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Okonomiyaki. It’s a mouthful. A delicious mouthful.

I’d never heard of okonomiyaki until I had it at a local Izakaya, a Japanese type of tapas bar. In fact, I didn’t know the Japanese even had tapas, but once I tried some of these delectable treats it made the average sushi joint seem a little wanting.

Okonomiyaki is popular street food in Japan. Some describe it as “Japanese pizza” but it’s more like a savory pancake filled with a variety of ingredients. Okonomi means “what you like” in Japanese and yaki means “grilled” or “cooked”. Okonomiyaki is largely associated with the Kansai and Hiroshima areas in Japan, but is popular throughout the country. The toppings and batters vary from region to region. In Osaka, Okonomiyaki are often made from a batter of flour, grated yam, and cabbage, and cooked on special hotplates called teppan. They are then topped with a sauce similar to Worcestershire sauce but thicker, mayonnaise, seaweed flakes, and pickled ginger.

In Hiroshima, the ingredients are not mixed together but layered, consisting of items such as pork, squid and sometimes cheese. Noodles are also common, and topped with a fried egg. The amount of cabbage used in Hiroshima okonomiyaki is considerably larger than that used in Osaka.

It had been awhile since I had tasted this little pancake, and I was suddenly craving one like crazy. I decided that it was time to figure out how to make it myself; then I could have okonomiyaki anytime I wanted–and I wouldn’t have to share.

I immediately decided that I wouldn’t make them with cabbage, but with zucchini. I don’t always do well with cabbage, and after all, okonomi does mean “what you like”. I decided I liked zucchini.I was going to make them with a batter, and even had one mixed, when I decided to go with a similar method used by Heidi Swanson on her blog 101 Cookbooks and simply combined flour with the zucchini. I wanted my okonomiyaki to be mostly vegetables, without any dough-like flavor or texture. I grated the zucchini and squeezed out the excess water, added a couple of eggs, and some flour and panko breadcrumbs for binding. I also decided to add a lot of green onions (scallions) for what is often referred to as negiyaki, similar to Korean pah jeon or Chinese green onion pancakes. Finally, chopped shrimp was ultimately what gave these such depth of flavor. I don’t know if a Japanese person would consider my concoction truly okonomiyaki, but they did the trick for me.

Now that I have okonomiyaki figured out, I can tell you that they’re going to be a staple at my lunch table. Sprinkle them with bits of nori (Japanese seaweed) and don’t forget to drizzle them with mayonnaise, which makes the more delicious.

Okonomiyaki –  Savory Japanese Pancakes

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Makes 6

Ingredients:

3 cups grated zucchini

3-4 green onions, chopped thin

1 cup chopped shrimp or prawns

1 clove garlic, chopped fine

1 tablespoon sesame oil

2 tablespoons nori (seaweed flakes)

2 eggs

1 cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)

2/3 cup flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

pepper

oil

chopped nori, green onion, and mayo for garnish

Directions:

1) Grate the zucchini and squeeze out extra water by the handful. In a large bowl, combine it with the rest of the items until a dough-like consistency is reached.

2) Heat 2-3 tablespoons of oil in a non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Scoop large spoonfulls of the mixture into the skillet and press down with a spatula until very thin. They should be as thin as possible without falling apart.

3) Cook for about 4 minutes on each side, until deeply golden brown and carefully slide onto a plate. Garnish with mayonnaise, nori and onions, and serve immediately.

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