Okonomiyaki (Japanese cabbage frittata)
Updated: Feb 10
Earlier this week, while I mulled over what to cook for dinner, I realized we would be eating in front of the TV, so I could do a fun street food meal. The reason we were eating while watching TV was that there were two simultaneous presidential election televised townhalls scheduled that evening. Why they did this I don't know, but it reminded me of the time when Sonny and Cher divorced and had competing variety shows on different channels in the same time slot. I loved Sonny and Cher, but mostly Cher. She was so glamorous, and as funny as Carol Burnett. That mesmerizing jangly dancing of a car dealership balloon man (she did the Bump with Tina Turner!). And that weird possum screech of a singing voice (she did duets with Elton John!). That very same year, some of the cooler girls in my school put on an entire lip sync'ed reenactment of a Cher show for the whole fifth grade. It was so compelling our teacher allowed it to be presented to us, in the school basement, during class time. That creepy no-talent Sonny never stood a chance against the full onslaught of Cher. I think he was cancelled after two weeks.
I decided to make okonomiyaki, one of those brilliant dishes in which you can use whatever you happen to have in the fridge as a topping. Here is the Japanese recipe from the excellent Just One Cookbook I first followed. This version goes against my kitchen rules, because it has a number of arcane ingredients that are hard to find unless you plan in advance (which I never do) and/or live near an Asian supermarket (I am lucky enough to have just such a destination for my weekend foodie yatras just twenty minutes from my house). There are plenty of substitutes, however, so a good approximation may be made with what you have available.
The most exotic ingredient, which, while not essential, definitely improves the dish, is yamaimo, which is a Japanese vegetable like no other.
It looks like a root vegetable, but once you start handing it, it's slimy, like egg white. The fluffiness of the okonomiyaki is definitely improved by yamaimo, but I have made decent okonomiyaki with just flour and eggs as well.
Here is a picture of my mixing bowl, in case you ever wondered what cooking with snot looked like.
Yamoimo is so nasty that it is recommended that you handle it with gloves, as contact with skin can make you break out with an itch rash, like poison ivy!
Here is a close up, so you can fully enjoy the snot-like quality of yamoimo.
I must say, however, that this demon vegetable does create okonomiyaki of unparalleled fluffiness. But if you don't have it, you can make a perfectly edible alternative.
If you can find the other traditional ingredients (dashi, a broth made from bonito, which are fish flakes, and tenkasu, ground-up crunchy bits of deep-fried batter) they will definitely improve the dish, but they are not essential. I have included good substitutes below. I left out pickled red ginger. This omission might bring torches and pitchforks of purists to my door, but I still think the recipe is fine without it.
The okonomiyaki sauce is critical, but I have included the home made version from the above Just One Cookbook recipe, which is almost identical.
One ingredient that should not be substituted is Japanese mayonnaise, which is far superior to its American counterpart, allegedly because it is made from egg yolks and has no added sugar. Kewpie mayo is available in the U.S. at places like Target and Costco. So if you stock mayo in your fridge anyway, might as well use Kewpie.
Of course the really essential ingredient is cabbage, which sets this dish apart from just a pancake with some vegetables and BBQ sauce on top. Cabbage mixed into the batter gives okonomiyaki its amazing texture and flavor.
You can add any toppings you want to the base recipe. Typically this is seafood, but vegetables such as scallions, mushrooms and potatoes are also good.
I added shrimp and fish roe to mine (roe did not really work- I should have added it at the end) and, for the Jewish guy in my house who doesn't eat treyf, I added chicken bacon.
1 cup of all purpose flour (I bet GF flour would work ok)
1/4 tsp of baking powder
1/4 tsp of sugar
1/2 tsp of salt
3 egg whites (replaces yamaimo)
3/4 cup of mushroom broth (which you make by pouring a cup of boiling water on a handful of dried mushrooms) (replaces dashi)
1/2 cup of unsweetened puffed rice cereal (replaces tenkasu)
1/2 head of cabbage, chopped fine
+ toppings of your choice
For sauce and seasoning:
Okonomiyaki sauce: mix together 1 ½ Tbsps of sugar, 2 Tbsps of oyster sauce, 4 Tbsp of ketchup, and 3 ½ Tbsps of Worcestershire sauce
Kewpie mayonnaise to taste
1 sheet of nori, ground up into fine flakes (nori seaweed is easier to find than bonito flakes and adds that essential briny seasoning)
1. In a large bowl, combine flour, salt, sugar, baking powder and mix all together.
2. Add mushroom broth and egg whites. This replaces the dashi and yamaimo.
3. Here the traditional recipe tells you to chill the mixture for an hour. I stuck in the fridge while I prepared everything else, and it turned out fine)
4. Take out the batter from the refrigerator and add eggs, puffed rice, and cabbage. Mix well.
5. Heat some neutral vegetable oil in a nonstick frying pan on medium heat. When the pan is hot spread the batter in a circle on the pan. (Just like any pancake, don't make them too large or they are hard to flip.)
6. Add your toppings and cook, covered on medium-low heat for ~5 minutes. The outside should be a bit crispy and brown, and the inside should be fluffy.
7. Flip and cook another ~5 minutes covered.
8. Flip one last time and cook a few more minutes uncovered.
9. Brush or drizzle okonomiyaki sauce and then drizzle mayo (I did not have a squeeze bottle for the mayo, so it came out thicker than optimal). Sprinkle nori on top.
These are best eaten immediately and you need to make them one at a time, so it's really for a casual meal.