Menu of the Week: Did You Say Okonomiyaki?

Center: Okonomiyaki, from left: Three-Cabbage Salad, Aduki Rice, Simmered Daikon, Carrot and Onion (photo by Gerard Lum)

COMFORT FOOD INSPIRED BY JAPANESE TRADITION

My aim in this meal was to recreate the feelings and tastes, if not the precise recipes, I learned when I was an apprentice cook in a small vegetarian restaurant in Osaka, Japan, many years ago. These are the kinds of dishes many of us who studied macrobiotics in the 1960’s, 70’s and 80’s learned from our Japanese teachers.  They are basic, time-tested, health-supportive and just plain satisfying.

Taking center stage on this plate, is a favorite street food and casual restaurant dish in Japan, okonomiyaki (oh-koh-no-me-yeah-key). This easy-to-make and easy-to- like dish translates as “whatever you like” (the okonomi part) and “fried or grilled” (the yaki part).  And it is as much fun to eat as it is to pronounce. As the name implies, you have a lot of leeway to include whatever ingredients appeal to you.  In this case we used fresh shiitake mushrooms, thinly sliced onions, green onions, cabbage, grated carrot, and bean sprouts, all these we sautéed, then mixed them into a batter of unbleached white flour, vegetable stock, rice milk, seasoned with salt and soy sauce (a tablespoon of slivered ginger pickle would be a great addition). Ladle this batter onto a hot griddle (use very little oil), spread it out a bit, cook until browned on both sides. Often served with a thick, sweet sauce, I much prefer this: thin soy sauce with water, add in a little mirin, ginger grated and juiced and a tiny sprinkle of toasted sesame oil, taste and adjust seasonings. Garnish with slivered green onions and little strips of toasted nori if you like. Cut in wedges and serve as an appetizer or eat it all as simple lunch. Tasty!

Aduki-rice: In much of Asia, red is the color of celebration and good luck.  And in Japan, the most loved bean is their national red bean, the aduki.  Adding adukis to rice makes dinner a special event.  Three or four tablespoons of beans per cup of rice is enough. We used the quick soak method on our adukis: wash, cover generously with water, bring to a boil, turn off heat and let sit for an hour. We drained the beans and added them to our short grain brown rice which we cooked as usual.

Slow simmered carrots, onion and daikon: the secret here is to allow plenty of time for long, slow cooking. We cut the daikon into rounds and onions into half rounds and these we sautéed in a little bit of oil, adding salt. After about fifteen minutes we put the daikon and onions in an oven pan, poured in water to cover, a generous splash of mirin and some salt, covered and baked this in a 400º F oven for about two hours.The carrots we blanched separately, then after the daikon were nearly done, we mixed in the carrots and baked for another 30-40 minutes. Our aim was that the vegetables be melt-in-your-mouth tender. Serve with lots of the broth, which becomes marvelously sweet.

Three-cabbage salad: Mostly thinly sliced Napa cabbage, but some standard green cabbage and savoy added in. James made a dressing of lemon juice, salt, grated and juiced ginger, a little bit of sesame oil and sprinkled it all generously with toasted sesame seeds.

The meal began with miso soup (not pictured): onion, sweet potato, napa cabbage, dried shittake mushroom slices were all slow simmered in a large amount of water with a bit of salt. Later pre-sliced, dried wakame was added, finally we seasoned it with generous amounts of red and of white miso, with tofu and green onions as a garnish.

Full-size Okonomiyaki (photo by Gerard Lum)

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