I am obsessed with okonomiyaki. Okonomiyaki is a Japanese pancake, a knife-and-fork vegetarian meal made from ingredients I almost always have around, that Alex and I adore equally and that makes exactly the right amount for a pair of dinners and my lunch the next day.
Over the summer, I was working on a series called Best Recipes on the Internet for First We Feast. Experts in Italian, Mexican, and British cooking pointed me to the quintessential dishes in their respective cuisines–and the best recipes for them. I made splendid discoveries, like why Domenica Marchetti loves arista, how Cathy Barrow’s then-boyfriend accused her of making Stouffers when she cooked crespelles, and the British regional cooking of Edward Smith. The greatest of all came when I pitched a vegetarian article, not exactly parallel to the other national themes, but a cuisine nonetheless, one that crossed borders in its solidarity with avocado, eggs, peanut sauce, quinoa, tacos, hummus, and, apparently, cabbage.
I emailed all the great vegetarian bloggers–Naturally Ella, Cookie and Kate, and Lukas Volger–to find out what vegetarian recipes they considered important. I even got to talk on the phone with Deborah Madison! Best of all, when Rachel Mount Hofstetter, who’s got great taste in vegetable-centric eats, replied to me that day, she changed my weeknight cooking routine for good and for way better.
This Japanese pancake is my go-to recipe for three reasons: It’s packed with vegetables (I at least double the amount in the recipe); cabbage is one cheap vegetable year-round and is always somewhat in-season; and the mayo-soy sauce-chili sauce takes it from healthy staple to addictive, crave-worthy status. Sold.
Okonomiyaki. It’s hard to convey how right Rachel was, how easy these are to make, and how the rhythm of grating cabbage, stirring together a sauce, and frying up the pancakes fits in with my plan of action when I get home in the evenings. I wash all the dishes while the pancakes are frying. I use up the vegetables in the fridge (onions or shallots instead of scallions are fine. Any kind of cabbage fits in great). We always have eggs, flour, mayo, and sriracha, the remaining ingredients. And while not glaringly healthful, these pancakes contain nothing that’s that indulgent either. Well, besides the spicy mayo sauce–at least in the quantity in which I gorge on the stuff. If I were rounding up the essential recipes of the cuisine known as Quick Weeknight Dinner-ish, okonomiyaki would be first on the list.
Vegetarian Okonomiyaki with Spicy Mayo
Makes 5 pancakes; serves 2 with leftovers
Adapted from Food52
As you’ll see in the instructions, you can skip the zucchini and just add 1 or 2 cups extra cabbage. Don’t skip the mayo, however. Even if you don’t think you love mayo, you’ll adore this sauce.
For the sauce:
½ cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1-2 teaspoons sriracha, depending on your preference for spice (start with 1 teaspooon)
For the okonomiyaki:
5 large eggs
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/3 cup flour
2 cups shredded cabbage (shredded with a mandoline or very finely chopped)
1 cup shredded zucchini (from 1 zucchini), or more cabbage
1 bunch scallions, trimmed and chopped
Safflower or canola oil for frying
1-2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
Whisk the sauce ingredients together in a small bowl. Taste for balance of flavors, and adjust as needed. Then set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk the eggs with the soy sauce, sesame oil, and salt. Gradually whisk in the flour, just until incorporated. Stir inthe cabbage, the zucchini, and the chopped scallions.
In a cast iron pan or other heavy skillet, warm about 1/4-inch of oil over medium-high heat. When hot, ladle about 1/5th of the batter into the skillet as you would for regular old pancakes, being sure to get both vegetables and batter into the pan. I usually make them about the size of a small dessert plate. Cook on each side for about 3 minutes or until golden brown. When done, transfer to a plate and keep warm under a towel while you make the rest. You might need to add a little more oil to the pan between pancakes.
To serve, drizzle with the sauce and scatter with sesame seeds. Serve with more sauce on the side. These are amazing hot and crispy but also extraordinarily good room temp or cold.
Photos by Carly Diaz