April 17th, 2012
I love pancakes and not just the morning kind smothered in butter and pure maple syrup. For me, the greatness of pancakes is less about a particular flavor than it is the perfect presentation. I love the way that pancakes hug tight all of your ingredients, whether sweetened orange zest and hazelnuts or savory zucchini and aleppo pepper. Or—another way to go—I love that pancakes can be simple packages made of nothing more than buttermilk batter and elaborately topped. Either way, pancakes are neat little packages filled or wrapped with whatever suits your fancy. Like the perfect gift.
And that’s what okonomiyaki, savory Japanese pancakes made with shredded cabbage and, depending on where in Japan they are made, anything from octopus to bacon, feel like. The perfect gift.
One of my favorite things about okonomiyaki is that they are both filled with and wrapped in soul satisfying ingredients. My favorite version is packed with cabbage and diced sweet shrimp and decorated with thick squiggles of Japanese mayonnaise and big flakes of katsuobushi (dried bonito fish flakes). Sometimes I like to add okonomiyaki sauce, a sort of sweet, thick worcheshire, but not always. The tang of Japanese mayo and smokiness of kotsuobushi usually strike what’s, for me, a perfect balance.
Okonomiyaki is comfort food—unfussy but, when made in the traditional way, a bit complicated for American cooks who may not easily get their hands on okonomiyaki flour, naigamo or even dashi. I love this okonomiyaki recipe on Food52 made with standard American ingredients. It’s the perfect place to start if you’re not deep into cooking Japanese.
I’ve adapted the Food52 recipe only slightly to make a vegetarian version of okonomiyaki using quick vegetarian dashi. If you’re going to use dashi another way—perhaps to make udon or loaded miso soup for dinner another night—I suggest that you take the extra 25 minutes (20 minutes of which is unattended) to make dashi. The difference is sublet, but meaningful.
You can stack these pancakes low for snack time or high for dinner. Okonomiyaki make a great warm weather meal served with salted edamame and a big avocado and greens salad with sesame dressing. Let kiddo save her fork—or the chopsticks—for the salad and, instead, watch her tear into the pancakes with her hands. It’s messy and untraditional, for sure, but a lot like watching someone tear into a fab birthday gift. There’s nothing like letting loose on a neat little package filled with goodies.
adapted from Food52
makes about 12 pancakes
(can be shared with kids 10+ months)*
5 large eggs
2 teaspoons quick vegetarian dashi (you can substitute soy sauce)
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/3 cup all purpose flour
2 cups shredded cabbage
1 bunch scallions, trimmed and chopped
Canola oil for frying
Japanese mayonnaise (see below for substitute)
Katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes), for garnish (optional)
Sriracha, for garnish (optional)
1. In a mixing bowl, whisk together eggs, dashi, oil and salt. Slowly add flour, whisking all the while to avoid clumps.
2. Add cabbage and scallion; gentle fold both into the batter using a mixing spoon or silicone spatula.
3. Generously coat the bottom of a large frying pan set over medium-high heat. (I use about 2 tablespoons of oil for a 9″ pan. You do not want to deep fry these pancakes, but you also don’t want them to stick to the bottom of a barely oiled pan.) Once the oil is hot and glistening, ladle the batter into the pan as you would regular pancakes. Cook for about 3 minutes, until golden brown on one side; flip and repeat. Serve warm pancakes drizzled with Japanese mayo and sprinkled with katsuobushi. Add some sriracha, too, if you’re feeling spicy!
To approximate Japanese-style mayonnaise: Add 1 teaspoon of rice wine vinegar to every 1/4 cup of American-style mayo.
*Note: Though I recommend this starting at around 10 months, this can be shared with any child safely managing soft finger foods. Though this isn’t a deep fried dish, consider blotting pancakes before sharing with little eaters and be sure to cut into age-appropriate bite sizes.