oil must be heated to the right temperature before the batter is added. If it is too cold, the pancakes will absorb the oil and become soggy. If it's too hot, they'll brown too quickly and not cook on the inside.
How will you know when the oil is hot enough? It'll start to shimmer. To test, carefully tip the pan so the oil pools on one side, then dip the handle end of a wooden spoon into it. If the oil is ready, bubbles should rise up immediately. Be careful not to crowd the pan with too many pancakes at a time, which cools down the oil. You want the temperature to remain constant.
After the pancakes are done, they should be drained on paper towels to eliminate any excess oil. You can serve them as quickly as you cook them (just as you would with flapjacks on a Saturday morning), or stash them in a 200 F oven to keep warm. These pancakes are delicious all by themselves, but the dipping sauce — soy sauce, rice vinegar and sesame oil — puts them over the top.
KOREAN MUNG BEAN PANCAKES
Start to finish: 7 hours (1 hour active)
Makes 10 pancakes
For the dipping sauce
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon rice vinegar
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
For the pancakes:
2 1/2 cups cold water, divided
2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
1 cup dried mung beans, rinsed
2 tablespoons medium-grain white rice
1/4 pound ground pork
2 teaspoons minced garlic
2 ounces bean sprouts (about 1 cup), coarsely chopped
1/2 cup fine julienne red bell pepper
1/3 cup thinly sliced scallions
1 serrano chili, thinly sliced crosswise, with ribs and seeds (optional)
Vegetable oil, for frying
To prepare the dipping sauce, in a small bowl, whisk together all the ingredients. Cover and set aside until ready to serve.
To make the pancakes, in a small bowl whisk together 2 cups of the water and 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt until the salt is dissolved. Add the mung beans and rice, then cover and refrigerate for at least 6 hours and up to 24 hours.
After soaking, drain the beans and rice, then transfer them to a blender. Add the remaining 1/2 cup water and puree until smooth. Set aside.
Heat the oven to 200 F.
In a large bowl, combine the pork, garlic and remaining 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Mix well. Add the bean sprouts, red pepper, scallions and serrano, if using, and stir well. Add the pureed bean and rice mixture and stir until well combined.
In a large skillet over medium-high, heat 1/4-inch of the oil. Reduce the heat to medium and, working in batches of 2, add 1/4 cup of the batter to the skillet for each pancake, flattening the pancakes with the back of a spoon. Cook until browned on the bottoms, 3 to 4 minutes, then carefully flip the pancakes, using two spatulas if necessary, and cook until the second side is browned and crisp, another 3 to 4 minutes.
Transfer the pancakes to paper towels to drain. Once the pancakes have drained, transfer them to a baking sheet and set in the oven to keep warm. Repeat the procedure with the remaining batter.
Nutrition information per pancake: 170 calories; 70 calories from fat (41 per cent of total calories); 8 g fat (1 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 10 mg cholesterol; 550 mg sodium; 17 g carbohydrate; 4 g fiber; 2 g sugar; 8 g protein.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Sara Moulton was executive chef at Gourmet magazine for nearly 25 years, and spent a decade hosting several Food Network shows. She currently stars in public television's "Sara's Weeknight Meals" and has written three cookbooks, including "Sara Moulton's Everyday Family Dinners."