By Steph Farrar
Oh so long ago, before weddings and babies, adulting and anxiety, I traveled to Osaka and Tokyo with Sam and his former band (please get back together) Phantom Planet. We ate our way around these massive cities in between their gigs and Harajuku shopping, blindfolded when tasting raw horse meat (to my and Sam's surprise), robata chicken gizzard, liver and heart - and the rest of this damaged animal, Ippudo ramen, crisp beer, and many other weird and wild dishes.
The next afternoon, after jet-lagged Sam and I decided to dye our hair in a fancy Japanese Salon (where they had NO idea how to work with Caucasian hair) we met the rest of the guys at a pancake house, a chain actually. But to us, this spot was wholly progressive.
We used to travel more; correction, I used to travel more. So when a memory from a decade back presents vividly like yesterday's sunset, something about it must've made it stick. It wasn't the egg in the batter, but something else ... it was just THAT GOOD.
I've always been an adventurous eater, even as a chap. I recall the first time I actually enjoyed avocado. I remember loving steamed cabbage, covered in butter and s+p, tossing cubed sweet potato back like popcorn. This doesn't seem that "adventurous" until you have your own 8-year-old who's the pickiest, most bland eater of all time. All the sudden a quesadilla would be a win for this mom.
As my hair slowly recovered from the intense dye, a cabbage pancake sounded like a reprieve. Something crisp and unique for our American palettes. Shit, just something different from sushi, bonito flakes and ramen.
I'm one of those ladies who always grabs last minute food magazines at the check-out stand at Gelson's. Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, Cooking Light, Real Simple... you name it. Last month, Real Simple killed it. I pulled two pages and immediately started testing recipes for a few catering gigs. This gremolata below went so well over sea bass filets soaked in the fennel and farro, served over slow roasted tomatoes. Now, the japancake is a new staple in our house since making it for the first time in years. And the sauce is a forever larder stock.
Just like the Japanese pancake house, adorned with dozens of topping options, the most important ingredient in the recipe is the sauce. Sriracha, mayo, ketchup, tamari (or soy, coconut aminos), Worcestershire. Die. Oh and scallions, which are really just an excuse to add green.
Between professional days, parent / teacher conferences, holidays and WTF days off for no reason, Vesper has had a LOT of playdates lately. Incidentally, the playdate is sort of a vacation for me. They play with each other, require snacks near constantly, but for the most part, they leave me alone. It's magic. I get to cook and play in the kitchen, shove food in their mouths as they scoot by, and carve out the time I need to be creative.
I've been cooking so much for other people lately, for parties and vacations, small dinner or lunch gatherings. For someone who's always been the social butterfly in almost any setting, I'm reveling in the peace of stepping away from it all and focusing. Intent on feeding those I love and admire, winning their praises, sleeping with compliments. What a joy to provide. A joy beyond.
Feed your loved ones Japancakes. They will keep coming back for more. Just remind them to take beano before bed. Cause you know, toots.
adapted from Real Simple
4 cups shredded green cabbage (from ½￼ small head)
¾ cup all-purpose flour (or almond flour for GF)
½ teaspoon grated fresh ginger
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons tamari, divided
2 tablespoons canola oil
¼ cup mayonnaise
1 teaspoon sriracha
¼ cup ketchup
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1. Slice scallions, separating white and green parts. Stir together cabbage, sliced white scallion, flour, ginger, eggs, and 1 tablespoon tamari in a large bowl until well combined.
2. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium. Add cabbage mixture; press to flatten and cover bottom of pan. Cover and cook until bottom is golden, about 8 minutes. Carefully flip pancake; cook, uncovered, until bottom is golden, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a serving platter.
3. Mix mayonnaise, sriracha, and 2 teaspoons water in a small bowl. Add ketchup, Worcestershire, and remaining 1 tablespoon tamari. Drizzle sauce over pancake and sprinkle with sliced green scallion.
Makes one large pancake or about 6 small ones.