What is Okonomiyaki ?
Originating in Hiroshima during the post-war depression, Okonomiyaki is a savory cabbage pancake that has become a cherished street food. This dish has evolved into a multi-layered combination of vegetables, protein, spices, sauces, and condiments. While it can be found throughout Japan, it remains a staple in Hiroshima and Osaka.
Hearty Japanese Soul Food
During my trip to Japan in 2019, I tasted a delicious dish I couldn’t get out of my head. I experimented with various ingredients to recreate the unique flavors at home. Okonomiyaki, which means “whatever you like,” is a versatile dish you can customize to your favorite flavors. Drawing inspiration from this famous soul food, I’ve adapted it into a healthy, veggie-forward side dish using everyday ingredients. Served with spicy mayo as a dipping sauce or topping, this recipe gets rave reviews as an appetizer, quick vegetarian lunch, or vegetable dish with a main course. But my personal favorite is making it for breakfast with a fried egg and some fruit.
Healthy Cabbage "Hash Browns"
Who doesn’t enjoy a crispy hash brown with a warm, creamy center? Now, you can indulge in this breakfast favorite without sacrificing your health. These pancakes are healthier by swapping out high-carb potatoes and the deep fryer for lightly fried cabbage.
In addition to being delicious, these pancakes pack a nutrient punch. Two pancakes contain 41% of your daily vitamin C, 104% of your daily vitamin K, and 9 grams of protein while only having 9 grams of carbs and no added sugar. Plus, they taste great even when served cold the next day as leftovers.
These cabbage hash browns are gluten-free, grain-free, low-carb, low-sugar, and compliant with Paleo, SCD, and Mediterranean diets with minimal adaptations.
Ingredients and Substitutions
- Cabbage Mixture: For simplicity, use a pre-shredded coleslaw mix containing green cabbage, carrots, and sometimes a sprinkling of red cabbage. Other options include chopping a small green cabbage, some red cabbage, and a carrot by hand. A 9-oz bag of slaw mix yields 4 cups, perfect for 8 Pancakes. A 14-oz bag contains 6 cups or enough for 12 pancakes.
- Green onions (scallions) are ideal and are in step with the Japanese ingredients, but ½ a diced red or yellow onion is acceptable.
- Olive Oil is my preferred oil because it is what I keep on hand, but avocado or neutral cooking oil will also do the trick.
- Egg substitutions may be used, although I have never cooked with them.
- Garlic Powder can be substituted with 2 cloves of minced garlic.
- Freshly grated black peppercorns provide excellent flavor, but pre-ground pepper will work.
- Toasted Sesame Oil adds a nutty flavor; it can be omitted if you don’t keep this on hand.
- Low Sodium Tamari – keeps the recipe gluten-free and minimizes sodium; other options include coconut aminos or regular soy sauce if you do not follow a gluten-free diet.
- Fresh ginger is great, but ginger in a tube is my go-to when I don’t have the root. Using minced pickled ginger will provide a more authentic taste.
- Almond flour binds the pancake, but regular or gluten-free flour will work.
- Avocado oil mayonnaise is a flavorful condiment; look for manufacturers that use healthy oils and no sugar. It’s expensive, but the taste and health benefits are worth it.
- Sriracha Sauce – Tobasco Sauce will also work, or anything that adds heat – a pinch of cayenne pepper or hot smoked paprika.
- Rice Vinegar – apple cider vinegar or water can thin the mayo a bit.
- Black sesame seeds – white sesame can be used.
- Optional Okonomi Sauce – tastes like BBQ sauce with some Worcestershire and is available at Asian specialty stores. See the photo below. This sauce is an optional condiment, and BBQ sauce can be used as a replacement.
Taste & Diet Considerations
Serve Okonomiyaki with store-bought Okonomi Sauce, spicy mayo, green onion tops, and black sesame seeds. Place them on the table side so everyone can pick and choose toppings. For those with dietary restrictions, feel free to omit the Okonomi sauce.
Mediterranean Diet – omit the Okonomi sauce and use mayonnaise with healthy oils and no sugar.
SCD – omit the tamari, Okonomi, and mayo sauce.
Paleo – replace the tamari with coconut aminos and omit the Okonomi sauce; make sure to use a compliant mayonnaise
Gluten-Free – omit the Okonomi sauce.
How to Make Cabbage Pancakes
Preheat a 11" - 12" skillet on stovetop.
Make the batter.
Cook cabbage pancakes in preheated skillet.
Place a lid on the skillet and cook for 4 minutes.
Flip and cook an additional 3 - 4 minutes, uncovered.
I like to use a carbon steel skillet, which is the same material as a wok and is depicted in the illustrations. Other skillets also work – nonstick, stainless, or cast iron. If you have a tabletop electric griddle or a stovetop cast iron griddle, you can make all 8 pancakes in one batch!