Okonomiyaki to the Rescue!!

Who’s that new superhero? I’ve never heard of that manga character! OK who?

Okonomiyaki is one of my kitchen heroes. There are more detailed definitions of it but basically, it’s a savoury pancake usually made with a base of shredded cabbage, eggs, water or dashi and flour. As with all Japanese cuisine, it is highly regional and there are as many variations as there are cooks.

When I have an overload of veggies and leftovers in the fridge, okonomiyaki is my go-to dish. Over the past few months, we’ve been inundated with leafy greens from our community garden plot and CSA, so much so that I find bunches of kale, chard, beet greens, collards and the likes lurking in every corner of the fridge. One way to use it up is to make a big batch of okonomiyaki, feast and feel virtuous about overeating all those healthy veggies.

This is particularly good for families with kids who claim they don’t like to eat veggies. Fry some up, give them some dipping sauces and they’ll eat their fair share of vegetal matter. Super-Okonomiyaki saves the day!

Okonomiyaki (sort of)
1 1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
2 eggs
5 cups shredded sturdy leafy greens (cabbage, kale, collards, chard)
3 green onions, cut into 2 cm pieces
Oil for frying
Garnishes and dipping sauces (Japanese worcestershire, hot chili sauce, sweet soy sauce, even ketchup!)

In a large bowl, combine flour, salt and pepper. Whisk together and make a well in the middle.
Add eggs and a little water and start whisking, drawing in flour. Keep whisking and adding a little water at a time until a very thick batter forms. Don’t be tempted to add too much water. The veggies will often lose some water and make the batter thinner.
Using a wooden spoon, stir in veggies and green onions.
Heat a well seasoned cast iron pan or non-stick pan over medium heat. Add enough oil to lightly coat the bottom of the pan. Scoop half of the batter into the pan and spread to the edges so that you have an even layer about 2 cm thick.
Cook on medium heat until the top begins to look dry and the bottom is brown and crusty. Flip over carefully and cook until the underside is brown. Remove from the pan and continue cooking remaining batter.
Cut into wedges and serve. Okonomiyaki is often topped with Japanese mayo, thick worcestershire, shredded nori, red pickled ginger and bonito flakes. But embellish as you like.

Makes 2 okonomiyaki

Variations are endless. Here are some recent combinations (mostly because I’ve needed to use up what was in the fridge).
-Bacon: While the pan is heating up place bacon slices in the pan, then top with batter.
-Late summer veggie combo: shredded kale and chard, julienned summer squash, corn, cooked ground beef
-Cabbage, onion, BBQ pork, mochi

The One Less Challenge

I love the beginning of the school year. There’s a sense of anticipation and a certain excitement of new things to come. By the end of summer, New Year’s resolutions have come and gone and I always feel that this is my second chance to start anew.

So I am proposing a challenge, a fall resolution of sorts. I challenge each parent reader (including myself) to start the new school year off with the “One Less Challenge”. Each week, I challenge you to eliminate one processed food from your kids’ lunchbox. That could be any lunch or snack item that is highly processed and that could contain food colouring, preservatives, excess sodium and highly processed sugars and fats. Just one item per week.

Why am I throwing this out there? It all started when the Kid and I sat down last week and brainstormed about what he’d like to pack for his lunches and snacks this upcoming school year. The conversation over the last week has included what he’s observed in the lunchroom and at recess and he was concerned: “Mom, I don’t understand why kids bring food like pop tarts, chocolate coated granola bars, Kraft Dinner, Froot Loops, even Subway to school! It’s not healthy. How can their brains learn well on processed foods?” Good question.

I know I pontificate about the perils of processed foods often and you don’t want to hear me rant, so here are Lisa’s ten good reasons to eat less processed foods from 100 Days of Real Food (I can add more reasons, but I’ll leave that for another day.).

Trading processed foods up for more healthy alternatives doesn’t have to be difficult nor expensive. Going less-processed doesn’t mean you have to make everything from scratch either…there are a lot of store bought foods that fit the bill. Here are some easy, healthy snack ideas. and some healthy lunch ideas. Not sure of what ingredients to avoid? This will give you some guidance on reading ingredient lists.

Here are some popular processed foods to consider replacing:
-goldfish crackers, chips
-luncheon meats, vegetarian meat substitutes
-packaged granola bars, marshmallow crispy rice squares, soft cookies
-chewy fruit snacks and fruit roll ups
-pudding and jello cups
-juice beverages and cocktails
-frozen entrées and pizzas

Up for the challenge? I don’t expect you to deck out in tie-dye, join a commune and eat lentils all day. I just want you to think about what you’re packing in your kids’ lunchboxes, understand how those foods affect your kids’ health and see if you can include one less processed food by replacing it with something healthier.

Your kids will have much to gain by including one less. I promise.