Anything goes when it comes to pancakes
In the old days, the day before Lent was the time to clean out the kitchen before the fasting began. Shrove Tuesday became known as pancake Tuesday, because by cooking up a mess of pancakes, people could use up all their eggs and milk, and a lot of other foods, too.
As any pancake maker knows, you can throw a lot of stuff into a pancake — fruit and nuts for sweet pancakes eaten for breakfast, or potatoes and corn for savory pancakes, eaten for supper.
This year, Shrove Tuesday is next week, Feb. 12. But that’s not why I’m thinking about pancakes. My family loves pancakes, so we’re always thinking about pancakes.
A pancake makes a quick and forgiving meal. Vegetable fritters make an easy dinner: Just grate a potato or zucchini or any squash and mix with some eggs, a little flour and milk, herbs, salt and pepper. Or use a handful of corn or chopped kale or spinach. Or carrots or sweet potato — or a mixture of several vegetables, with a little finely chopped onion thrown in. A hot griddle and oil and you’re all set.
For vegetable fritters, you need a little more oil than for regular pancakes, maybe a quarter inch in your frying pan. And it has to be hot — if you drop a bit of batter in, it should sizzle right away.
Drop your fritters into the hot oil, cook for about two minutes and flip, cook for two more minutes. Fritters are good with applesauce, or raita — an Indian dip made of plain yogurt with grated cucumber and cumin. Or your favorite dipping sauce. My family likes maple syrup on anything that resembles a pancake. I bet my friend Jeff would put ketchup on a veggie fritter.
For traditional breakfast pancakes, the basic recipe is a cup of flour, a cup of milk, an egg, a little melted butter, a pinch of salt and 2 teaspoons of baking powder.
You can add a little sugar or vanilla. You can sub buttermilk or yogurt for the milk. You can add any fruit you want — grated apples, blueberries, chopped cranberries, chunks of oranges, mashed or sliced banana, chopped dried fruit. You can combine fruit and nuts — my friend Paul’s favorite combination is blueberry walnut. Orange and pecan with ginger is pretty great, too.
If you’re vegan, you can sub vegetable oil and soy milk for the dairy and skip the egg. Adding a banana or applesauce helps hold an eggless batter together. Instead of baking powder, you can use half a teaspoon of baking soda and a teaspoon of vinegar — that helps create a fluffy batter without egg, a trick that also works in cakes.
And you can easily substitute flours. I generally use a combination of white and whole wheat flour for traditional pancakes, and sometimes add oats or buckwheat or whatever other grains I might have on hand.
When I’m making gluten-free pancakes for my husband, I use rice and sorghum flour, and sometimes some buckwheat, potato or garbanzo bean flour, too. If I put enough fruit in, the kids won’t notice the pancakes are gluten-free.
Fluffy corn cakes
A cornmeal pancake will be nice and fluffy if you soak the cornmeal in boiling water first. That’s a trick my friend Aleli taught me.
I take a cup of cornmeal, add about two tablespoons butter and a tablespoon of honey, then pour a cup of boiling water over it, stir, cover and let sit about 10 minutes. Then add 1⁄2 a cup of milk, 1⁄2 a cup of flour — any kind you like — 2 teaspoons baking powder, a little salt and 2 eggs. Whisk together.
You can add berries, or serve with applesauce, or butter and syrup. This recipe works well with gluten-free flour, too.
What to put on top of a pancake? Take your pick. My traditionalist family prefers butter and maple syrup. I like to mess around — peanut butter and plain yogurt, applesauce, homemade jams. I even like pancakes plain, and I’ve been known to bring them along on hikes, to eat cold on the top of a mountain.
Once you make the pancake batter, you need to use it all. If you put in the fridge to make pancakes later, they won’t rise — the bubbles formed by the baking powder or baking soda will have already have formed, risen and disappeared, and your pancakes will be flat.
But if you have more batter than you need, make all your pancakes and freeze the extra. Then you can pull them out two or three at a time and have them for breakfast whenever you want fresh pancakes.
That makes breakfast on school mornings, or any busy morning, fast. And delicious.