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July 15, 2020

Martian pancakes for Earthlings | The Mixing Bowl

This pancake is so green it almost glows. It’s made from spinach, zucchini and Napa cabbage, so it’s no surprise. Although the vegetables don’t impart a lot of flavor, sweet pickled ginger and the seaside aroma of dashi stock do. This recipe is adapted from one by Kay Chun in the New York Times.

Most cultures have some kind of pancake and these, called okonomiyaki, are Japanese. They are filled with vegetables and are good hot or cold. Okonomiyaki, in its many forms, is portable—which makes it a common street food. Years ago, I presented a version that had cabbage, a standard ingredient, and canned tuna.

This version is more like an omelet because the batter is so runny. You pour the batter onto the hot frying pan and then evenly spread the vegetables around the egg batter. The trick is to make sure that the pan is hot enough so the eggs don’t stick. Like Goldilocks’ predicament: it can’t be too hot or too cold. 

Since all stoves are different, I recommend putting the pan on medium to medium-high heat. Splash a quarter teaspoon of water on the pan. If it steams, turn up the heat. If the water jumps and quickly disappears, the pan is too hot. It is an art to find the right temperature to cook eggs and many have been ruined and sacrificed in this pursuit. In this recipe, as soon as the batter is added and the vegetables are spread out, the heat is lowered so the vegetables can cook. It is a delicate balancing act. 

Although I’m fine with pouring soy sauce on my okonomiyaki, Kay Chun suggests decorating yours with Kewpie mayonnaise and a special sauce. I included a recipe for a sauce below from Holly Cole at Okonomiyaki World ( I have never heard of Kewpie mayonnaise but it is reputed to be a popular Japanese mayonnaise made with high quality apple and malt vinegars and other special ingredients. It was developed in 1925 by Tochiro Nakashima who wanted to invent a dip to make eating vegetables more enjoyable.

You can find these Japanese ingredients at Yamashita’s Market, 114 Union Street.

Green okonomiyaki


1 teaspoon instant dashi powder, such as Hondashi, optional

1 cup water

2 large eggs 

¾ cup all-purpose flour 

2 teaspoons kosher salt 

½ teaspoon baking powder 

¼ teaspoon baking soda 

10 ounces Napa cabbage, finely shredded (about 4 cups) 

1 medium zucchini (6 ounces), grated on the large holes of a box grater and squeezed dry 

2 ounces baby spinach (2 packed cups), coarsely chopped 

2 tablespoons drained and chopped pickled red sushi ginger 

¼ cup safflower or canola oil 

Optional toppings: Okonomiyaki sauce, Kewpie mayo and shredded nori 

Okonomiyaki sauce: 

3 tablespoons tomato ketchup

1 tablespoon Worcestershire

1 tablespoon soy sauce

This makes 2-4 pancakes, enough for two people. Wash and dry vegetables. Grate zucchini, shred cabbage and chop spinach. 

In a large bowl, whisk one cup of water with dashi powder until dissolved. Or, just use water. Whisk in eggs and mix well. Then add flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda and whisk until smooth. Fold in and mix cabbage, zucchini, spinach and ginger.

In an 8-inch skillet, heat 2 tablespoons oil over medium heat. Add enough batter to fill the bottom of the pan. Spread the cabbage mixture into an even 6-inch round about 1-inch-thick.

Avoid the urge to push down on the cabbage, which would prevent fluffier pancakes. Lower the heat to medium low and cook until pancake is set and golden brown underneath, 8 to 10 minutes. Reduce heat to low and carefully flip pancake. To make this easy, put a plate on top of the pancake, flip to invert the pancake onto the plate, and then slide it back into the skillet. Cook until golden brown on second side and cooked through in center, about 8 minutes. Flip pancake over onto a fresh large plate. Wipe out skillet and repeat with remaining oil and batter.

Mix sauce ingredients in a small bowl. Drizzle pancakes with okonomiyaki sauce, Kewpie mayo, and top with a handful of shaved bonito, if using, and nori. Serve.


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