Yesterday I had big plans to go out and do errands. This included a large haul of groceries, to help me prepare freezer meals for an upcoming 2-week contract grading public exams. However, the aftermath of Thursday’s record-breaking snowfall meant getting out my front gate was going to be a challenge, much less walking the 10 blocks to the grocery store. A friend tipped me off that I could order from said grocery store online – what?? Hourrah for the 21st century! – and this freed me to spend the day indoors, drinking too much coffee and cooking with what I already had.
I needed to solve two problems.
1. I’m enjoying sleeping in and am not looking forward to returning to an early rise next week. Also, as I’ve mentioned, I’m sick of my standard work-a-day breakfast and need something new.
2. I sprouted too many mung beans.
To tackle the first problem, I decided to take on a recipe I’ve been looking forward to: the almond date breakfast bars from my new favourite cookbook. I reasoned that “breakfast bars” amount to “no need to eat breakfast BEFORE you leave the house; thus, an extra half-hour in bed.”
If you like to bake, you need to get your hands on this book. These are fantastic: crunchy, sweet but not too, with a nice touch of salt and richness. I can’t WAIT to sleep in until 6:30 a.m. on my first day back at work, and then pull an almondy datey bar out of the freezer and tote it with me, to be enjoyed with a thermos full of hot milky coffee at my desk, as I gear myself up for stacks of essays on Raymond Carver and Ann Hui.
The answer to Problem #2 – the surplus of mung bean sprouts – is okonomiyaki.
I haven’t made okonomiyaki in many years – maybe only once or twice since I returned home from Japan in 1998. “Okonomiyaki” literally means “everything you like all fried up together.” It’s a traditional Japanese pancake, usually consisting of cabbage and other thinly sliced veggies, and maybe some ground pork, bound together with eggs and flour and topped with savoury sauces. The Japanese I knew often referred to it as “Japanese pizza.” This baffled me: it bears no resemblance to pizza except for its round shape, and Japan has plenty of real pizza, often rendered extremely “Japanese” by toppings of seaweed, bonito flakes and Kewpie mayonnaise.
I had no cabbage (nor scallions, which would have added something), but I figured the mung bean sprouts would be my main component. I also had a handful of romaine and arugula that really needed to be used, and some carrots.
When I left Japan, a friend and colleague gave me a beginners’ cookbook on traditional Japanese dishes that has proved an invaluable basis for improvisation. So I made up my recipe with this cookbook as a guide, but adjusted things to suit my pantry and tastes.
I sifted 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour, 1 cup all-purpose flour, 1 tsp baking powder, and a good dash of salt into a big bowl. I slowly whisked in about 1 1/2 cups of vegetable broth (you could easily use water) until the batter was the consistency of thickish crepe batter, but not completely smooth (you don’t want to overmix.)
I tried the mung bean sprouts in a salad a few days ago. Raw, they were too beany for me. I preferred them cooked in a curry the next day, so for the pancakes, I decided that cooking them first would be better. I sauteed them in peanut oil, and tossed the shredded carrot and salad leaves in at the last minute, just long enough to wilt the lettuce.
I dumped the veggies into a bowl and cleaned out the pan. I beat the egg. When the batter had finished resting, I stirred the egg into it gently with the whisk. The batter had thickened a lot, so I added a bit of water.
I reheated the pan, oiled it, and spread a thin layer of veggies in the bottom, then spooned a couple of ladlefuls of batter over them.
After about 4 minutes, when the edges started to detach and the centre started to firm up, I carefully turned the pancake over.
The batter still seemed unnecessarily thick, so I added a bit more water before making the second pancake. As is always the case with pancakes and crepes, the second one cooked up much better than the first.
I topped them with hoisin and homemade sweet chili garlic sauce.
The verdict: mine (the first out of the pan) was gluey, but Husband declared his delicious. Tonight I will thin the leftovers a bit with water and maybe a second egg. In the future, I will use less whole wheat flour. And no mung bean sprouts. Home sprouted mung beans are, I have decided, out.
Nevertheless, I’m happy to be doing something Japanese-like again – I miss Japanese food, but at home I don’t have to impress anyone with authenticity.
And now I need to go try one of those breakfast bars. I will report back.