The Competition: Scallion and Coriander Pancakes

A short story followed by a recipe, both sharing a connection to each other

By Ayla Iqbal

Here it is, the day I’ve been waiting for, all that hard work culminating in one afternoon.  I woke up early to meditate and stretch.  Clear the mind, focus the body.

I look at myself in the mirror.  You can do this. You’re a winner, you’re fast, quick and perceptive.  This is my year.  Forget about what happened last year.  I throw my lucky sweatshirt on; I’m ready to face the world.

I skip down the stairs and jump the last step.   I turn the corner towards the kitchen, and there they are.  My husband and best friend. I sit down to eat my special breakfast, smoked salmon scrambled eggs on top of sourdough with avocado on the side.   My husband begins, “How are you feeling?”

“I’m feeling good.  I’m going to do my best and keep calm.”

“So, no freak outs this year?” Ayesha, always straight to the point.

I shake my head, “Nope, not this year.  As long as I focus, there will be no distractions, and therefore no freak outs.”

“Alright, just asking in case you see Al-”

I cut her off before she could continue, “Na, na, naaaa, don’t even say his name.  The little sniveling fool.” I take my last bite “Now let’s get this show on the road!”

All packed up in the car, we drive off, gabbing away. After 45 minutes, and after stopping to pick up some brilliant apple cider donuts, we’ve arrived, powdered sugar all over our clothes.

I step inside the gymnasium of the local school and take it all in.  A giant sign welcomes us, “Welcome to Puzzle-topia 2018!”  That’s right, it’s the jigsaw puzzle competition in the east coast of the United States, well maybe not all of the east coast, but definitely the most known in New York State.

I’m flanked by Mansoor and Ayesha and we head over to sign in.  “Mariam Khan, to check in!” I proudly state to the older grey haired woman before me.  She must be a new volunteer; I don’t remember her from previous years.  She passes me the sign in sheet, and I continue, “Are you new? Where’s Marty?”

She sighs, “Marty got sick from bad potato salad, I’m just filling in for the day.”

“She seemed super enthusiastic.”  Ayesha whispered to me sarcastically.

I chuckle in response and then suddenly feel Mansoor pulling at me from the other side.  “Hey, why don’t we go this way.”  He says it really suspiciously, and I look around confused.  Suddenly, I see what he was trying to make me avoid.  The little sniveling fool is right in front of me.  I pull myself up straighter and walk right towards him.

“Alexander,” I say as coolly as possible, “great to see you this year. How nice, you can save costs by purchasing clothes from the children’s section of stores.”

“Mariam, I’m surprised you’ve come back after last year’s performance.”  I hated that condescending voice of his, “And look, you’re wearing that dreaded sweatshirt again. I’m so glad you can save costs by getting clothes from the salvation army.”

I scowl at him, “You know, it’s bad to litter.”  I hit the empty cup out of his hand and saunter away.

Childish, I know, but I couldn’t help myself.

Finding my designated puzzle space, we look down.  Everything has been set up with the pieces and the picture facing down.   “This is it! I’m ready. Thanks for coming, I really appreciate it.”

They head off to find seats, and I look around and recognize most of the faces, all eager to claim the Jigsaw Puzzle Master Prize.   A loud buzzer signals the beginning, and suddenly all I hear is the frantic turning of puzzle pieces.

Turning the picture over, I let out a low whistle.  This year is a difficult one, Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh.  Separating the pieces into their respective similar colours, I find the border pieces and start putting them together.  Bam, bam, bam, border is coming together nicely.

I’m completely absorbed in my puzzle, until I make the mistake of looking up.  The woman just next of me definitely has more pieces attached.  Crap, I’m falling behind. I’m starting to sweat a little. I start getting flashbacks to last year.  The same thing happened, I looked up and unraveled at the sight of others.

Suddenly the image of me throwing pieces to the ground and stomping off is in my mind.   I need to get this sweatshirt off and cool down.  I start yanking at the sleeves, and simultaneously trying to pull it off my body.  I’m stuck and I can’t get this sweatshirt off my head.  I’m freaking out, and I start hyperventilating.  Deep short breaths, and I start whisper screaming to myself.  “Oh my god, I’m going to be stuck forever.”  Suddenly I’m surrounded by Mansoor and Ayesha.

“I can’t get this off! My arm is stuck or my head is too big.”

Mansoor steps in, “Okay relax, let us help you.  Stop moving so much!”

One hand pulls my arm down, and the other yanks the sweater off.  Trying to regain my composure, I close my eyes for a quick second and take a deep breath. My attention is 100% back on the puzzle again.  I hear Ayesha in the corner whisper, “Snack time?”

I hear this and snap my head back up, “Snack? Yes, brilliant idea.”

“I have it right here.”  She whips open her bag and yells around her, “Just giving her some food, not helping with the puzzle AT ALL.”  She knows the rules, no help from outside people.  “Enjoy,” she mouths at me.

Taking a second to enjoy myself, I open it up and breathe in the aroma.  Scallion and coriander pancakes with toasted sesame seeds and my special dipping sauce. The flaky goodness of the flatbread combined with the tangy spiciness of the dipping sauce is divine.  I take one big bite and place a puzzle piece at the same time.

Scallion and Coriander Pancakes


Chinese scallion pancakes are very similar to parathas, which is why I know you’ll love it. Round, flaky bread that is very satisfying to eat on it’s own or with a dipping sauce. Traditionally, it is filled with just scallions (green onions), but I like to add in coriander as well, since coriander is the best. There are some who will vehemently disagree, and that is just a damn shame. Just like paratas, eating one is never enough.

2 ½ cups of flour

1 cup warm water

1 bunch scallions (sliced)

1 bunch coriander (chopped)

Salt – either coarse, or flaky or just normal

Sesame oil (ideally, as it enhances the taste, otherwise vegetable oil)

Toasted sesame seeds


1. Mix the flour with the water, and knead until it forms a smooth dough. Once very smooth and elastic, cover the dough with oil and put it in a bowl. Cover the bowl with a damp towel/cloth and rest for 30 minutes

2. Cut the dough into 8 equal parts, keeping the parts you aren’t rolling out under the damp towel.

After the dough has rested, cut into 8 equal pieces and roll them up

3. On the counter or on a metal tray, lightly oil the surface (with sesame or vegetable), and roll out one part until it is a very thin rectangle.

4. Cover the entirety with scallions, and coriander (or one of each), and sprinkle salt on top. Then roll the dough up tightly, so it is one long tube of rolled dough. As if you are creating a pinwheel, coil the long tube so it becomes a round dough.  Leave this to the side, and do the same process for the 8 other dough parts.

Roll out each piece into a rectangle, the dough will be quite thin

5. Once you are done, take the first coiled up dough, and flatten it with your hands. Then taking a rolling pin, roll it out into a thin circle (paratha size). Don’t worry if the dough breaks and some of the insides come out.

6. If it’s your first time, roll them all out into circles and heat up your pan.  If you are more of a seasoned cook, you can fry the pancake while rolling out another.

Either from the bottom or the side, start rolling the dough tightly

7. Before frying, sprinkle the toasted sesame seeds on one side of each pancake, pressing them in slightly.

Then coil the dough and place on the side to rest. Repeat steps 2-5 with the other pieces of dough.
When ready to fry, put some sesame oil on the counter, push with your hand on the coil dough and roll into a circle

8. When it comes to frying, heat up your frying pan on medium heat, and add a bit of oil.  When the oil begins to shimmer a bit, put a pancake on and cook for 2 minutes on each side.  The colour should be a nice golden brown.  If the pan becomes too hot and the pancakes begin to burn, turn down the heat.

Fry it up on the pan for a few minutes, and they’re done!

9. Once all done, you can cut them in half/quarters and serve with the dipping sauce.

Cut into pieces, dip and enjoy

Dipping Sauce

Combine all of the following:

2 clove garlic

3 tablespoon soy sauce

1 teaspoon sesame sauce

1 tablespoon sriracha (or any chili sauce)

This story is part of a special Ramazan series, which is updated weekly throughout the month. You can read the previous entry here

For the full story, you can visit the author’s personal website here

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