23 February 2012

Okonomiyaki

I don't want to scare you away, so let's start with a picture, shall we? 

okonomiyaki

Riiiight? I promise: this tastes just like it looks: like it's not 90% cabbage. It's as if cabbage isn't even there. Maybe you're a cabbage lover, in which case I don't even need to try to convince you. Chances are, though, if someone gave you a recipe for pancakes or pizza made up almost entirely of cabbage, you'd run away. Well, okay. You're polite, so you'd probably feign some interest and then chuck the recipe.

okonomiyaki

Maybe it's just me, but I really think that this is precisely the sort of thing that deserves to be judged only after it's been tasted. Honestly, I never would have made this, had it not been for my younger sister. While I do believe that it's always good form to taste something before passing judgement on it, I must also admit that I filter what appears on our dinner table ... meaning: I read a recipe and imagine how it would taste; if at any point I grimace, chances are pretty high that it's not going to be making an appearance.

This brings us back to these cabbage-centric pancakes and my younger sister, who made them for me when we saw each other last summer. "They're soooo goooooood," she gushed. "Trust me!" And, of course, being the wonderful big sister that I am, I humored her and went along with it. (I'm only saying that because I know she's reading this!) Jokes aside, I really am glad she made them, because, well, after I took my first bite, I realized that she wasn't kidding. They are sooooo gooooood. Trust me!

okonomiyaki 

Native to Japan, this dish is known as okonomiyaki. It is a combination of 2 words: "okonomi"- "what you like/want", and "yaki" - "grilled/cooked". I've never been to Japan and I'm not an expert on Japanese cuisine, so I'm not making any claims to authenticity, but it does strike me that the name really is quite apt. You always start off with a base of flour and cabbage (with a few other things like water or dashi stock, and nagaimo, if you have access to it), but after that it seems you can throw practically anything you want in it: shrimp, octopus, sliced pork, grated vegetables, cheese, to name a few. Oknomiyaki is also known as Japanese pancakes or Japanese pizza, and I guess that works too, because they do take the form of a savoury pancake and they do behave a little like pizza (you know, top it "okonomi-style").

okonomiyaki

My sister, a big fan of Cooking With Dog, uses Dog's recipe. I didn't have many of the ingredients, though, and I wanted to come up with a recipe that would call for the staples I normally have in my pantry (plus a special trip for cabbage). Again, this probably isn't authentic, but it's in the spirit of okonomiyaki, and we really enjoyed it. As you can see above, the batter was really not very pancake-like. It was mostly cabbage held together by flour/water/egg, with some green onions and shrimp.(Again, note to cabbage non-lovers: something magical happens when these are cooked that makes them very un-cabbage-y, so take a leap of faith here!)

Okonomiyaki would not be okonomiyaki without toppings. Japanese mayonnaise and okonomiyaki sauce (I didn't have that but I always have tonkatsu sauce, so I substituted) are common. Traditionally I think some dancing bonito flakes also make an appearance, but again, I don't normally have that in my pantry, so our pancakes did not put on a show for us. Shucks. Some recipes cook the pancakes with sliced pork belly, but since we like bacon around here I decided to crisp up some bits and sprinkle those on instead. 

So there you have it: okonomiyaki! (Don't you just love Japanese words?) And ... cabbage? I'm sorry I ever doubted you. You do rock!

okonomiyaki

(My take on) Okonomiyaki 

If desired, brown in a nonstick skillet until crisp: 
  2-3 slices bacon, diced 

Set the bacon aside on paper towels to drain. Drain the rendered bacon fat off the skillet and reserve skillet for making the pancakes. 

In a medium bowl, whisk together: 
  ¾ cup unbleached all purpose flour 
  ½ tsp baking powder 
  tsp salt 
  a few grinds of pepper (optional) 

Add and stir a few times with a rubber spatula to combine roughly (it will be very thick and clumpy; do not try to combine thoroughly): 
  scant ½ cup water, at room temperature (or dashi stock)
  1 egg 

Fold in, until evenly coated with the flour "batter", taking care not to overmix: 
  2½ cups finely chopped green cabbage 
    (8 ounces of cabbage will be more than enough) 
  2 scallions, white part only, sliced finely (reserve the green parts for topping) 
  4 ounces raw shrimp, cut into small bite-sized pieces 

To make individual pancakes, heat about 1-2 teaspoons of vegetable oil (or some reserved bacon fat? just saying ...) in a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Scoop out about a half cup of the cabbage mixture into the skillet. Flatten it to form a pancake about 4-5" in diameter (a bit less than ½" thick). Give the pancake 3-5 minutes to brown. Control the heat so that it does not brown too fast, as the cabbage needs a bit of time to cook. Flip the pancake and cook for another 5 minutes or so, until that side has browned as well. Transfer to a wire rack, blotting any clinging oil with paper towels. Repeat another 4 times for the remaining batter, using a teaspoon or two of oil for each pancake.

To serve, place a pancake on a plate. Top with: 
  tonkatsu sauce 
  bacon bits 
  sliced green onions 
  toasted sesame seeds 

Serve immediately. Makes 5 4-5" pancakes. I find that this is really filling, and 1 pancake is a satisfying serving portion; my husband has a bigger appetite and prefers 2.

15 comments:

  1. Hehehehe!!! I got a shout-out in your blog...wahooooo!!! :D
    I do eat this a lot in summer and mix up the toppings. I actually really like octopus (or, as Dog says, "ohk-tow-pass" lol) on it. I couldn't find pork belly either so I also used bacon...but I love octopus and shrimp okonomiyaki. So delish :D Glad you guys enjoyed!!!

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    1. Yes, they were oki-nom-nom-yummy :o)

      I am not a big fan of octopus, although the boys are ... maybe one of these days I'll make it with octopus anyway, for them.

      I'm also curious to see how sweet potatoes would be in these. Hm...

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  2. I <3 cabbage. I'm going to make these this weekend! Yay!

    Also, those bonito flakes are totally new to me. I've never seen anything like that before. Do they have much of a taste?

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    1. Grr! I did have bonito flakes at home but I forgot! Oh well ... they have a sort of dried/smoked fish kind of taste. I think it's one of those flavours that falls in the "umami" category. :o) The flakes come in all sorts of sizes. Some are so small they look almost coarsely crushed, others look more like shavings.

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    2. Bonito flakes and kombu kelp are used to make dashi stock which is central to Japanese cooking. Bonito is actually dried fish flakes, and they're very fragrant and have a distinct smell and taste that is, to me, a bit sweet and smoky. I keep 'em handy in my kitchen since I do a lot of Japanese cooking but I also have furikake ("rice sprinkles" that come in different flavour combinations that often include toasted nori [seaweed], bonito, and sesame). Furikake is a great cheat for dashi stock and I've heard it's sometimes easier to find here out West than lonely bonito flakes...so if you find some in an Asian grocer or in the Oriental section of your supermarket, I'd totally recommend using it to make dashi. Just steep it like you would steep a cup of tea! Plus it tastes really good on sushi rice which is awesome for a quick snack or part of a yummy lunch (onigiri, anyone?!)!!!

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  3. This looks like a great version - and beautiful photographs! BTW, you don't *need* to pre-cook the bacon - it can just be placed on top of the wet pancake when first placed in the pan - just saves some time. If you'd like to learn more about okonomiyaki with in-depth ingredient substitutions, history, recipes, etc. check out http://okonomiyakiworld.com - have fun!

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    1. What a great site - thanks for sharing it! Also great tip about the bacon ... I guess it's like the thinly sliced pork that is used in some traditional okonomiyaki recipes.

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  4. Kinda similar to our okoy, right? I will definitely try this...great substitute for okoy especially since i usually have too much cabbage in my fridge and this will be a good new option for a meat-free meal during Lent :-)

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    1. Ate Joy, yes, I guess it's along the same lines... but okoy is crunchy all the way through, right? This one is crunchy only on the outside. You've made me want okoy now!!! :o)

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  5. yess this looks so great! i've never thought about making this dish, but it's a favorite japanese street snack, so i'm glad i found a recipe here!

    love your blog, by the way. the cover picture is so cool and interesting.

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  6. I fouund you for your cucumber salad recipe -- but I'm staying for so much more! This recipe is purrrrrrfect for the Lenten season. I look forward to trying it (after I add you to Bloglines Reader, of course).

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    1. Aw, thank you! I really appreciate hearing that!

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  7. I was looking up recipes on Tastespotting for cabbage and found this - decided to give it a go using cheese and bacon and onions instead of shrimp etc. It is delish! I made some tonkatsu sauce from a Saveur recipe and happened to have some of the white sauce they give you at teppanyaki restaurants. Mmm mm!

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    1. So glad it worked out for you! Cheese and bacon and onions ... for sure you can't go wrong with those - YUM! Thanks for the feedback!

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