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Batter Up! The Pancake Story

I once spent two and a half hours in a Dublin bar listening to some fine Irish talkers argue about which should be considered superior, Christmas or Easter. There was no way I could keep up with their verbal pyrotechnics, so I kept my mouth shut. My own favorite holiday when I was growing up was Pancake Tuesday, anyway.

It always seemed mysterious to go to church on the evening of Shrove Tuesday. There was no service or Sunday school in progress, and for once we saw the imposing church buildings standing empty in the darkness--I almost thought I could hear them quietly snoring. But the parish hall would be 100% awake, blazing with light and bustling with the gleeful activity of Pancake Supper.

OK, the fact that this was the only holiday where you actually got food at church may have something to do with my preference for Pancake Tuesday. It really was wonderful, though, to sit at long tables with the grown-up parishioners, who seemed so sober the rest of the year, and watch everybody enthusiastically put away plate after plate of steaming pancakes, slathered with butter and syrup and preserves.

This, I later found out, was specifically the English way of celebrating Shrove Tuesday. England never went for the all-out partying-in-the streets style of the French Mardi Gras or the German Fetter Dienstag, even in the Middle Ages, but with Pancake Tuesday it was celebrating a Fat Tuesday too. The medieval origin of the custom of eating pancakes on this day was to enjoy butter (and eggs) for the last time before they were given up for Lent.

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If you aren’t going to spend the day before Ash Wednesday carousing on a float and wearing a Mardi Gras costume, eating pancakes strikes me as a pretty acceptable alternative. Simple, rich and satisfying, pancakes symbolize warmth and happiness in many cultures.

The Russian Orthodox equivalent of Shrove Tuesday is Maslenitsa, which comes from the Russian word for butter. Blini with lots of butter are the traditional food. Partly this tradition goes back to pagan days, when people of northern Europe ate pancakes--round like the sun and yellow with melted butter--in late winter to hasten the return of warm weather. The Turkish nomads of western Siberia ate pancakes called quymaq for the same reason.

In the Near East, qataif are associated with happy occasions such as weddings. Years ago in Cairo, when a bride went to her new home she was accompanied by dancers and revelers and three donkey carts: One made Turkish coffee, one dispensed butter cookies and one handed out pancakes to passers-by.

Pancakes, in one form or another, are among the oldest and most instantly satisfying of foods. They can be as simple as the dogo cooked by the Teda people of the Sahara--just batter poured on a heated rock after you’ve brushed the embers off it--or as subtle and elaborate as a spring roll, a stuffed French crepe or Hungarian palacsinta. Or for that matter, as odd-sounding as the Renaissance Italian frictelle di salvia , flavored with sugar, cinnamon and fresh sage and fried in olive oil.

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Pancakes don’t have to be sweet. One of the most appealing is the borlengo , a monster pancake that has to be cooked outdoors. Waverly Root described the making of borlenghi in “The Food of Italy”:

“They are made in a cartwheel-sized frying pan, so large and heavy that the chef has to use both hands to lift it from the stove, like an old-time warrior brandishing a two-handed sword. Into this great pan a liquid batter of vigorously kneaded flour, eggs, milk, water and salt is poured, covering its whole surface. When this has been cooked on one side, some supermen succeed, unwieldy though it is, in tossing the outsized flapjack into the air to turn it. When both sides are done, one of them is buttered with bacon fat, garlic and rosemary, and dusted with grated cheese.” You eat a quarter of a borlengo , folding it, if you wish, around some prosciutto or fried bacon.

Now, that’s a pancake. Start serving those in the old parish hall and Pancake Tuesday will take on a new dimension.

In the Near East, people eat pancakes with syrup much as we do (they’re more likely to dip them in syrup than pour it over), but the favorite version is stuffed, either with a cheese somewhat like sweetened ricotta or with ground nuts. This tradition goes back at least to the early Middle Ages, because the Caliphs of Baghdad ate essentially the same dish, only with the addition of exotic flavorings such as camphor and lavender blossoms. Modern Arabs often buy pancakes already cooked and ready for stuffing and frying, but they’re easy to make at home. This recipe is from “A Book of Middle Eastern Food” by Claudia Roden.

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QATAIF (Deep-Fried Stuffed Pancakes)

1 (1/2-ounce) cake yeast or 1 package dry yeast

1 teaspoon plus 1/4 cup sugar

1 1/2 cups lukewarm water

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1 1/2 cups flour

2 cups walnuts, chopped

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

Oil for frying

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Aromatic Syrup

Dissolve yeast with 1 teaspoon sugar in 1/4 cup lukewarm water and leave in warm place until foamy.

Sift flour into large bowl. Stir in yeast mixture. Add remaining lukewarm water gradually, stirring constantly, until batter is smooth and as thin as crepe batter. Cover bowl and leave to rise in warm place about 1 hour.

Lightly grease 6-inch crepe pan. Heat pan very hot, then reduce and keep heat at medium. Pour about 2 tablespoons batter into pan, tilting to spread all over bottom. When surface loses whiteness, becomes bubbly and comes away from pan easily, but before bottom colors, lift out with spatula. Fry 1 side only. Arrange pancakes on wax paper. (Do not stack; unfried sides remain tacky.)

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Mix walnuts, remaining 1/4 cup sugar and cinnamon. Put 2 tablespoons walnut-sugar filling in center of unfried side of each pancake, leaving about 3/4-inch edge around filling. Fold in half and pinch edges together firmly to seal, making half-circle shape. Drop each pancake into very hot oil and deep-fry 2 to 3 minutes, until pale golden color. Remove with perforated spoon. Dip in Aromatic Syrup and serve hot or cold. Makes 15.

Each serving contains about:

308 calories; 3 mg sodium; 0 cholesterol; 11 grams fat; 51 grams carbohydrates; 4 grams protein; 1 gram fiber; 33% calories from fat.

Aromatic Syrup

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2 1/2 cups sugar

1 1/4 cups water

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 to 2 tablespoons orange blossom water or rose water

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Dissolve sugar in water with lemon juice in saucepan. Simmer until thick enough to coat back of spoon. Stir in orange blossom water or rose water and simmer 2 minutes. Allow to cool, then chill in refrigerator. Makes about 2 cups.

There’s a chapter on pancakes in “Bradley Ogden’s Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner,” but Ogden never uses the word. He calls his creations hotcakes, griddlecakes and flapjacks. No matter what you call them, these are delicious.

BRADLEY OGDEN’S BERRY FLAPJACKS

3/4 cup boysenberries or other berries, rinsed and drained

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3 tablespoons sugar

3/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup whole-wheat flour

2 tablespoons buckwheat flour

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1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 eggs, separated

1 1/3 cups milk

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3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Berries for garnish

Maple syrup

Lightly mash boysenberries in small bowl with 1 tablespoon sugar to make about 1/2 cup. Set aside.

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Sift together remaining 2 tablespoons sugar with all-purpose flour, whole-wheat flour, buckwheat flour, baking powder and salt in large mixing bowl. Combine egg yolks, milk and melted butter in small bowl and stir to blend.

Make well in flour mixture and stir in egg mixture. Be careful not to overmix; batter should be somewhat lumpy. For more tender flapjacks, let batter rest 15 minutes.

Beat egg whites until stiff but not dry in small bowl. Fold egg whites into batter just until blended. Gently fold mashed berries into batter with 2 or 3 strokes. Berries and berry juice should be marbled through batter.

Grease griddle and place over medium heat until water droplets dance on surface. Pour 1/3 cup batter per pancake onto griddle and cook until puffed, full of bubbles and dry at edges, then turn and cook 1 minute longer. Top with few fresh berries and serve with maple syrup. Makes 1 dozen (5-inch) pancakes or 4 servings.

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Each serving, without garnish or syrup, contains about:

662 calories; 473 mg sodium; 143 mg cholesterol; 35 grams fat; 80 grams carbohydrates; 11 grams protein; 1 gram fiber; 47% calories from fat.

A golden color and a slightly gritty texture from cornmeal, make these blueberry cornmeal pancakes unique. Pour syrup over them, or make dollar-size ones and serve with queso fresco.

CORNMEAL-BLUEBERRY PANCAKES

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1 1/2 cups coarse yellow cornmeal

1/3 cup flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

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1 egg

2 tablespoons maple syrup

1 1/2 tablespoons oil

2 cups low-fat buttermilk

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1 2/3 cups blueberries

Mix cornmeal, flour, baking soda and salt in bowl. Whisk egg lightly in another bowl. Whisk in maple syrup, oil and buttermilk. Stir into flour mixture. Let stand 10 minutes.

Lightly grease griddle and place over medium heat. Ladle in batter, 1/4 cup per pancake, and sprinkle tops with blueberries. Cook until starting to bubble. Turn and cook until golden and dry on both sides. Serve with maple syrup. Makes 4 servings.

Each serving contains about:

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399 calories; 298 mg sodium; 57 mg cholesterol; 9 grams fat; 69 grams carbohydrates; 11 grams protein; 1 gram fiber; 20% calories from fat.

“Ken Hom’s East Meets West Cuisine,” crosses a lot of culinary borders. These pancakes, for example, borrow ideas from both Asia and America.

EASTERN-FLAVORED SHRIMP PANCAKES (Adapted from Ken Hom’s crab pancakes)

1 cup all-purpose unbleached flour

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2 eggs

1 cup low-fat milk

1 to 1 1/2 cups cooked peeled shrimp (slice in halves, if large) or crab meat

1 tablespoon sesame oil

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Salt

1 teaspoon minced peeled ginger

3 tablespoons chopped or fine-julienned green onions or chives

2 tablespoons lemon juice

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Peanut oil for frying

Mix together flour, eggs and milk in bowl. Combine shrimp, sesame oil, salt to taste, ginger, green onions and lemon juice in another bowl.

Heat small amount peanut oil in large non-stick skillet over medium heat. Ladle in batter, 1/4 cup per pancake. Cook until underside is lightly browned, then turn over. Cook other side until dry and lightly browned. Serve pancakes immediately or keep warm in oven. Makes about 16 pancakes, or 8 servings.

Each serving contains about:

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163 calories; 116 mg sodium; 71 mg cholesterol; 8 grams fat; 14 grams carbohydrates; 8 grams protein; 0.03 grams fiber; 46% calories from fat.

Bridge Creek restaurant in Berkeley served the best breakfasts ever cooked. The restaurant, alas, is no more, but fortunately the recipe for these amazingly light pancakes is still with us.

BRIDGE CREEK HEAVENLY HOTS

4 eggs

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1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 cup cake flour

2 cups sour cream

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3 tablespoons sugar

Beat eggs in mixing bowl. Add salt, baking soda, cake flour, sour cream and sugar and mix well, either by hand or in blender.

Heat griddle or skillet over medium heat. Grease lightly and drop small spoonfuls of batter onto griddle, just enough to spread to approximately 2 1/2-inch diameter. When bubbles appear on top of pancakes, turn over and cook briefly. Makes 50 to 60 dollar-size pancakes or 6 servings.

Each serving contains about:

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258 calories; 271 mg sodium; 172 mg cholesterol; 20 grams fat; 14 grams carbohydrates; 7 grams protein; 0.01 grams fiber; 70% calories from fat.

Goat milk contributes to the delicious flavor of these light and puffy pancakes. You can serve them with syrup, or make them really special by topping with slices of goat cheese and fresh raspberry syrup.

GOAT MILK PANCAKES WITH GOAT CHEESE AND RASPBERRIES

2 cups flour

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2 tablespoons sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

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1 1/2 cups goat milk

2 eggs, beaten

1/4 cup butter, melted

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

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1 (5 1/2-ounce) log fresh goat cheese

Raspberry Syrup

Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and baking soda in bowl. Stir together goat milk, eggs, butter and vanilla in another bowl. Add to dry ingredients, mixing until blended. Heat lightly greased griddle. Ladle in batter, 1/4 cup per pancake, and cook until bubbles appear on top and underside is lightly browned. Turn to brown other side. Serve topped with goat cheese slices and Raspberry Syrup. Makes about 12 pancakes or 4 servings.

Each serving, with syrup, contains about:

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784 calories; 1,139 mg sodium; 149 mg cholesterol; 34 grams fat; 101 grams carbohydrates; 21 grams protein; 2.34 grams fiber; 39% calories from fat.

Raspberry Syrup

1 pint raspberries

10 tablespoons sugar

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1 cup water

2 teaspoons cornstarch

Combine 1/2 raspberries, sugar and 3/4 cup water in saucepan. Heat to boiling. Reduce heat, simmer and stir 3 to 5 minutes until berries are broken up and sauce is clear. Strain. Return to heat.

Combine remaining 1/4 cup water and cornstarch, blending until smooth. Whisk into raspberry sauce. Heat to boiling, stirring constantly until thickened and clear. Remove from heat. Stir in remaining whole berries. Makes about 1 1/2 cups syrup.

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Variations:

Chocolate Chip Pancakes:

Replace 1/4 cup flour in recipe with 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder and add 2 to 3 teaspoons sugar. Sprinkle about 1 to 2 teaspoons semisweet or multi-colored chocolate chips onto each pancake batter as it cooks on griddle. Serve with hot fudge syrup and ice cream or Raspberry Syrup, or plain butter.

Granola Pancakes:

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Use same batter. Sprinkle about 1 to 2 teaspoons granola onto each pancake batter as it cooks on griddle. For variety, use raspberry oat granola from Trader Joe’s.

A wonderful company dessert, these delicate chocolate crepes made with bittersweet chocolate team nicely with clementines, small seedless mandarin oranges. For an extra touch, use prepared clementines in armagnac syrup, which are available at Trader Joe’s. If desired, heat them and flame before spooning over the crepes.

CHOCOLATE CREPES WITH CLEMENTINES AND VANILLA ICE CREAM

3/4 cup flour

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1 tablespoon sugar

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup milk

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1 egg, beaten

1 tablespoon butter, melted

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon grated bittersweet chocolate

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Vegetable oil or clarified butter--figure 1/2 teaspoon for each, so 2 tablespoons oil

1 cup vanilla ice cream

Clementines in Armagnac--2 tablespoons per serving, so 1/2 cup total

Combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in bowl. In separate bowl, stir together milk, egg, melted butter and vanilla. Stir liquids into dry ingredients just until blended. Stir in 2 tablespoons grated chocolate. Let stand 1 hour.

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Lightly oil or butter 6-inch crepe pan and heat over medium heat. Ladle in 2 tablespoons batter. Rotate and tip pan quickly so batter evenly covers bottom of crepe pan. Cook until underside is lightly browned. Flip crepe and cook just until set. Remove to paper towels. Repeat until all batter is used.

To serve, fold crepes into quarters. Arrange 3 folded crepes on each plate. Top with small scoop, about 1/4 cup, ice cream and drizzle with liquor, about 2 tablespoons per serving, from clementines. Top with several quartered clementines and sprinkle with remaining grated chocolate, about 1 teaspoon per serving. Makes 4 servings.

Each serving contains about:

680 calories; 304 mg sodium; 86 mg cholesterol; 36 grams fat; 71 grams carbohydrates; 9 grams protein; 0.56 grams fiber; 48% calories from fat.

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There was an outcry when Joachim Splichal tried to remove these blini from his menu at Patina. No wonder; although these elegant blini aren’t difficult to make, they taste wonderful. The salmon takes a little time, but the results are worth it.

JOACHIM SPLICHAL’S CORN BLINI SANDWICHES WITH MARINATED SALMON

5 tablespoons kosher salt

5 tablespoons sugar

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2 to 3 tablespoons fennel seeds

1 tablespoon cracked white peppercorns

1/2 bunch dill, chopped

1 pound fresh salmon fillet, skin on

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Corn Blini

Sour cream

1/2 bunch chives, chopped

1 sweet red pepper, roasted, peeled and diced

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Mix together kosher salt, sugar, fennel seeds, cracked pepper and dill. Place half of mixture in pan and place salmon fillet, skin side down, on top. Cover with remaining salt mixture. Cover with foil and weight down fish with heavy object. Let marinate in refrigerator until moisture is leached from salmon, about 24 hours.

Scrape all seasonings and skin from salmon. Slice fish in paper-thin slices. Sandwich salmon between 2 Corn Blini. Garnish top with sour cream, chopped chives and roasted red pepper. Makes 25 blini sandwiches or about 6 servings.

Each serving contains about:

553 calories; 369 mg sodium; 143 mg cholesterol; 27 grams fat; 55 grams carbohydrates; 27 grams protein; 0.78 grams fiber; 44% calories from fat.

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Blini

6 ears corn or 4 cups kernels

Boiling salted water

3 tablespoons butter

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2 tablespoons chopped shallots

6 tablespoons heavy whipping cream

2 eggs

1 cup flour

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1 cup milk

1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives

Cut kernels off corn cobs and blanch in boiling salted water. Heat 2 tablespoons butter in large skillet until browned (not black). Remove and reserve brown butter.

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Melt 1 tablespoon butter in skillet. Add and saute shallots and drained corn few minutes. Add whipping cream and heat few minutes. Puree corn mixture until smooth. Pass through sieve.

Whisk eggs and flour to blend. Stir in milk and reserved brown butter. Add corn mixture, basil and chives. Drop batter by heaping tablespoons onto lightly greased griddle over medium-low heat. Cook on both sides until golden brown. Makes about 50 blini.

Lumpia, the Philippine eggroll, comes in two types: fried and unfried (often called fresh). Fresh lumpias are typically filled with a sauteed vegetable-meat or seafood mixture, lined with leaf lettuce and topped with sweet sauce and chopped garlic. Crepelike, they’re generally served at room temperature but are good cold like a salad.

Commercial lumpia wrappers may be used for these vegetable crepes but the homemade ones are so much better. Revised from a recipe made with duck eggs, this thin wrapper version calls for cornstarch, ordinary eggs and water. Since the batter sets quickly, remove the skillet from the heat each time you pour in new batter, tilting the skillet to completely cover the bottom. Once the crepe gets dry, it pulls away easily from the skillet and slides readily onto a plate.

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FRESH VEGETABLE LUMPIA

2 tablespoons oil

5 teaspoons chopped garlic

1 onion, chopped

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1 cup diced uncooked chicken or pork meat

2 tablespoons fish sauce or soy sauce

1 cup diagonally sliced green beans

1 cup julienne-cut peeled carrot

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1 (14 to 16-ounce) can hearts of palm, drained and cut julienne

1/2 pound small peeled shrimp or large shrimp, diced

2 cups shredded cabbage

Salt, pepper

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Lumpia Crepes

20 leaves red-leaf or green-leaf lettuce

Sweet Brown Sauce

1 cup peanuts, finely chopped

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Heat oil in large skillet or small wok over medium heat. Add and saute garlic until golden brown (do not allow to get too dark). Remove golden garlic and reserve for topping. Add onion to skillet and saute until tender. Add chicken and fish sauce. Simmer 5 minutes. Stir in green beans and carrot and saute until almost tender-crisp. Add hearts of palm, cabbage and shrimp. Cook just until vegetables are tender-crisp. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cool slightly.

Place each Lumpia Crepe on flat plate or board. Line with lettuce leaf (slightly extending over edge) and arrange about 1/2 cup vegetable filling on top. Roll, crepe style. If not serving immediately, wrap individually in plastic wrap or wax paper. Serve with Sweet Brown Sauce and sprinkle with chopped peanuts and reserved fried garlic. Makes 20 lumpias.

Each lumpia contains about:

155 calories; 271 mg sodium; 63 mg cholesterol; 8 grams fat; 11 grams carbohydrates; 10 grams protein; 1 gram fiber; 47% calories from fat.

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Lumpia Crepes

3 eggs

1/2 cup cornstarch

1 1/4 cups water

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Oil

Beat eggs in bowl just until frothy. Dissolve cornstarch in water. Whisk into eggs.

Heat non-stick 10-inch skillet over medium heat. Remove from heat and lightly brush with oil. Pour 1/4 cup batter into skillet, tilting skillet until bottom is evenly covered with batter. Place over medium-low heat and heat until thin crepe is dry and easily pulls away from bottom of pan as you loosen edges with spatula. Shake pan while heating to loosen crepe, then slide crepe onto tray. Do not overcook. Bottom may be cooked until faintly golden if desired. Do not turn to cook other side.

Repeat with remaining batter, stacking crepes. Makes about 20 thin crepes.

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Sweet Brown Sauce

1/3 cup sugar

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 (14 1/2-ounce) can clear chicken broth or 1 3/4 cups homemade broth

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2 tablespoons cornstarch

1/4 cup water

1 clove garlic, minced

Combine sugar, soy sauce, broth, cornstarch, water and garlic in small saucepan. Bring to boil and simmer until thickened. Makes 2 cups.

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Low in calories, the taste of these colorful vegetable pancakes is enhanced by garam masala seasoning and cilantro.

SAVORY VEGETABLE PANCAKES

1 (10-ounce) package frozen mixed vegetables

4 tablespoons minced cilantro

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Salt

1/2 cup flour

1 1/2 teaspoons sugar

1 teaspoon garam masala or curry powder

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1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 egg

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1 cup plain yogurt

2 tablespoons water

Cook frozen mixed vegetables according to package directions. Stir in 2 tablespoons minced cilantro and season to taste with salt. Set aside.

Combine flour, sugar, garam masala, baking soda, baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Beat together egg and egg white. Stir in 1/2 cup yogurt and water. Stir into dry ingredients. Stir in mixed vegetables.

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Heat lightly greased non-stick griddle over medium-low heat. Ladle in batter, 1/3 cup per pancake, and cook until lightly browned on underside. Turn each to cook other side. Serve hot, each topped with dollop of remaining yogurt and cilantro. Makes 12 pancakes or 4 servings.

Each serving contains about:

164 calories; 496 mg sodium; 57 mg cholesterol; 3 grams fat; 27 grams carbohydrates; 9 grams protein; 1 gram fiber; 15% calories from fat.

Yogurt gives these easy breakfast pancakes their tangy flavor and creamy texture.

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DELIGHTFUL YOGURT PANCAKES (From Knudsen’s “Cooking for Compliments” cookbook)

1 cup sifted flour

1 tablespoon sugar

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

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1/2 teaspoon salt

4 eggs

1 (8-ounce) carton plain yogurt

1/4 cup water

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Resift flour with sugar, baking soda and salt. Beat eggs until light and lemon-colored in medium bowl. Blend in yogurt and water. Add dry ingredients to liquid and beat until well-blended.

Heat griddle and lightly oil. Ladle in batter, 1/4 cup per pancake, and heat until lightly browned on underside. Turn to cook other side. Makes about 24 (3-inch) pancakes.

Each serving contains about:

39 calories; 66 mg sodium; 36 mg cholesterol; 1 gram fat; 5 grams carbohydrates; 2 grams protein; 0 fiber; 24% calories from fat.

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