Green Onion Cakes Recipe (An Edmonton Favourite)
The inspiration for this post came to Trevor in a food coma. He had just finished stuffing his face with ginger beef and spring rolls when he had an epiphany. Below is an artist rendering of the moment:
Now, by no means are we saying that green onion cakes are from Edmonton. On the contrary, this dish has its roots in China (where it goes by the name cong you bing), as well as a handful of other countries in the region that have their own variation. So how did green onion cakes become an Edmonton favourite? Well, a man by the name of Siu To brought the dish to Edmonton in 1978 when he opened his restaurant, Happy Garden, which specialized in Northern Chinese-style food. The dish quickly became popular due to the many festivals that take place in the city every year, and soon, our city had caught green onion cake fever.
We’re not even joking. Almost every restaurant in good old YEG sells green onion cakes. Chinese restaurant? Green onion cakes. Thai restaurant? Green onion cakes. Vietnamese restaurant? Green onion cakes. Regular pub?! Green onion cakes. IRISH PUB?!?! Green onion cakes. We even have a green onion cake food truck. (What!?)
You get the point.
Join us as we tackle what may as well be our city’s official dish!
Green Onion Cake Ingredients
2 cups of flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
⅛ teaspoon baking soda
1 cup of water
2 tablespoons shortening
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
½ teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon salt
1 bunch of green onions
These ingredients make four green onion cakes! One bunch of green onions is definitely enough, but if you want them extra-oniony, you can add more.
Sidenote: The original recipe we acquired called for double the amount of ingredients. We decided to halve the recipe to make it easier to work with. Trust us, you’ll want to use our halved recipe if it’s your first time making these. (Unless you want to freeze a ton for later!)
As with any sort of dough, the first step is combining all the dry ingredients (minus the salt) into a large mixing bowl. Then add the water and mix it all together with your hands. Well, just one hand — it turns out that adding water to flour creates the world’s stickiest substance. NASA, if you’re looking for a new bonding agent for space construction, might we suggest a water and flour mixture?
Once the big old sticky ball of dough has come together, dump it out onto your counter and start kneading it. You don’t want to go too crazy here — as the master himself instructs: knead until the dough is the same texture as your cheek.
Once the dough passes the cheek test, put it back in the bowl and place a clean towel over it. Unlike other types of dough, this dough doesn’t need to rise, it just needs to rest and relax a bit.
While the dough is taking a break, in a separate bowl mix together your finely chopped green onions, vegetable oil, sesame oil, shortening, and salt. Make sure to stir this well to evenly distribute the shortening.
👌 Mediocre Tip: Having a sharp knife will make cutting the green onions a dream. To make cutting even easier, keep the elastic on the end of the green onions to help hold them together as you chop.
Once you have your fat and onion mixture prepared, take the towel off the dough, and turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Take the rolling pin that your mom bought you as a housewarming gift and start rolling this dough out into a thin sheet. (This is the second post in a row where we’ve had to create sheet based food. Check out our donair post to what else the rolling pin is good for, aside from collecting dust.)
You want to roll the dough into a large rectangle about 1 cm thick. For you Americans, that’s about ⅜ of an inch. Take your bowl of onions and oil and dump it onto the dough. Spread the oil and onion mixture evenly across the dough. The better a job you do, the better your green onion cakes will taste.
Once the dough is lubed up, it’s time to roll it. Starting at the bottom of the dough begin rolling it tightly, pulling the dough back to make it tighter if necessary. How tightly you roll the dough will dictate how many layers are formed. Carefully roll the dough until you are left with a tube of dough, onions, and fat.
👌 Mediocre Tip: If your dough sticks to your surface, you probably didn’t put enough flour down. Work carefully and patch up any holes as they show up, and add more flour to your surface as you need it.
Cut your dough tube into four equal pieces and get ready for the final step.
This last step is the hardest part about making the green onion cakes, you need to twist/tighten the dough tube while simultaneously flattening it in order to create the iconic pinwheel shape.
How to Form Your Green Onion Cakes
Pinch both ends of the mini dough tube shut.
Twist the tube in the direction it was rolled — it should tighten, if it becomes loose, twist in the opposite direction.
Hold the tube with one hand on each end.
Flatten the tube into a disc by bringing your hands together.
As your hands are coming together, give one final twist to the dough by rotating your hands in opposite directions. This twist should be in the same direction as in step 2.
When you get the hang of it, the whole process becomes one fluid motion. Here is a video of what it looks like:
The final step in your green onion cake journey is to fry them. Add a little bit of vegetable oil in a frying pan on medium-high heat, place the green onion cake in the pan, and let it fry until the side is golden brown. Then flip it and repeat until the other side is golden brown.
Our Mediocre Thoughts
👨🍳 Trevor: Green onion cakes are dope AF. At least, that’s what I imagine the youths of today would say. I have been a fan of the green onion cake for a long time. I have sampled many from all over Edmonton and the surrounding region, and let me tell you, not all green onion cakes are made equal. Which is a bit sad as they’re so simple.
If you’ve never tried green onion cakes before, I suggest giving them a chance. They are savoury and heart warming — and winter is coming, yo. The only thing I would recommend is adding a bit more salt to the recipe. For some reason I found that these green onion cakes were a bit on the bland side if you are eating them on their own without the hot sauce. Perhaps try 1.5-2 tsp of salt instead. Regardless, these little fried cakes are definitely worth it. Plus you get to say that you know how to cook an ancient Chinese recipe.
👩🍳 Brittany: I think the first time I ever had green onion cakes was after I had moved to Edmonton. As a fan of green onions, green onion cakes were right up my alley. They soon became the dish I sought at every festival during the summer. Taste of Edmonton, Fringe, Heritage Festival — I almost always have a green onion cake.
Before writing this blog post, I never really thought about how they were made. How does the delicious layered disc of green onion and dough come to be? Turns out, it’s super simple to make. And cheap! I kind of feel a bit robbed shelling out $4-$5 per green onion cake, now that I know that you don’t need to be a culinary master or any fancy ingredients to make them.
Unlike Trevor, I found these green onion cakes to be delicious on their own. And with a ghosting of chili sauce, they were perfect.
Our Final Review
Taste: 4 hungry Edmontonians out of 5 🤤🤤🤤🤤
Presentation: 5 golden brown discs of joy out of 5 ⭕⭕⭕⭕⭕
Affordability: 5 more dollar$ in your wallet out of 5 💰💰💰💰💰
Served with some Sambal Oelek, these cakes are mighty tasty. Even without the chili sauce, these green onion cakes hit the spot. Now, for presentation, there isn’t much you can do to make these “fancy”. But green onion cakes were never meant to be fancy, and that’s okay. All you need to do is get that golden brown colour and plate it simply. They’re a simple and modest dish meant to be shared amongst friends and family (except for Trevor who devoured his in one sitting). They’re also super cheap to make — one bunch of green onions cost us a whopping $0.79, and we had all of the other ingredients on-hand. Even if you consider the cost of the other ingredients, it’s only a couple of bucks per batch.
Simple, delicious, and humble — green onion cakes hold a special place in our heart, and in the hearts of all Edmontonians, too.
Update: Siu To recently opened a new restaurant in Edmonton called Green Onion Cake Man. We’re excited to check it out and see how his green onion cakes compare to ours!