Okonomiyaki (shredded vegetable pancake) with crunchy vegetable salad

Okonomiyaki – it has such a lovely sing-song vibe to its name, and when you dress it up as a salad like I do, this simple Japanese vegetable pancake comes alive with flavour and texture.

So it’s not authentic, but who cares – I’ve riffed off a Japanese street food classic to conjure up a nutritional kick in light-meal form, perfect for brunch when you want something subtle but complex, and basic but elegant.

Here’s how to cobble together a dish that’s a fusion of pancake, salad, and salty bar snack all in one…

Flavour: Subtle and elegant

Serves: 2 as a main meal

Ingredients:

Pancake:

  • 1 medium potato, finely sliced into matchsticks
  • 1 medium carrot, finely sliced into matchsticks
  • 1 cup cabbage, finely shredded
  • 3 tablespoons plain flour
  • 3 tablespoons besan (chickpea) flour
  • 1 clove garlic, minced finely (see here for how to mince garlic)
  • pinch of salt
  • half cup of water
  • sunflower oil

Salad:

  • 1 cup cabbage, finely shredded
  • 1 cup beansprouts
  • 1 cup snow peas, sliced diagonally into strips (you get 3-4 strips out of each snow pea)
  • Half a large cucumber or a whole small one – halved lengthways, de-seeded, and sliced

Marinated tofu:

  • 100 grams extra-firm tofu
  • 1 tablepoon sugar – I use rapadura or palm sugar
  • 4 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon rice vinegar or mirin – any kind will do
  • 1 tablespoon miso paste
  • 3 or 4 drops of sesame oil for marinating
  • 1 teaspoon unflavoured oil with high smoke point for frying – I use sunflower oil
  • a sprinkle of white pepper to taste

Directions:

Pancake:

  1. Gently mix together plain flour, besan flour, salt and water in a bowl until you have a smooth batter
  2. Add your shredded vegetables and garlic to the batter, and combine until they are coated evenly
  3. Heat a splash of sunflower oil in a small frying pan, and when it’s really hot you can add half your vegetable pancake batter
  4. Leave your batter to stand while you tend to the other elements of this dish – that way you can plate up a freshly cooked, crispy golden pancake
  5. Once your pancake is crispy and golden on the bottom (slide a spatula underneath it to check when you see the edges crisping up and the batter on top lose its sheen), flip it over to crisp up on the other side and cook for a further 1-2 minutes until crispy and golden on both sides
    • Amateur tip: bear in mind that it will be easy to flip once it’s cooked on one side because it will hang together… but if it’s undercooked, it could fall apart – so take heed, and don’t mess with it too much!
  6. Repeat with your next pancake, adding another splash of oil for each pancake you plan to make (this recipe makes two)

Salad:

You can choose to either serve your salad vegetables raw, or blanch them (in separate batches for each vegetable you’re using) for a minute or two before serving (except the cucumber… don’t blanch your cucumber, as that will just turn out grotty 😛 ). If you blanch, it’s ideal to leave the veggies to cool a bit before serving. This bit’s easy-peasy 🙂

Marinated tofu:

  1. Cut tofu into 3x3cm squares, about a centimetre thick, and dry fry (high heat, pressing on the tofu with a spatula to remove excess moisture) in a non-stick frying pan until slightly golden on both sides (this shouldn’t take more than about 5 minutes, and should result in thinner pieces with a chewy texture)
  2. Mix together the soy sauce, rice vinegar, sugar, and sesame oil in a bowl, and pop the tofu in – you should aim to marinate it for at least 15 minutes (unlike meat, tofu soaks up flavours really fast – especially once it’s dry-fried), and the longer, the better
  3. Stir the tofu in the marinade every few minutes to ensure the flavours get through each piece
  4. Heat up a non-stick frying pan to high heat, and add a splash of unflavoured oil – once the oil is hot you can gently pop your tofu in
  5. Your tofu will cook fast at high temperature, but you actually want to singe it ever so slightly to add a layer of smoky complexity to your dish, so turn it a couple of times if it’s only golden and not yet charred
  6. Add marinade mixture to pan and swish it around with the tofu (this will create a fair bit of steam – just roll with it) until the pan is almost dry
  7. Remove the tofu from the pan and set aside for plating
  8. The residue in your pan should now be a bit smoky – it’ll look a bit like the bottom of a roasting dish, and that’s where a bunch of lovely flavours are going to come from for your salad dressing, so add half a cup of water to the pan to loosen the residue, and then set it aside in a small bowl – this is going to be your salad dressing 😉

Putting it all together:

  1. As soon as your pancakes are cooked, slide them onto plates, ready to serve
  2. Mix your salad vegetables together with half of your dressing (from the marinated tofu), and heap this onto each pancake
  3. Top each salad-loaded pancake with 2-3 pieces of marinated tofu
  4. Pour the rest of the dressing over the tofu so that it trickles through the salad and into the pancake – and then tuck right into this textural sensation!

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