Think sushi is the only versatile vegetarian dish to come out of Japan? Think again. Meet okonomiyaki, a very tasty Japanese snack food that’s hearty enough for a light meal. Sometimes referred to as “Japanese pizza,” okonomiyaki is a thick, savory pancake that incorporates a glorious medley of crunchy, chewy, and soft textures. Just like sushi and pizza, okonomiyaki is totally customizable—pick a pile of your favorite toppings and go to town with flavor combinations!
Okonomiyaki’s surprise ingredient is nagaimo, a Japanese tuber, sometimes called “Chinese yam.” Fresh nagaimo is a common produce item found in New York City’s Japanese markets, usually sold in plastic-wrapped chunks. If you’re as far from New York City as you are from Tokyo, raw white potato can be substituted, but you’ll miss out on nagaimo’s unusual properties that give this pancake remarkable structure, even without eggs. Nagaimo transforms when grated; on contact with a fine-holed grater, its crisp flesh becomes extremely gooey white pulp. Some cooks complain about having a mild skin reaction to uncooked nagaimo (cooked nagaimo is safe, however), so consider keeping bare hands away from the freshly grated pulp.
This pancake gets huge flavor from the final toppings of aonori—a savory, green seaweed—and a glazing of okonomiyaki sauce, a piquant condiment that’s super simple to make and packs big-time taste. A variety of toppings, such as edamame, fried tofu, or shiitake mushrooms add authenticity to this Osaka-style vegan version. If you’re in the mood for more of a crêpe, add the toppings after the pancake’s been cooked and fold them inside for a Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki. Snooty foodies will love creative additions such as cooked soba noodles or chewy mochi. Savory favorites such as meat-free ham or mock seafood add extra pizzazz.
These pancakes are the perfect choose- your-own-adventure food. Let this list of potential toppings be your starting point, and see where you end up! Use about two tablespoons of each desired topping per pancake.
- Cooked green peas, edamame, or corn
- Cooked shiitake or raw enoki mushrooms
- Cooked soba or udon noodles
- Fried tofu, sliced into strips
- Japanese pickles, sliced
- Shredded carrot
- Unsweetened mochi, grated
- Veg ham, chicken, or seafood, sliced into matchsticks
While sushi with friends is always fun, take your evening to another level with a new dish. Okonomiyaki is perfect for groups, since the base is the same and everyone can pick toppings to suit individual tastes. Pop open your favorite sake, fire up your trusty copy of Wild Zero, and have a Japanese pizza party!
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