Of cabbages and King

“The time has come the walrus said to speak of many things, of shoes and ships and sealing wax, of cabbages and Kings”
Well, I have both cabbages and a King here right now, so that’s what I’m going to speak about. We are finding ways to eat the flush of red cabbage that is coming on now. Our first idea was to make Japanese okonomiyaki-inspired cabbage pancakes, they are fabulous and a great way to get through a lot of cabbage.
 We don’t have a recipe, we just use what we have at the time. The main ingredient is the cabbage, finely shredded, a small amount of pan-cake batter. i.e. one egg to one table spoon full of flour. We use organic wholemeal, but you will get a lighter result with white or corn flour. I usually add some of my marrow bone and veggie stock form the freezer, but you can use water or even milk to make the pancake batter mix. Sometimes I only add two eggs without using any flour, cracking them directly into the simmering cabbage mix. Some finely sliced spring onions or a few small shallots go well in the mix.
We cook the cabbage and onion in a little oil like a stir-fry, but sometimes with the lid on the frypan for a few minutes to get the whole thing to steam and then add the batter or eggs and stir it through. This binds it all together. When it firms up a little we flip it over and do the other side. Whenever I have had this in Japan it nearly always has some sort of bacon or cured pork added in rashes on one side or cubed chunks mixed through.
As bacon, or any other cured and preserved meat isn’t all that good for you, we keep it to a minimum. But it is a tasty addition when it’s added in there. The other things that we add as the fancy takes us are; a little bit of ginger pickled in cider vinegar with some salt and honey. Ginger turns slightly pink when pickled in vinegar. This is drained and finely chopped before adding it in, or some roughly chopped home-grown and dried tomatoes preserved in oil.
When the pancake is cooked through on both sides. We serve it with a few katsuobushi bonito flakes sprinkled on top. They shimmer and wobble around on top of the hot meal as if they are alive. It’s an uncanny feeling to see your food, there on the plate, moving about.
The first time that I saw bonito flakes on a pancake, when I bought my first okonomiyaki sitting on a train platform waiting for a train in the 80’s In Japan. I hadn’t ever seen anything like it before, I wasn’t sure what to make of it. I was used to eating food that didn’t move around on my plate. Okonomiyaki is just so delicious that I instantly got used to it and have bought bonito flakes occasionally, when I see them for sale, ever since.
I Japan, they have a special kind of Okonomiyaki sauce. It more or less tastes like a mix of 3 parts of BBQ sauce to 1 part of Worcestershire sauce, or something a bit close to that, if you can imagine it. They also use a lot of mayonnaise as well. In fact an okonomiyaki pancake is usually decorated with lots of squiggly lines of brown and white sauce in delicate cross-hatch patterns.
These two decorative and tasty sauces seem to be essential in Japan, I have never been served an okonomiyaki without them, but for us they are optional here at home. We don’t buy BBQ sauce and only very rarely have mayonnaise, so we’ve got used to our own version of okonomiyaki inspired cabbage pancake. I did once try adding some Worcestershire sauce to some of our reduced tomato salsa, but it wasn’t the same. Presumably because we didn’t add enough salt, sugar and MSG!
I’m pretty sure that anyone who had lived in Japan for any length of time and was used to okonomiyaki just wouldn’t recognise what we cook as okonomiyaki. It doesn’t matter. To us, it’s just a great way to eat cabbage.
The second way of using a lot of cabbage is in a fresh red cabbage salad. Something that we picked up in the SE Asian restaurants of Cabramatta. The base of the salad is finely shredded cabbage, with other salad green leaves torn and tossed in as available in the season. There is no real recipe, just a fresh idea. I know that both of these aren’t really recipes, more like serving suggestions, but you can imagine.
Shred lots of fresh cabbage. It doesn’t have to be red cabbage, Chinese cabbage or Savoy works just as well. Add whatever other green salad leaves that you have growing in the garden, Lettuce, Mizuma, rocket, radicchio, red mustard leaves, etc.
Add some finely sliced Shallot or any other mild onion and some intensely flavoursome Shiso leaves. The green variety seem to have more essential oils than the red and is more aromatic, but the red one looks so terrific in the mix, especially if you are using green cabbage. Next add in plenty of very finely shredded mint leaves and some grated ginger.
The whole lot is tossed to mix it all up and is seasoned with a sprinkling of white wine vinegar. This gives it a very lively hit when it combines with the shredded ginger and finely chopped mint.
We pick the leaves in the morning and after washing them we put them in the fridge for an hour or two until lunchtime. It makes a cool, crunchy, fresh salad with lots of zing. It’s so good that we have to have seconds.
The other thing that the walrus said was about yellow-matter custard, but he didn’t give a recipe either.
Only a serving suggestion.
Goo Goo Ga-Choo!
fond regards
from the King and her Walrus