What seemed like such a good idea just a few months ago — smoky kale and potato cakes, kale and potatoes with Spanish chorizo, and a hundred other versions of potatoes and kale — has finally gotten old. (Especially, I imagine, for locavores who haven’t seen much else in their CSA boxes lately.) The winter squashes are starting to get a little strange, and asparagus from Peru is simply not an option for anyone who has even a vague sense of limits when it comes to food miles or the cost to others — in that case, water — of growing foods for the U.S. market.
So what do we do while we wait for the first inklings of sprouts and greens to grow into food? I’ve already pounced on my minute tarragon leaves to season a shaved-radish salad and added a few sorrel leaves to a potato soup. Uplifting, sure, but not exactly filling.
My answer, at least this week, is pancakes. But not your fluffy, white-flour, baking-powder-risen pancakes. Having just eaten road food for the past week — ghastly stuff that included breakfast at the Amarillo IHOP and a place in Oklahoma called the Pig Out Cafe — road-food pancakes are not an option for me. But we love pancakes in our house, and not just for breakfast. They can be the stuff of dinner, too.
For a while in the 1980s, there was a restaurant in Berkeley a few doors down from Chez Panisse that served a dynamite breakfast, and yeasted waffles were the star dish. They had been suggested by Marion Cunningham, of The Fannie Farmer Cookbook and The Breakfast Book fame, who was consulting on the menu.
Those waffles were unusually light, divinely crisp, and delicate, and you got two to an order — but not both at once. You were meant to enjoy the first one, hot from the iron, before the second was brought to you, without your having to ask for it. You could fill up all those little indentations with real maple syrup and soft, sweet butter. They were heaven to eat, and like no other waffle I’d eaten before.
Using yeast to raise waffle batter predates the use of baking powder. It makes such a better waffle I can’t imagine why we ever stopped using it, except perhaps that recipes tell you to let the batter rise overnight before adding the final ingredients, and no one seems to be able to think ahead that far. I myself gave those instructions in Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, but since writing that, I’ve also discovered that you simply don’t have to have much rising time at all.
My husband loves yeasted waffles. I can put together a batter in a few minutes, then give it 15 minutes to rest while I make coffee, get out accoutrements, and turn on the waffle iron. It’s actually enough time for the yeast to do its trick, though a longer rise does develop the flavor. I know this because there’s always batter left over, and it seems to get better with each passing day. For some reason, though, the leftover batter tends not to go in the waffle iron, but into a skillet — where it makes the loveliest and, if I’ve thinned it a bit, delicately lacy pancakes.
So I’m thinking, why not just start with pancakes in the first place? Big ones or silver-dollar size — each has its charms. I like to mix flours together when I make my yeasted waffles/pancakes, using white whole wheat, corn, buckwheat, quinoa, and whatever other flours are around, but this particular recipe is devoted to oats as the second grain.
I love oat cakes of all kinds, whether in crisp Scottish biscuits, moist and awfully good pancakes that include precooked steel-cut oats or oats first soaked in buttermilk, or cakes that include oat flour and oat meal ground a bit in the blender first.
I know I don’t have to tell you what to do with pancakes, though I will. A fried egg can go with, on top, or between them. You can eat them with bacon and cheese as the English do, or pile on creamy yogurt and hot maple syrup. I’m also looking at the last of my dried fruits (pears and apples) and frozen fruits (peaches and berries) for compotes to go alongside.
For supper, leave out the sweetening and consider serving these savory cakes with mushrooms or — you guessed it — sautéed kale.
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