The heat of summer really took hold this weekend, the sunlight itself seeming impossibly whiter and brighter.
Even at 06:00am it was searing through my windows and Bailey could be found stretched out luxuriously on top of the sun-drenched lounge.
So by the end of the day, I felt like nothing more than minimal effort when it came to dinner and one of the easiest things I could think of was a omelette – or rather, more precisely, pancakes. Japanese vegetable pancakes…
I was first introduced to okonomiyaki by a lovely Japanese lady I used to work with.
Together with a group of her friends, we once spent a hot summer afternoon under the casuarina pine trees at City Beach, where they cooked an ingenious array of Japanese food on the outdoor barbeques.
I think I’ll always associate vegetable pancakes with that afternoon; the wide expanse of turquoise ocean, capped with tufts of white from a strong sea breeze, the sunshine and glare bouncing off stretches of white sand, the feathery needles of casuarina crunching under foot and the heady scent of salt.
Okonomiyaki are thick, savoury vegetable pancakes made with varying ingredients, which can differ greatly depending on the region.
They are traditionally served topped with Japanese mayonnaise and okonomiyaki sauce; a tangy, rich mixture which could be described as a cross between barbeque and hoisin sauce.
You can buy specialty Japanese ingredients from Asian supermarkets, though now even the most mainstream supermarkets have a decent range of products.
½ small cabbage, very thinly sliced (about 5 to 6 cups)
4 medium carrots, peeled into ribbons with a vegetable peeler
5 lacinato kale leaves, ribs removed & leaves cut into thin ribbons
4 spring onions (scallions), thinly sliced on an angle
½ cup seaweed flakes
1 tsp sea salt
½ cup plain flour
6 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 tbsp pickled ginger, chopped
½ cup spring onions, sliced on an angle
okonomiyaki sauce (or substitute with hoisin sauce)
Toss the cabbage, carrot, kale, spring onions, pickled ginger and salt together in a large bowl.
Add the flour and toss thoroughly so that all vegetables are coated. Stir in the eggs so that everything is evenly distributed.
Heat 2 – 3 tablespoons of oil in a large heavy skillet on medium-high heat.
To make large pancakes, add a quarter of the vegetable mixture to the skillet and spread it out to relatively even thickness.
Cook until the edges begin to brown and you can start to smell cooked omelette, which should take about three minutes. About one minute later, flip the pancake with a large spatula or egg flip.
Cook on the other side until the edges brown and peek underneath to make sure the pancake is golden and crispy. When it’s well-coloured, remove from the pan and place in a low oven to keep warm while you cook the remaining pancakes.
To make small pancakes, use tongs (or your fingers) to grab little piles of vegetable ribbons and depositing them in the hot skillet. You can cook about three or four at a time, depending on the size of your pan.
Press them down gently with a spatula to flatten slightly but there’s no need to spread them too thin. Cook for about three minutes, or until the edges brown. Flip the pancakes and then cook until golden brown and crisp.
To serve, criss-cross the tops of the pancakes with okonomiyaki sauce and mayonnaise. Sprinkle with chopped spring onions and more pickled ginger, if you like.