Masterchef challenge day 19: Vegetarian Okonomiyaki

For a more authentic okonomiyaki, try this detailed recipe.


Day 19! The ingredients are:

  • Aubergines (eggplant)
  • Zucchini (courgettes)
  • Kale
  • Vine leaves
  • Tomatoes
  • Brown rice
  • Goats cheese

This was a challenge to make something vegetarian. I couldn't think of a way to cook brown rice properly without a pressure cooker within 40 minutes. One obvious thing to do with this list would have been some kind of quick ratatouille, but I was just not in a Mediterranean mood. So, I ended up making a vegetarian version of one of my favorite Japanese snacks, okonomiyaki.

Okonomiyaki means "cooked (pan-fried/grilled) as you like". It's a sort of pancake with lots of gu, or add-on ingredients. There are specialty okonomiyaki restaurants and food stands, especially in Osaka, where they are either cooked to order in front of you, or the customers make their own.

The okonomiyaki batter is a mix of flour, egg, grated yam or taro root (yamaimo), and dashi stock. Since dashi is fish based, I have exchanged it here for vegetable stock, and since yam is not that easy to get a hold of here I've used grated white potato instead. If you are a vegan, you may want to use an egg substitute. I've also added some dark or toasted sesame oil, which is not traditional, but it gives a nice flavor boost in lieu of the traditonal flavor enhancing ingredients such as bonito flakes, dried shrimp, pork slices, or tenkasu. Tenkasu is the bits of fried batter left over from a tempura session. I don't do tempura frequently enough to have tenkasu around, and store-bought tenkasu tends to be rather disgusting.

The keys to making a good okonomiyaki are to shred the vegetables very finely, or to pre-cook them. In this one I have pre-sautéed the eggplant (aubergine) cubes but the cabbage, green onion and zucchini (courgettes) are raw. The other key is to cook the okonomiyaki through thoroughly. If it's raw in the middle, it's not very edible. So after you flip the okonomiyaki over, lower the heat so that the batter and the vegetables will be well cooked without the surface burning too much.

The bright red stuff is beni sho-ga, pickled ginger that has been dyed with a food dye. It's available in jars or plastic pouches at Japanese or Korean food stores. It's considered to be a rather low-class ingredient in Japan, but I love the bright color in things like okonomiyaki and yakisoba (Japanese style lo mein). You can use undyed pickled ginger if the lurid red bothers you, or very finely shredded fresh ginger.

Finally, the flavor of an okonomiyaki is greatly influenced by what sauce you put on it. In Osaka you would put on a combination of mayonnaise and a brown sauce (chuuno sauce) similar to tonkatsu sauce. In Hiroshima, the sauce is thinner and a bit sweeter. You can get special okonomiyaki sauce in Japanese food stores. I usually like it with with a sprinkle of soy sauce, and maybe a pinch of shichimi tohgarashi - a mixed red pepper powder with citrus, sesame and chili peppers. (The okonomiyaki shown in the photo is a pre-sauce version.)

I realize a lot of these ingredients are not standard Western staples, but they are staples in my kitchen and most Japanese kitchens. Please give it a try if you have access to a Japanese food store! And (especially for people who have requested an okonomiyaki recipe here in the past) if you want to turn this into straight up traditional okonomiyaki, see the notes at the bottom of the recipe.

Unused ingredients: tomato, vine leaves, goat cheese, brown rice.

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Vegetarian Okonomiyaki

  • 2 cups boiling water
  • 1 tsp vegetable stock powder (or equivalent stock cube)
  • 1 egg or equivalent egg substitute
  • 1 small potato, grated
  • 1 Tbs. dark sesame oil
  • 1 1/2 cups plain white flour, sifted
  • 1 cup cubed eggplant
  • 1 cup finely shredded kale or cabbage
  • 1/c cup finely chopped green onion
  • 1 cup finely shredded zucchini
  • 2 Tbs. shredded beni sho-ga or very finely shredded fresh ginger
  • Oil for cooking
  • Soy sauce, tonkatsu or chu-noh or okonomiyaki sauce or steak sauce, mayonnaise
  • Optional non-vegetarian additions: bonito flakes, small dried shrimp

Dissolve the vegetable stock in the boiling water. Set aside to cool.

Sauté the cubed eggplant in a little oil until cooked through. Set aside.

Beat the egg and the stock-water together; add the potato and the sesame oil. Slowly add the flour until you have a rather thick batter.

Heat up a non-stick griddle or frying pan over medium high heat with a little peanut or other flavorless oil. Pour in a ladleful of the batter, and spread a mixture of the shredded kale or cabbage, zucchini, green onion and cubed eggplant on top evenly, while the batter on top is still wet. Dot with a few sprinkles of the beni sho-ga. Press lightly with a spatula.

When the edges look a bit brown, carefully flip the okonomiyaki over. Press down firmly, and lower the heat to about medium. Cook for at least 10 minutes, pressing down occasionally, until it's thoroughly cooked through.

Serve immediately. Each person spreads their preferred sauce combination on their okonomiyaki.

Note: to make this a more traditional okonomiyaki, use dashi instead of vegetable stock, and add a handful of bonito flakes and/or dried shrimp powder when you spread on the vegetables. You'd also use grated yam or taro root instead of potato, though that doesn't make a huge difference in the texture.

To make an even more substantial okonomiyaki, you can lay on thin strips of pork, a handful of cooked yakisoba noodles, crack an egg on top—the variations are endless.

Filed under:  japanese snack vegetables

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Not to totally belabor a point, but at the place where I get okonomiyaki here (made to order), they serve it with tonkatsu sauce and-- Kewpie mayonnaise.

(I promise that's the last comment I'll make about that!) ;)

defintely, kewpie is THE one for an okonomiyaki :)

Thanks so much for this Vegetarian Okonomiyaki recipe - it is so delicious! I have made it many times and it is always great! I always have Kewpie mayo handy in the fridge too!

I'm a silent reader of your blog & was wondering how many pancakes does this recipe make?

Thank you so much for this receipe - I've been ordering a version of this, called simply "Japanse Pancake" from the local Vietnamese place for years. Theirs is filled with shrimp and other seafood bits but the best part are the bonito flakes sprinkled on the top, which are anchored in a generous drizzle of some type of mayonaise-based sauce. The bonito flakes actually flutter and waive in the heat rising from the pancake, giving a very surreal life-like quality to the dish. Very fun to eat! Now I can try it at home.