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 (http://www.starroutefarmny.com/) 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 in 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)
Warm and custardy on the inside, crispy on the outside, okonomiyaki, also known as Japanese vegetable pancakes, are the ultimate comfort food. Walter Riesen and his farm team grow deeply flavorful heirloom vegetables and heritage grains for their whole-diet, multi-farm CSA customers.
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.