Sunday, 17 February 2013

Economiyaki (Oικονομιγιάκι)

Japanese cuisine for me till now was all about sushi and wasabi paste, until a friend introduced me to the okonomiyaki. The word sounds very Greek and very Cretan at the same time: '-okonomi' reads like 'economy', while the '-yaki' part sounds like the suffix attached to many Greek nouns and adjectives, to change their meaning into 'small'. So a Greek could easily confuse 'okonomiyaki' as 'economiyaki', with the thought running around in their head of a 'small economy'.

Tasty looking street food: we need one of these in Hania to compete with souvlaki.

The okonomiyaki resembles my own little economy. The ingredients and flavours used in the dish could easily be adapted for Mediterranean kitchens. Some ingredients are standard in both cuisines, eg spring onions, cabbage, octopus, shrimp and eggs. The highly specific Japanese mountain yam, tempura batter and dried shrimp can be replaced by local available items or omitted altogether.   

Hence, I present you with my own version of a Mediterranean-based economiyaki, based on the Japanese-style filled pancake, made with cheap easily sourced ingredients, and a basic pancake batter. The chopping and preparation will take some time for the novice; in our house, that's a routine associated with growing your own produce. This meal uses a lot more ingredients than I would normally use in my cooking - that's probably why it is so so so tasty.

For three filling economaki, you need:
a pancake batter (I used the one suggested in this video, without the dashi soup and grated yam)
three small cups of shredded cabbage
some leek, finely sliced
some ginger, finely grated
1 carrot, finely grated
1/2 cup frozen mixed seafood, boiled five minutes and chopped small (a cheap packet of frozen mixed seafood costs €3.50 for 350g; a little goes a long way and you can keep the rest in the freezer for later use - this is cheaper than buying octopus and shrimp/squid separately)
a handful of rice noodles, pan-fried for 1-2 minutes (this replaces the deep-fried tempura batter)
3 eggs
3 thin strips of bacon or prosciutto, sut into large pieces
some finely sliced spring onion tops
HP sauce (this replaces the okonomiyaki sauce that we can't get here: a mixture of ketchup, barbecue and worcestershire sauce also works, apparently)
olive oil

Mix the flour, baking powder, salt and water in a bowl to make a runny batter. Pile the cabbage, leek, carrot, ginger, seafood and noodles onto the batter without mixing. Now break the eggs on top of this. Mix everything very lightly, so that some of the batter remains at the bottom of the bowl. Heat some olive oil to a very high heat in a frying pan. Then pile a third of the mixture onto it, patting it down as the bottom layer begins to cook and the cabbage wilts.

Place 1/3 of the prosciutto slices on top of the pancake, continuing to cook it. With a spoon, pour some batter over the prosciutto strips. With a spatula, turn the pancake over carefully, to break it as little as possible. Then pat it down so that any uncooked batter seeps out over the top. Allow the economiyaki to cook 2-3 minutes before turning over again; repeat this once more. Make two more economiyaki in the same way.

Lift the cooked economiyaki onto individual plates. Spread some HP sauce over it, with a sprinkling of spring onion and a squirt of mayonnaise. Enjoy it warm.

Food allows you to travel to places you never thought you could see. My economiyaki looks at home in both Japan and Greece. What a fantastic way to hide vegetables in a pancake! In case you didn't know this, Okinawa in Japan and Ikaria in Greece share the highest longevity rates in the world. This is despite their cuisines being quite differently, both visually and taste-wise from each other. I doubt Okinawans use as much olive oil as Ikarians do. There must be something else connecting them.

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