Along the fertile flat bed of the Charlotte Valley in the Northern Catskills, Walter Riesen and his farm team grow deeply flavorful heirloom vegetables and heritage grains for their whole-diet, multi-farm CSA customers, as well as for grocers and some of New York’s best farm-to-table restaurants.
They practice organic methods and no-till farming to foster soil that is rich and alive. This means that tilling is done only once to initially establish the beds and then never again, thus protecting the soil from erosion and the loss of nutrients. They also nourish the soil, using organic sources of minerals, aged compost, and green manure and cover cropping, to ensure that crops contain a high level of nutrients and flavor. On a crisp fall day, I trekked over to Star Route Farm to partake in their morning harvest and one of their daily farm lunches. I came home with a basket full of vibrant veggies, a full belly, and a favorite new recipe.
I remember well from my days working on organic farms that when you’re working that hard outside all day, sitting down for lunch becomes a quasi spiritual experience. I would be ravenous in a way that can only come about from intense physical exertion. Similar to Walter’s farm, our crew would all take turns making lunches, and the heartier the dish, the happier everyone seemed. So when Walter shared his recipe for these robust, nourishing vegetable pancakes that he adapted from the traditional Japanese Okonomiyaki recipe, I could see why they were such a hit with his farm crew. Warm and custardy on the inside, crispy on the outside, they are the ultimate comfort food yet they still feel nutritious since they primarily consist of grated vegetables. Served with a lofty dollop of miso mayonnaise and minced green scallions, they are irresistibly flavorful and satisfying.
The traditional recipe for Okonomiyaki calls for shredded cabbage enveloped in a savory batter, and depending on the region in Japan, other grated vegetables and sometimes meat are added. The recipe is adaptable, as its name implies. The word okonomi means “as you like it” and yaki means “cooked”. As Walter points out, it’s the perfect recipe for using up whichever vegetables are in season. Walter typically uses a mixture of shredded cabbage, carrots, and radishes, but you could also use grated Hakurei turnip, kohlrabi, daikon, or even Brussels sprouts. After all, sneaking more vegetables into our diets isn’t just something we need to do for kids, but for us adults too. I hope you enjoy this recipe, please share with us in the comments below how you like to make Oknonomiyaki!
Walter Riesen’s Okonomiyaki (Japanese Vegetable Pancake)
Custardy on the inside, crispy on the outside, okonomiyaki are the ultimate comfort food. Read more about Aube Giroux's time with Walter Kitchen Vignettes.
- Pancake batter:
- 5 cups shredded cabbage
- 2 cups grated carrots
- 1 cup grated radish
- 1 1/2 cup flour of choice (can be gluten-free)
- 3/4 tsp salt
- 1 1/4 cup water
- 1 1/2 Tbsp tamari or soy sauce
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 1/4 cup grapeseed oil (or any good frying oil)
- 1 cup finely chopped scallions
- 1/2 cup mayonnaise
- 2 Tbsp miso paste
- A little sriracha sauce or okonomiyaki sauce (optional)
- Bonito flakes or seaweed flakes (optional)
- To make the shredded cabbage, you can either chop it very finely, or use the large holes in a box grater to shred the cabbage into small pieces. A food processor works well for this too. Grate the carrots, radishes, or any other vegetable you are grating into the mix. Just make sure you end up with 8 cups of grated vegetables.
- Whisk together the flour, salt, eggs, water, and tamari sauce until uniform. But don’t overmix. Gently incorporate this into the vegetable mixture. Use the batter right away, this is not a batter you can make ahead of time.
- In a large skillet over medium-high heat, warm 1 Tbsp oil and spoon about a quarter of the pancake batter to make a large 10-inch pancake that is about 1/2 inch thick. Cover with a lid, and cook on one side for about 3 to 4 minutes until golden underneath, then flip over gently. You may need 2 spatulas to flip without damaging the pancake. Cook for about 3 to 4 minutes on the other side and transfer to a plate. If you wish, keep your pancakes in a 250F oven until they are all ready to serve. Repeat until all your pancakes are ready.
- To make the sauce, whisk the mayonnaise and miso paste together until uniform. Serve the pancakes hot, with the sauce, minced scallions, and other optional toppings. Enjoy!
Aube Giroux is a food writer and filmmaker who shares her love of cooking on her farm-to-table blog, Kitchen Vignettes.
Aube is a passionate organic gardener and home cook who likes to share the stories of how food gets to our dinner plates. Her work has been shown on television and at international film festivals. Her web series has been nominated for multiple James Beard Awards for Best Video Webcast (On Location). In 2012, she was the recipient of Saveur Magazine’s Best Food Blog award in the video category.