Spring Okonomiyaki (Japanese Savoury Pancake) with Wild Garlic

Okonomiyaki is one of the most frequent Japanese dishes in my house. From the beginning I took its name literally (it means roughly “grill what you want”) and never stopped improving, adapting to my changing palate and, of course, seasons. As a big garlic fan, I made crushed garlic the obligatory ingredient of every single batter. Last weekend I decided to add chopped wild garlic leaves instead and this seasonal twist made me discover one of the best versions (actually I wonder if it wasn’t even the best okonomiyaki in my life…). It’s definitely one of the best wild garlic dishes in my collection.

If you have never heard of okonomiyaki, it’s a kind of savoury pancake (sometimes called “Japanese pizza”), but the batter contains only a small amount of flour and lots of white cabbage. The magical side of every okonomiyaki is a generous choice of toppings added once it’s fried, and these usually include a special okonomiyaki sauce, mayonnaise, katsuobushi (dried and shaved bonito), green onions, pickled ginger, ao nori (seaweed “flakes”)… The basic cabbage batter can also be played with and enriched with sliced pork, beef, raw calamar or dried shrimp and it is often topped with thinly sliced pork belly, fried when the pancake is flipped. There are two main variations of okonomiyaki: Kansai/Osaka-style (the one I “practice” and describe above), and a very filling Hiroshima style, which contains also cooked noodles and which I find too heavy. 

As I have mentioned, I have experimented a lot with both the batter and the toppings. Most modifications are surprisingly successful and I can only hope the pancakes I make can still be called okonomiyaki….

If you don’t have wild garlic/ramsons (click here to learn more about it), you might like one of these versions:

Okonomiyaki with Chorizo

with Chorizo

Okonomiyaki with Bok Choy and Chicken

with Bok Choy and Chicken

Okonomiyaki with Chicken

with Chicken

Okonomiyaki with Eringi Mushrooms and Bacon

with Eringi Mushrooms and Bacon

...with Red Cabbage and Garlic

with Red Cabbage and Garlic

Okonomiyaki with Green Onions

TIPS:

Okonomiyaki batter mixture: it can be bought in Japanese grocery shops or prepared from the scratch. Personally I am happy to prepare it from scratch since it takes two minutes and I’m sure it tastes better. I have seen different batter recipes; mine is composed of an egg, some flour, some dashi (Japanese stock), salt, pepper, baking powder and, last but not least, grated mountain yam (or yamaimo in Japanese), a slimy cousin of the potato (I find it in organic shops and I know Asian and Chinese grocery shops sell it).  It is not necessary, but in my opinion it largely improves the texture, making it lighter and fluffier. Yamaimo freezes very well (I freeze it peeled in individual portions and then grate when half thawed). When I don’t have yam, I skip it and when I don’t have dashi, I simply replace it, trying to keep the same pancake-like texture. The result is still delicious, albeit slightly different.

Okonomiyaki is always served with okonomiyaki sauce. I once bought it and it was much too sweet, so I was more than happy to learn from Hiroyuki how to make my own sauce, mixing ketchup, Worcestershire sauce and soy sauce in desired proportions. (Nowadays I go even further, replacing sometimes this sauce with my homemade Indian style tomato chutney)

Okonomioyaki mixture can be prepared in advance and fried/grilled the following day. As an addict, I often make a double batch and have it two days in a row.

Okonomiyaki toppings: these usually include okonomiyaki sauce, mayonnaise and katsuobushi (flakes of dried bonito). Ao nori (powdered seaweed) is also very frequent, but I have noticed many Westerners dislike its “fishy” aroma. Personally I prefer to skip it and sprinkle with green onion or chives. Among my obligatory toppings are also taberu rayu (chilli oil with sediments) and very often tobanjan (Chinese chilli paste, which I buy in… Japanese shops and in Japan!). You can add of course whatever topping you like!

Preparation: 40 minutes

Ingredients (serves 2):

Batter:

5 slightly heaped tablespoons flour

30 ml (about 1 oz) dashi (Japanese stock, home-made or instant) or a mixture of milk+dashi or good quality chicken stock or simply water (though the latter yields the least flavourful pancake)

1 egg

3 cm/about 1,2 in grated mountain yam (yamaimo) (can be omitted, but then less flour should be added)

salt

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

10  bok choy leaves and stalks (or more if the bok choy is small), chopped ; if your bok choy has more leaves than stalks, use only half of the leaves, otherwise the pancake will be too soft (at least for me)

1 big handful of chopped wild garlic leaves

1 chicken breast

1 tablespoon oil

Toppings:

dried bonito flakes (katsuobushi)

okonomiyaki sauce (or a mixture of ketchup, Worcestershire sauce and soy sauce) ; I have used here my Indian-style tomato chutney

mayonnaise

chopped chives or spring onions

2 tablespoons oil

(ao nori, or powdered seaweed)

(chili paste, oil or sauce, such as Taberu Rayu)

(pickled ginger)

(6 thin slices of smoked bacon, cut into bite-sized pieces)

Cut up the chicken breast into small cubes (1 cm x 1 cm). Season with salt and pepper, stir-fry until golden brown and put aside.

In a big bowl combine the batter ingredients. Adjust the consistency adding more liquids or more flour (the mixture should be very thick, not liquid and the batter should only bind the ingredients together and not dominate them).

Heat one tablespoon oil in a frying pan or on a smooth grill (called teppanyaki grill or la plancha).

Put half of the okonomiyaki mixture in a more or less round-shaped heap (you can adjust it on the pan).

Flatten delicately the pancake, but not too much. Otherwise it might fall into pieces when you turn it over. (My okonomiyaki is max. 1,5 cm/about 1/2 inch high).

If you use smoked bacon, place the pieces on top, cover the pan and let it fry at medium heat for 5 – 10 minutes until you see the upper part of batter set. If you use an old-fashioned pan (steel or iron), you might have to turn down the heat to the lowest because it might burn.

Flip the pancake over, cover once more and fry for another 5 minutes until the bacon is slightly browned.

Flip over onto a plate and add your favourite toppings.

Repeat the same with the remaining batter mixture.

12 thoughts on “Spring Okonomiyaki (Japanese Savoury Pancake) with Wild Garlic

    1. Sissi Post author

      Thank you so much, I’m glad you like it too. As you see katsuobushi is my favourite part in okonomiyaki so I put a mountain of it every time…. sometimes I try to take a photo with less katsuobushi and then add more afterwards but at the photo above I was in a hurry and very hungry 😉

      Reply
  1. Hiroyuki

    It’s interesting to see how you modify okonomiyaki to suit your palate

    You remind me of this young woman from the UK:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8aR31-59Xu0
    This particular TV program is quite interesting even to native Japanese like me because it includes examples of Osaka-style okonomiyaki (at around 6:30 and after), two examples of home-make version (27:00 and after), and examples of Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki (35:00 and after).

    Reply
    1. Sissi Post author

      Thank you, Hiroyukisan. And thanks or the link!
      Now that I’m thinking… wild garlic is… wild and I live in a mountain country, so maybe I could say it is similar to the Japanese love of 山菜? Maybe I could present it as sansai no okonomiyaki, then it seem more Japanese, haha!
      (You know that you are one of those who made me think of playing with okonomiyaki ingredients!? I still remember your mushroom version and add sometimes eringi to my okonomiyaki too).

      Reply
  2. Adina

    I’ve saved the first Okonomiyaki recipe I’ve seen years ago but never got to make it myself. You really have an impressive collection of Okonimiyaki, I really have to try some of them.

    Reply
    1. Sissi Post author

      Thank you so much, Adina. Okonomiyaki is one of my favourite dishes ever and it’s really so easy and versatile… I don’t know how I could live without it. You should try it one day. There are so many versions to choose from!

      Reply
  3. mjskitchen

    I tried making one of these pancakes a couple of years ago, but the recipe I used had too much flour, I think. The result was pretty gummy and an unpleasant texture. I know it used more than 5 T. of flour and didn’t have near the amount of ingredients your recipe has. I think I need to give these pancakes another chance and use your recipe as guide. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to add that handful of wild garlic. 🙂 Can I substitute with 4 or 5 garlic cloves, because I like the other ingredients you use in this one?
    PS – Haven’t been able to work on the garden since we got back from vacation. It got COLD again. It snowed all day yesterday (April 28) – unheard of!!! And, then we had a freeze last night. Crazy, crazy weather!

    Reply
    1. Sissi Post author

      Hi, MJ. The tiny amount of flour is probably the biggest difference between any pancake and okonomiyaki. I like to think of the batter here (egg, flour and stock or water) as a kind of glue because it shouldn’t take too much space…
      Do try it one day with one of my recipes and let me know if you liked it! (Write to me if you have any doubts or questions of course). I usually add crushed garlic to my cabbage or bok choy pancake, so of course you can use garlic. I hope you will like it… A suggestion: use your red chile sauce to spread on top… I think it’ll be sensational with it!
      Here it’s also quite cold for the beginning of May. No snow (only in the mountainous regions) but it’s so cold I had to cover my balcony plants with plastic sheets… especially the chiles which I’m afraid might die.

      Reply
  4. Eva Taylor

    I am fairly certain I have made this delicacy but not blogged about it, I adore the simple yet plentiful ingredients and the toppings sound wonderful and fresh. I have some cabbage in the refrigerator from another meal, this would be a wonderful light dinner option. Thank you Sissi, you have solved my dinner dilemma for tomorrow!

    Reply
    1. Sissi Post author

      Thank you, Katerina. All the okonomiyaki contain very little flour and lots of cabbage (or like here pak choy). I love when healthy food is delicious.

      Reply

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