Around here, we’re looking for ways to use what we have (such as a bumper crop of bolting brassicas), without using too much of something that’s hard to get (like eggs, milk, and the like), and turning out something stupid delicious. Enter okonomiyaki.
Yes, it’s a mouthful, both literally and figuratively. It’s usually described as a savory cabbage pancake, topped with anything your heart desires (most traditionally, flavored Japanese mayonnaise, okonomiyaki sauce, and katsuoboshi, or dried bonito fish flakes). I’ve heard tell of people topping theirs with Western-style food, such as potato chips, hot sauce, and the like. (After all, the name for the dish derives from the phrases “what you like” and “cooked.” My kind of meal, I gotta say).
We’ve had it prepared for us a few times at restaurants, as well as by my best friend at Christmas, who knows her stuff, but hadn’t tried it at home until a few nights ago. We managed to get one baby green cabbage saved from the garden (the rest have bolted and haven’t produced many edible leaves), as well as quite a stock of collard leaves clipped before major bolting happened this week due to hot weather.
All this is to say, the version we made was a) friggin’ delicious, b) fairly nontraditional, and c) substituted with a few things we had in the pantry and garden. (What better time to find local substitutes than now, I say?) I will say that ours was more cabbage-y and leafy, and less like a pancake than the traditional versions we’ve had, so if you want it more like a pancake, either reduce the amount of cabbage by a cup or so, or increase the flour batter ratio.
I base my recipe off of the traditional one from Just One Cookbook (an excellent source for Japanese food recipes), so if you want the original deal, check her page out. She also has a recipe for okonomiyaki sauce if you don’t happen to have it in your fridge. We, unfortunately, didn’t have it or the ingredients she listed, so we ended up using katsu sauce, which is similar in that it’s savory-sweet. Still good.
Otherwise, try your hand at some Appalachian Okonomiyaki – you won’t be disappointed! You’ll want to use a griddle, a large nonstick pan or, my favorite, a cast iron skillet for frying.
For a cakier pancake, reduce the cabbage by 1-2 cups, and be sure to shred or slice your cabbage thinly. Top with whatever your heart desires!
you will need:
- 1 ¾ c all-purpose flour
- ½ tsp kosher salt
- ¼ tsp sugar
- ¼ tsp baking powder
- 1 small sweet potato, peeled and shredded (about ½ c)
- 1 c dashi (a broth made with kombu seaweed and simmered katsuoboshi), broth, or water (if you use water, you may want to increase the salt to ¾ tsp)
- 1 ½ lbs shredded or thinly sliced green cabbage, collards, kale, or a combination
- 4 large eggs
- ½ c panko breadcrumbs (the original calls for tempura scraps – by all means, use these if you have them! We didn’t)
- 2-4 tbsp sliced pickled ginger
- vegetable oil for frying
- sliced bacon or pork belly (optional)
- optional toppings: Japanese flavored mayonnaise (we mixed mayo with chili sauce), katsuoboshi flakes, okonomiyaki sauce, sliced green onion, crunchy salty bits of whatever you want
- Prepare the batter: whisk together the flour, salt, sugar, and baking powder in a medium bowl. Add broth or water and sweet potatoes, and mix until fully combined. It should have a fairly loose consistency, like papier-mache, and not thick like Western pancake batter. Add more broth or water until you get this consistency. Refrigerate for at least one hour to allow the batter to rest.
- Remove the batter from the fridge, and whisk in the eggs, panko, and pickled ginger. (Again, unlike pancake batter, you want this one to be fully combined and incorporated, with no lumps.) Add the shredded/sliced cabbage, ⅓ at a time, and mix thoroughly with a spatula. You should have a batter that resembles cole slaw in appearance and consistency.
- Heat 1 tbsp oil in your pan on medium heat. When the oil is hot, add ¼ of the batter to the pan with a spoon, keeping the batter in a pancake shape that’s about 2 cm high when you press it. (I used two spatulas to press the sides in an even shape, as well as aid in flipping the pancake.) Allow to cook for about 30 seconds to a minute before covering with a lid. Cook for 4-5 minutes more, until a brown crust forms on the bottom of the pancake.
- Uncover the pan. Using one or two spatulas, carefully flip the pancake, cover, and allow to cook for 4-5 minutes more until both sides are crispy and browned. Uncover, and allow to cook for 1-2 minutes more.
- Repeat with remaining batter. If you’re not eating them immediately, you can keep the pancakes warm by putting them on a pie plate in a 200 degree F oven until ready to eat.
- Top pancakes with desired toppings. If going traditional, start by brushing a layer of okonomiyaki sauce, then sprinkling with bonito flakes and green onion, and ending with a drizzle of Japanese mayo. Itadakimasu!