Sunday, October 4, 2009

Okonomiyaki (if you dare)

This recipe was a double challenge. I mean, a kind of pancake made with dashi, topped with, to quote one website, "a glob of ketchup, some Worcestershire sauce, mirin and a little bit of soy sauce," plus mayonnaise, plus seaweed? Doesn't that sound gross? Plus, if you Google okonomiyaki, pretty much 100% the images you'll see look absolutely disgusting, while the writers to a one rave about how wonderful this dish is, how their taste buds have just been transported straight to heaven, how they've been loving this dish for 60 years, etc. Well, surely I could do a better job? Surely I could make this dish a little neater. can judge for yourselves. It starts off auspiciously:

Okonomiyaki in Japanese means "whatever you like," and that mostly seems to be the case, though there are a few ingredients that seem standard, like topping the dish with bonito (dried fish) flakes as well as flakes of nori, mayonnaise, and "tonkatsu sauce," the ketchup-type mixture noted above.

And yet, I was thinking, it was maybe something like the pa'chan that I liked so much last week? I couldn't have been more wrong. And yet, this dish is strangely compelling, and I have to admit that I ate the whole thing with considerable gusto, despite its oddities in appearance and taste.

So what is it? Sometimes it's called a "Japanese pizza," but it's not pizza-like at all; it's more like frittata with extra toppings, but this is how I made it, Osaka style (there are a couple of different styles, none of them vegan, so bear that in mind; non-vegan versions invariably include a swoonily awful thick sprinkling of bonito flakes, plus slices of pork belly, bacon, beef, or what have you). In fact, I found no vegan versions of this dish online, though it wasn't that hard to veganize.

1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup dashi stock
1 egg replacer (I used Ener-G)
1 1/4 cup finely sliced Chinese cabbage

Stir fry (this is where the "whatever you like" part comes in, so this is just what I had in the fridge):
sesame oil
sweet green pepper
jalapeno pepper
sliced mushrooms
chopped leeks
zucchini slices
about 1/3 cup gyoza filling (ground seitan w/ spices)

Virtuously, I made the dashi first. I made a kombu mushroom dashi, which here means:

Kombu mushroom dashi:

Simmer 5 dried Chinese mushrooms in 4 cups of water for half an hour. Add one postcard-sized piece of kombu and simmer (don't boil) a further 5 minutes. Strain the resulting liquid through a fine cloth to get your dashi. The mushrooms and kombu can be reserved for another use.

Gah, why did I bother? Well, I was trying to be "authentic," and the recipes all say "use dashi," whether or not they also say "use grated taro root," or "you can use pancake mix to save time."

Anyway, mix those first three batter ingredients together in a bowl, and when they're of the consistency of pancake batter, add the sliced cabbage. Set aside. Now cook the stir fry. Heat about two tablespoons of sesame oil in a non-stick pan, and, when hot, add all the stir fry ingredients, and fry them up until about half done.
Pour on the batter, cover, and cook about 6 minutes, until the batter has firmed up and the bottom of the pancake is golden. Still looking good!

Now flip it. The best method here is the one where you lay a plate on top of the pancake in the pan, invert the whole pan, then slide the pancake back in as best you can. Most of the recipes go on about "don't worry if it's messy," or "don't fret if it all falls apart," but hey, I'm better than that. I'm going to get an attractive, tidy okonomiyaki out of the deal, so I did it right:

So…moving along…cook it some more, uncovered, until the bottom is browned. It never really firms up, though, with all those vegetables.

Now cut it into slices, like pizza. Smear each slice with your tonkatsu sauce and then with Veganaise, and then top with shredded nori. Serve! Here's my attempt at artistry with the first slice:
And here's what I actually ate:

And it was peculiarly delicious…not really like anything I've ever eaten before, though…


  1. There was a vegan Okonomyiaki recipe in VegNews a month or so ago! I tried it and it came out pretty good. The key ingredient was Nagaimo, that sticky "egg" like potato. Let me know if you'd like a copy of the recipe.

  2. I love what you are doing with VeganMoFo. Everything looks delicious and exciting and I love okonomiyaki.

  3. Hi, Penny:

    Please, go ahead and send it. Post it here if you like. I will be brave, find some nagaimo, even though it looks so very strange, and try it!