There are certain cooking shows that I will watch, some of them because I am fascinated by the skill, of lack of it, on the part of professional cooks. Chopped is the obvious example. The format is simple and sophisticated and it works for me. The other show I watch fairly often is Come Dine with me. I used to watch the British version, although I’m not reduced to the Canadian one because I can’t seem to find the British one, possibly for copyright reasons. The Canadian show, even more so than the British version, is definitely cringe-worthy. The contestants tend to be drab and the production values low. I don’t know why it fascinates me, except that it’s a – heavily edited – glimpse into people’s houses, lifestyles, and strange thought processes, not to mention their pretensions and social foibles.
One thing that tends to stun me on Come Dine with me is how often the contestants will make the inexplicable choice to cook something for the first time for a dinner party with people they don’t know…and agree to being filmed doing it. I mean…what? True, I am deeply neurotic in many ways so perhaps my approach to guests and cooking is not common, but I would never. Ever. Cook an elaborate dish for guests who aren’t immediate family or close friends, especially while appearing on a reality tv show with a snarky voice-over. I’d go with the tried and true, no question. Perhaps I am just exceptionally sensitive to public shaming, but really. I always have to shake my head, when the contestants admit, “This is the first time I’ve ever made this!”
In real life, however, and when you don’t have a table full of strangers as dinner guests or a sarcastic commentator narrating your every goofy move, cooking something for the first time is kind of a magic moment for a cook. When it works, it’s entrancing. It tastes better than anything you’ve ever eaten before. It can feel like alchemy, making something out of nothing or even out of a pile of unrelated ingredients on your counter.
Recently, I made cabbage pancakes, otherwise known as okonomiyaki if you’re sure you’re using authentic ingredients and techniques, which I suspect I am not. Like my recent experience with deep-fried zucchini flowers, this was one of those “why have I never made this before?” moments. Just delicious. I’ll make them again. Soon.
The beauty of okonomiyaki is that they use up a lot of cabbage in a very yummy way. Right now, cabbage is appearing in farmers’ markets and, by November or so, it will be one of the few local foods still available to use in most parts of Canada (shush, BC). Also, cabbage is very cheap. This is an extremely economical meal, and while I must admit I spend far more than I should on food and booze each week, I have fits of frugality where I avoid the organic meat purveyors and buy things like a five-pound bag of sweet potatoes and a cabbage as large as my unusually sizeable noggin.
Make your own mayo, which is shockingly easy – and get your fork.
4 – 5 cups of chopped cabbage*
1 clove of garlic, crushed and finely chopped
3 scallions, finely chopped
2 large eggs
2 tbsps soy sauce
dash of sesame oil (a light one!)
1/2 cup water
pinch of salt
3/4 cup flour
oil for frying
Mix the chopped cabbage together with the garlic and scallions. *A note about the cabbage: the first night I made this, I thought the cabbage was a bit chunky, so the second time, I grated it very finely. Big mistake. Somewhere between chunky and grated is what you want. If you chop or grate the cabbage too finely, it releases its juices and your okonomiyaki will be flabby pancakes.
In a smaller bowl, beat the eggs with the soy sauce, sesame oil, and 1/2 cup water, and salt. Beat lightly. Mix in flour and beat until the chunks are gone. Add to the cabbage-onion mixture and stir until all the chunks are well coated.
Heat oil in a large frying pan or griddle and fry spoonfuls of the mixture for a few minutes on each side, so they are golden brown. Serve with…
2 egg yolks
2 tbsps lemon juice
pinch of salt
Sriracha to taste
3/4 cup canola oil (very approximately)
Using a hand blender, beat egg yolks with lemon juice, sriracha, and salt until foamy. Pour in canola oil very slowly as you continue to beat the yolks. The mixture will get thicker and thicker; taste as you go, until you can’t taste the oil and the mixture is fully emulsified. Add further sriracha if you like it spicier.
To serve the okonomiyaki, arrange over rice, drizzle with spicy mayo, and sprinkle chopped cilantro on top.