Okonomiyaki as I like it

March 20th, 2007 yum Posted in Japanese, Pancake, Seafood 10 Comments »

okonomiyakislice.jpgIt is only very rarely that I truly regret not being able to eat wheat, but the first time I saw okonomiyaki being prepared on a grill in Japan, I have to admit, I was jealous. Okonomiyaki has been called the pizza of Japan, or the “as you like it” pancake. The base is made from shredded cabbage, flour, water, and sometimes egg, although proportions and additional seasonings vary with the chef. Toppings can vary wildly, and the offerings at an Okonomiyaki shop are as diverse, if not more so, than at the most gourmet pizza place in the States. The dish itself is fairly new, having been developed around the war due to scarcity of food ingredients, but is now an established part of the food landscape in Japan. Okonomiyaki shops themselves are fun, lively places, often popular with the younger set (including my former students- senior high school students.) Each table generally has its own teppen grill and condiments and toppings set within reach. You can order your okonomiyaki and have the ingredients brought to you so that you can make it yourself, or have the shop experts construct it for you. Either way, it’s a social and delicious way to spend an afternoon or evening. Unfortunately, not being able to eat wheat meant that I couldn’t fully participate in the restaurant okonomiyaki experience, but I could (and did) figure out how to make it at home for our own Okonomiyaki parties. The trickiest part was the sauce, which is absolutely essential to the experience, but luckily I came across an excellent recipe online and have been making it ever since! Oh, and for a really divine experience, try Homemade Mayonnaise on your Okonomiyaki.

For any vegetarian readers, although I have not made this recipe vegetarian, it would be easy to do so. For vegans, Ener-g foods egg substitute could be used instead of eggs, and water or shitake broth could be substituted for the dashi in the sauce and batter. Sautee your favorite vegetables as toppings. Cheese is another fun addition for non vegans. Leave off the bonito flakes and top with sauce, mayonnaise, and ao nori seaweed flakes for a delicious, veggie version. (There are several brands of gluten free vegan mayonnaise- and you could also try my posted eggplant mayonnaise for a really creative twist.) Here is a creative vegetarian (though not GF) version of Okonomiyaki, by one of my favorite Expat food bloggers.

This recipe actually makes quite a lot of batter- you can cut it in half, leave the batter in the fridge and make some the next day (adding liquid as needed, as it will get thicker with time), or prepare the whole recipe and keep the okonomiyaki bases in the fridge for later. (Don’t top them with any sauce- just leave them plain. Slice them for lunch “pizzas” and bring along a little container of sauce, mayo, and flake toppings… Then microwave them briefly, top as if they were fresh, and enjoy!) It might be possible to freeze them, but I haven’t tried it, personally.

View regional variations on okonomiyaki and recipes offered by a Japanese food company

Kansai or Osaka Style Okonomiyaki has the ingredients mixed into the batter and is found throughout Japan.

“The batter is made of flour, grated yam, water or dashi, eggs and shredded cabbage, and usually contains other ingredients such as Welsh onion, meat (generally pork or bacon), octopus, squid, shrimp, vegetables, kimchi, mochi or cheese.Ookonomiyaki is prepared much like a pancake. …The batter and other ingredients are fried on both sides on either a hot plate (teppan) or a pan using metal spatulas that are later used to slice the dish when it has finished cooking. Cooked okonomiyaki is topped with ingredients that include okonomiyaki sauce (similar to Worcestershire sauce but thicker and sweeter), nori, fish flakes, mayonnaise and ginger.” (Source: Wikipedia)

When Kansai style Okonomiyaki “is served with sliced cabbage and a layer of fried noodles (either ramen or udon) worked into the mix, it is called modanyaki. (Modern grill)” (Source: Wikipedia) Obviously wheat based ramen or udon won’t work for us gluten free folks, but you could easily try it with corn or rice noodles.

Hiroshima style okonomiyaki involves layering ingredients rather than mixing them together, and is often topped with noodles and fried egg.
Here is a blurb about its history:
“The roots of Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki lie in something called “Issen youshoku” (one-penny Western food) that spread across western Japan like cheap candy before the war. Wheat flour was mixed with water and spread in a circle on a griddle. Chopped green onions and such were sprinkled on top, then the concoction was folded in half and served. This proved to be an extremely popular dish. As the name implied, you could buy it for one “sen” (1/100 of a yen), which at the time could purchase two large lollipops. And it made a perfect afternoon snack for children. From these beginnings, meat and cabbage were added to the mix after the war and the modern Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki was born.” (source: Hiroshima Okonomiyaki Shop Waka Taka)

Fun With Okonomiyaki Videos!

The video (in Japanese) on the left is a clip from the Japanese drama “The Man who can’t get Married,” Summer 2006. Our hero (the man who can’t get married) is at a popular Okonomiyaki restaurant. It begins with his dining companion stirring the okonomiyaki. The protagonist (or should I say, antagonist), gives her detailed instructions on how to make Okonomiyaki. Tired of his suggestions and intimidated by his specialized knowledge of Okonomiyaki making, she finally says, “I’ve totally lost my confidence, you do it.” He takes the bowl from her, finds she has stirred it badly, stirs it properly and begins to grill the okonomiyaki on the teppen grill. Note how he flourishes the metal spatulas and turns the okonomiyaki because the heat may be unevenly distributed. When it is done he spreads it with okonomiyaki sauce and sprinkles blue seaweed (ao nori) and bonito fish flakes on top. She asks, “Hey, how about mayonnaise,” and he cuts that idea short. She apologizes for suggesting it. She takes a bite at last, saying “Oishii!!!!” (delicious) and he snipes, “It was made in such a way as to make it delicious.” Such a charmer.

Here is another great video in Japanese that I found on YouTube which is taken in an okonomiyaki restaurant in Japan. This particular version is quite nouveau as it contains big blocks of cheese, which is melted and then topped with more batter and finally topped with a Shiso (perilla) leaf. Watch the experts at work! Note how the okonomiyaki sauce is brushed on. Next the server asks if the customers want Mayonnaise, to which they reply, “We Absolutely Do”… The final shot is of another okonomiyaki topped with shredded green onion (or similar vegetable) and a poached egg.

And finally, a video in ENGLISH by a sweet guy who just wants to show English Speakers how to make (mini) okonomiyaki.

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Visit Odds that Never End, to see one family’s variation of my okonomiyaki recipe… It was a big hit! Yay!

Okonomiyaki Japanese As you Like It Pancake
Basic Ingredients:
1/2 lg head green cabbage; finely chopped
1/4 c finely chopped green onions
2 1/2 c Gluten Free Blend by Bette Hagman (or preferred flour)
4-6 tbsp dashi (stock made from bonito fish flakes)
2 c water (add more as needed- dough should be like slightly thick pancake batter)
4 eggs
1 tsp xanthan gum
oil for frying
optional: 4 ts Beni-shoga (red pickled ginger- dark pink and already sliced into sticks)

Some Possible Additions:
(seafood- or meats, if you are so inclined)
Octopus, Squid, Prawns, Scallops, Fresh tuna cubes
Onion, Mushroom, Sliced Green Beans, Tofu… anything!

All of these things should be in bite-sized pieces.

1/2 c (homemade) okonomiyaki sauce
1/2 c mayonnaise (in squeeze bottle)
4 ts aonori; (dried green seaweed flakes)
4 ts katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes)

1. Thoroughly mix cabbage, flour, dashi, water, eggs, ginger and onions in large bowl.

2. Heat lightly greased griddle or skillet over low to medium heat. Saute any meat or seafood ingredients that need to be well done. Remove from pan, clean, and lightly oil.

3. Ladle approximately 1 cup batter onto hot griddle into a circle. Add about 1/3 cup of desired ingredients (from seafood, vegetable categories etc.) on top of the batter. I like to add strips of pickled ginger on the top.

4. Cook until bottom of okonomiyaki starts to color and edges become firm. Using multiple spatulas, loosen okonomiyaki and flip it over. Cook until bottom has turned light golden and center is firm, about 6 to 8 minutes.

5. To garnish, squeeze 2 tablespoons okonomiyaki sauce back and forth over surface of each okonomiyaki. Then alternate strips of Japanese mayonnaise to add color contrast and rich flavor. Sprinkle each okonomiyaki with 1 teaspoon aonori, then 1 teaspoon katsuobushi. Watch the bonito flakes wilt because of the heat!

6. Using spatula, cut each okonomiyaki into 4 slices. You may need to use both spatulas to pull pieces apart. Serve immediately. Repeat until all batter is used.

Okonomiyaki sauce from scratch
2 tb tomato puree
2 tb ketchup
1/3 c worcestershire sauce (I prefer the mild Japanese brand, Bulldog)
3 tb wheat free tamari (or soy sauce)
1 ts sugar
7 tb dashi (made from katsuobushi fish flakes, this is central to Japanese cooking)
2 tb cornstarch dissolved in 2 tablespoons water
1. Bring tomato puree, ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, sugar and dashi to boil in saucepan over high heat.
2. Add cornstarch mixture,a little at a time, and cook until thickened to the texture of ketchup.
3. Cool before serving.

All prepared okonomiyaki sauces contain wheat from wheat based soy sauce, so this is a great recipe to have. I simmer it and then let it cool before pouring it into a squirting mustard type bottle. It keeps reasonably well, too. You probably want to make the sauce a while before you actually want to eat okonomiyaki… it’s nice to have on hand, too. This recipe is derived from the out of print “Practical Japanese Cooking” by Shizuo Tsuji and Koichiro Hata.

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Like Water for Onigiri…

March 8th, 2007 yum Posted in Japanese, Seafood 4 Comments »


One thing the gluten free diner often faces is the problem posed by packing a lunch. Oh sure, we can stave off our hunger with a Lara Bar or other protein bar- or even do creative things with lettuce leaves or tortillas, and of course we can make our own bread and our own sandwich. But, one of my favorite solutions to the gluten free diner’s lunchtime dilemma is “Onigiri, also known as Omusubi, a snack of Japanese rice formed into triangle or oval shapes and [sometimes] wrapped in nori (edible seaweed).” (source: Wikipedia) This snack holds a special place in the heart of many Japanese people- mothers often include it in their children’s first lunch away from home, and handmade onigiri is said to be made with love for the intended recipient, much like the obento, or lunch, itself. Now you can buy all kinds of onigiri in Japanese supermarket and Japanese convenience stores, varying in type from traditional flavors like fish flakes to crazy innovations like fried rice or spam- but they often contain wheat soy sauce as an ingredient. (Although the convenience store Lawson’s onigiri has many gluten free flavors…) So, whether I’m living in Mountain View, California, or Chiba City, Japan, I love to make my own onigiri. It’s filling, homey, and is especially good when served with homemade pickles and a few other nibble sized dishes. DH begs me to make tuna salad onigiri, and it’s one of my favorites, but I also love my own creation- a kimchi tuna stew filling that tastes good cold, at room temperature, or heated in the microwave. It also has the added benefit that you can use any leftover kimchi stew as a topping for rice for a hearty Korean style meal. (And the stew freezes beautifully for busy school nights!) But, for vegetarian palates, spinach, a dry Indian curry, raw veggies, miso, or natto- fermented soy, make excellent fillings. Some people love crispy seaweed nori sheets wrapped around rice balls- and I like it too, but because only the freshest toasted nori sheet has good flavor, lately I’ve been making them without.

Some suggested fillings:
Traditional- pitted and minced Umeboshi (pickled plums), katsuobushi (dried bonito shavings) mixed with small amount of GF soy sauce or GF miso paste, tuna or cooked salted salmon, Smoked salmon, Crab with mayo or crab without mayo, natto, seaweed, dried fish

Nouveau- Leftover Curried Tofu, Grilled marinated tofu, Korean BBQ tofu, Avocado cubes, cucumber, kimchi, spam (hey, not my thing, but some like it), teriyaki meat/chicken/tofu, Indian Curry, Fried rice smushed into an onigiri shape… The only limit is your imagination!

All set to make yourself some yummy, portable rice balls? Great!

To make onigiri, you need short or medium grain, high quality Japanese style rice (preferably white, but you can try brown if you don’t mind it being more crumbly), salt, sesame seeds, fillings of your choice, and saran wrap. The rice should be warm (or hot, if you can stand it and it won’t melt the plastic wrap).

Here are the best instructions for making onigiri/ omusubi

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note: I highly recommend making your onigiri in a small rice bowl, as she suggests, and lining it with saran wrap. But, I wasn’t quite satisfied with dampening the saran wrap and sprinkling it with salt. My salt clumped. So, if you want salted onigiri, you might try putting the saran wrap on the counter, sprinkling it with salt, and then putting down a clump of rice on the wrap. Then, lift the saran wrap with the rice on it, fit it into the rice bowl and proceed as her site directs. Or, just skip the salting until the rice ball/triangle is formed. Then sprinkle your hands with salt and clamp them around the onigiri to add the salt. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and serve.

Instructions for hand shaping onigiri, with photos

Or how about Yaki Onigiri,Onigiri grilled and brushed with GF soy sauce?
For creative instructions, including instructions on freezing and reheating yakionigiri, visit http://ss-biggie.livejournal.com/26421.html

Here are two fillings that I enjoyed today in my lunch Onigiri. I also like tuna with mayo, for a creative twist on a tuna fish sandwich, shrimp with mayo, smoked salmon, or umeboshi plum as filling. I usually sprinkle them with brown or black sesame seeds, and sometimes use salt as well.

Kimchi Tuna Stew
1 to 2 cups of well fermented kimchi (Read label carefully to find
one gluten free or make your own)
1 can of tuna
2 green onions(slim, or 1 if very large)
1Tbs of chopped garlic
1 Tbs of sesame oil (flavorful japanese or korean variety)
1 Tbs of fish sauce (check for wheat on label)
10-20 small korean oval mochi chips (for use as stew)

between 1 tsp to 1 1/2 Tbs cayenne pepper (or more to taste)
1/2 tbsp paprika
1 tsp of chopped garlic
1/2 tsp of chopped ginger (See if you
can find prepared bottles of this stuff at a korean market- it’s
awesome for flavor and time saving!!!)

Cut kimchi into desirable size.(about 2 inch length)
Cut green onion into 2-3 inch length pieces.
Open tuna can and drain oil (or water) well.
Mix ground red pepper, chopped garlic, chopped ginger to make
In a pot, stir kimchi, seasoning, chopped garlic, sesame seed oil,
and tuna over high heat for about five minutes.
Pour 1 1/2 cups of water over it and boil. When in starts to boil,
add fish sauce and boil over medium heat for 15 minutes. Add white
rice mochi chips and boil for 5 more minutes (or follow instructions
on package for length of heating)- they should become soft and
tender, like dumplings. Add green onion before turn off the heat.

I served this with white sushi rice sprinkled with furikake, a black
sesame seed/salt garnish, and a simple blanched spinach in a tamari,
sesame oil, garlic powder sauce- sprinkled with sesame seeds.

When I use this as onigiri filling, after the stew is made I pick out the mochi chips from the part I plan to use as filling.

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Spinach Sesame Okazu (side dish)
1 or 2 cups raw spinach
1/2 tbsp sesame oil
1/2 tbsp GF soy sauce
1/2 tbsp sake

Light sesame seeds
chili oil (optional)

Blanch spinach in salted water. drain of all water and chop. Add sesame oil to small nonstick pan, heat. Add spinach. Add GF soy sauce and sake. Turn off heat. Add sesame seeds. Sprinkle with chili oil before serving, to taste.

Another pleasant accompaniment for Onigiri, or any japanese obento for that matter, is homemade Japanese pickles. I fell in love with this particular type of pickle, called “asazuke” or lightly [salted] pickles, when living in Japan. The crisp, light flavor is wonderful in hot summer or on a warm spring day, and you only have to wait an hour before you can enjoy them.

Konbu-zuke Pickled Cucumbers with Konbu
4 Japanese cucumbers or 2 English cucumbers
2 in konbu
1 1/2 tsp salt (or less, to taste)
Slice cucumbers into 1/2 inch cylinders, cut thin strips of Konbu. Mix cucumbers and salt and konbu and put in a small ziploc bag. Seal and let sit at room temperature for an hour. Rinse if you like to remove excess salt flavor.
Excellent served in a bento (lunch box) with hearty or rich food as a crisp, fresh flavor.

More fun with Onigiri:

Here is a charming youtube video for the Lawson convenience store’s Onigiri, which is told in a letter form by an actress playing the role of an onigiri maker. Sorry, guys, it’s in Japanese- but fun to watch anyway. It’s called “Aichan no Tegami,” or Miss Ai’s letter. She begins by saying that she can’t forget the taste of the first onigiri her mother made for her, and then explains how she came to work at the Onigiri shop. Highly romanticized portrayal of working life in Japan.

In my search for video demonstrating how to make onigiri, I found these short infomercials for a Japanese saran wrap company showing you how to make yummy onigiri using their product. It’s like a cooking show, but with the product prominently placed in front of the actors, and with the product mascot dancing behind them. It’s entitled “Kyou no Omusubi” or “Omusubi of the day.” It begins with an introduction from the hosts, then you watch them make the omusubi, and then they have a panel of three judges that try the omusubi, comment, and award it points. Each judge gets 100 points that they can possibly award, and then they add up the points for a final score. It’s pretty good for showing techniques for making different kinds of Omusubi, although sometimes they make some pretty weird combinations. Here are a few of my favorites.

Okinawan Salt and Black Sesame Seed Musubi

Miso mixed with sake and sugar, topped with a Shiso leaf

Spinach Musubi

You can enjoy more videos by going to the poster Kichinto3’s site at You Tube

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