During the week, family dinner is mandatory in my house. It’s the one hour in the day when we all slow down, stash our phones away, and tune into each other. There are no excuses: everyone shows up. It’s also the highlight of my day. But like anything worthwhile, weeknight meals take some effort to pull off.
So when I recently served a tasty new vegetable dish that was devoured in seconds, I knew I had a keeper. Have you ever heard of Okonomiyaki? Neither had I. The crispy Japanese cabbage pancakes are a street food staple in Japan. Ever since they were rebranded by a couple of enterprising chefs as “Japanese pizza,” Okonomiyaki (which roughly translates to “as you like it, grilled”) have caught on with the gastropub set, appearing on all-day menus at indie cafés around the country.
These addictive savory fritters are usually doused with two different sauces: a tangy ketchup-based Okonomi sauce and Kewpie mayonnaise, which tastes a bit like Miracle Whip (and contains MSG, so I prefer to make my own). It’s breakfast on-the-go for Japan’s busy ranks…and it’s downright delicious.
After some tinkering, I came up with a formula that finally gives humble green cabbage its due. Variations are endless: try adding corn, peas, sweet potato, butternut squash, beet, eggplant, turnip, mushrooms, even Brussels sprouts. The broth (or sake) in the batter allows the vegetables to steam on the inside while becoming irresistibly crusty outside. Just make sure to shred the vegetables (by hand or in the food processor) and brown them well (a cast iron pan or even waffle iron work well).
When flipping the Okonomiyaki, there’s some technique involved. You swiftly invert the pancake onto a plate, then slide it back into the pan carefully. Be sure to wear an oven mitt (this one is my favorite) so you don’t burn yourself.
It may take some practice, but the end result is worth the effort. Then again, it almost always is.
Makes 2 large 8-inch pancakes, to cut into 6 wedges; 4 – 6 servings
½ cup vegetable stock or sake, or a combination
½ cup brown rice flour or white spelt flour (or as a last resort, all-purpose flour)
2 large eggs or ½ cup egg substitute
2 tablespoons organic Tamari sauce or soy sauce
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
About half of a green or Savoy cabbage, thinly shredded (about 2 cups tightly packed, or 10 ounces)
1 carrot, peeled and shredded
1 small zucchini, shredded
4 scallions or ½ yellow onion, sliced
2 tablespoons organic grapeseed oil or organic peanut oil, divided
Optional garnishes: Okonomi Sauce (recipe below) or teriyaki sauce, and Kewpie-style Sauce (recipe below), black sesame seeds and/or chopped chives
1. In a large bowl, gradually whisk the stock into the flour until smooth. Add the eggs, soy sauce, and sesame oil and whisk together (a few small lumps are fine).
2. Add the vegetables to the batter and toss to coat thoroughly.
3. Heat an 8- or 9-inch cast iron or heatproof nonstick pan over medium heat. Add 2 teaspoons of the oil and swirl to slick the bottom of the pan. Put about 1½ cups of the vegetable mixture into the pan and, using a spatula, flatten it into a pancake that fills the pan. Let it cook undisturbed for about 3 minutes.
4. Have a plate that’s a bit larger than your pan ready for flipping. Cover the pan with the plate, lift the pan and carefully flip the pancake over onto the plate. Place the pan back on the heat, add 2 more teaspoons of oil, and swirl to coat.
5. Slide the pancake back into the pan and cook the other side until golden. Transfer the Okonomiyaki to a baking sheet; keep warm in a 350˚F oven while you repeat the process with the remaining oil and vegetable mixture.
6. If desired, prepare the sauces (recipes below). Place each into squeeze bottles and decorate the Okonomiyaki just before serving. Scatter chopped chives and black sesame seeds to garnish. Serve immediately.
Okonomi Sauce (makes ½ cup)
¼ cup ketchup
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce or hoisin sauce
2 tablespoons soy sauce
¼ teaspoon Dijon mustard
1-2 tablespoons sake or mirin
In a small bowl, whisk together all the ingredients. Taste for seasoning, adding more of any ingredient as desired.
Kewpie-style Sauce (makes ¼ cup)
¼ cup Vegenaise or mayonnaise
Juice of ½ lime or 1 teaspoon rice vinegar
Pinch garlic powder or garlic salt
In a small bowl, whisk together the ingredients. Thin with additional lime juice or vinegar as needed.
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