An Asian take on healthy

February 24, 2016

Forgot to take pic until I'd eaten half of one okonomiyaki, thus the "used" fork.

Forgot to take pic until I’d eaten half of one okonomiyaki, thus the “used” fork.

I’ve been concentrating on eating more veggies of late. And one way to get ’em in is in some Asian dishes.

In Asian cookery, meat is more often used as an accent, a flavoring, a garnish, than it is as the backbone of a dish, as we so often see it in Western European and American cuisine. That has something to do with the fact that the Japanese have a decided shortage of land on which they can raise livestock, and thus it’s pricy (Kobe or Wagyu beef, anyone?). It also has to do with the fact the Japanese just generally eat a healthier diet than about anyone else in the world.

On one of my trips there, I stopped at a street food cart and bought lunch, as I was starving and nothing else was convenient. Wasn’t sure what I was ordering — it looked like a pancake, and it came to me hot off the griddle, swathed in a paper napkin. When I bit into it I was surprised to find it chock full of shredded cabbage, carrots, green onions and tiny bits of chopped shrimp.

That was my introduction to okonomiyaki, and I was delighted to find a recipe for it and learn that not only is it easy to make, it’s also healthy, low carb and filled with good nutrients. And you can turn a meal based around them out in 30 minutes.

For about a dozen 4-5 inch pancakes, you’ll need:

  • 5 eggs
  • 1/3 cup all purpose flour
  • soy sauce
  • sriracha or other hot sauce
  • sesame oil
  • 2 cups shredded cabbage
  • 1/2 cup shredded carrots
  • about 3/4 cup popcorn sized or chopped cooked shrimp
  • sesame seeds
  • peanut oil, for frying

For their sauce, you want:

  • 1/3 cup mayo (or half and half mayo and Greek yogurt)
  • Soy sauce
  • sriracha or other hot sauce

Make the sauce. Mix about 1 tbsp soy sauce and 1-2 tsp of sriracha into the mayo; blend well and set aside. I like to get out my bottle of Thai sweet chili garlic sauce so I can offer two sauces with the okonomiyaki.

Beat the eggs well with the soy sauce (about 2 tsp) and sesame oil (about 1 tsp). Add some sriracha if you wish. Whisk in the flour until it’s smooth. Fold in the cabbage, carrots and shrimp.

Ladle out batter to make pancakes of the size you prefer. You’ll need to stir before ladling out each batch. Fry in peanut oil over medium high heat. When you flip to fry the second side, sprinkle sesame seeds on the done side.

Keep warm on a rack in the oven while you fry the rest, and serve. I had them this week with fried rice, but they’re awfully good with broiled fish or with ground pork scrambled with Asian seasonings and served, bahn mi-style, with pickled veggies in a lettuce or cabbage leaf; or with spring rolls. I had Asian cucumber salad, which I promptly forgot to put on my plate, as well.

The fried rice, though — yet another time when I give thanks to Mark Bittman for his precise instructions on how to make it. This is about the only thing — well, check that; Asian is about the only cuisine — that I will do a full-blown mise-en-place, or prep of each element, and have it close at hand before ever turning on the stove. That’s because assembly and cooking moves so fast you do NOT have time to chop and peel and go to the pantry and such once you start. Bittman emphasizes that, as well as emphasizing one should use only leftover rice that’s been in the fridge a minimum of 24 hours to let it dry out, else you’ll have a glutinous glop that is NOT appetizing.

The other thing I love about fried rice is that you can load that stuff up with every vegetable known to modern man, or whatever you have in your freezer or fridge, or picked up in the produce section recently and need to use. I used, if I remember correctly, edamame, water chestnuts, bamboo shoots, carrots, onion and green onion. I have in the past added whole kernel corn, green peas, broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini or yellow squash.  I tend to stay with about the same volume, or a bit more, of veggies as I do of rice, but I don’t know that that’s a requirement.

Anyway, it all starts out the same. Peanut oil, high heat in a wok or stainless or cast iron skillet. I don’t like to use my non-stick pans for this because the heat’s so high for a prolonged period of time. Set a bowl near your skillet. First, saute’ your onion; when it’s translucent and tender, scoop it out of the oil, letting it drain a bit, and put it in the bowl. Repeat with your carrots; dump in the same bowl. Then the other veggies, varying the cook time as needed; you don’t want them past the crisp-tender stage. I even brown the canned bamboo shoots and water chestnuts, just to get a little caramelization on ’em. Add oil to the skillet as needed.

The reason for sauteeing everything separately is two-fold; first, some things, like carrots, need longer (3-4 minutes) to cook, while broccoli, for instance, wants just a brief flash into and out of the pan. Second, if you fry it all together, the flavors get muddled. Keeping them separate to cook keeps that from happening.

When everything is sauteed and in the bowl, it’s time for the rice. You need about three tbsp of peanut oil in your pan to start. Break the rice up into single grains and sprinkle it into the skillet/wok. Quickly toss it in the oil to try to get it all coated. Start adding condiments — soy sauce, rice vinegar, mirin, sriracha, even teriyaki or hoisin sauce if you’ve a notion. I add ginger paste that comes in a tube from Kroger; easier than grating ginger root. And this is when I put in a few cloves of garlic confit, which I smush up. Make sure everything is stirred together nicely.

Scoot the seasoned rice  to the edges of the wok/pan, and add two beaten eggs to the center; let them start to scramble and then start stirring them into the rice. Dump the veggies back in, and add whatever protein you’re using. I used a couple of 4-ounce packages of those frozen cooked salad shrimp (they’d be popcorn sized if they were breaded and fried).

Note: if you’re using something raw, like, say, chicken, you’ll need to saute it while you’re working on the veggies. Dump ’em all in the same bowl. Cut the chicken in small pieces, one-inch dice or less, and it’ll be done by the time it gets white/brown on the outside.

Finish it up by scattering chopped green onions (white and green parts) over the top and stirring them in.

This stuff cooks in 15 minutes, max. Takes you longer to get everything ready and on the counter. DON’T SKIP THAT STEP! Set it off the heat — I covered mine to keep it warm while I fried the okonomiyaki, and shouldn’t have, as it got a tad gummy.

If you want, scramble some ground turkey or pork with some garlic, ginger, sesame oil, a little fish sauce, a little Thai curry sauce, and whatever other condiment you have on hand that sounds good. Add some mirin or sprinkle in a little brown sugar; you want just a touch of sweet to this. Serve with some quick-pickled radishes or daikon, cucumbers, carrots and cabbage in a lettuce leaf wrap. I didn’t go to that length.

It makes an impressive dinner, and it’s one you can throw together in well under an hour — truly, between 30 and 45 minutes. And once you buy the Asian condiments, they last forever. I’ve had my bottle of fish sauce for, oh, four years. It smelled ruined to start with (don’t sniff that stuff!), so why worry!

You ‘n y’mama ‘n ’em try an Asian-inspired dinner the next time you’re casting about for some inspiration.





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