Friday, August 26, 2016

Foraged purslane Okonomiyaki. Japanese "pizza" from invasive weeds. Vegetarian optional.

The rain finally came to Texas, and broke the breeze-less 100+ degree heat. With that kind of weather, I hadn't been seeing many edible wild plants, except for heat-loving purslane. Even purslane needs water though, and the plants were wilted, shrunken, and unappetizing.

All that changed with the rain. The purslane fleshed out, becoming plump and succulent. As I've mentioned before, up north I always found purslane in really gross locations--like the parking lot behind and auto repair shop. I never found "clean" plants in great abundance, not enough to run real culinary experiments with.

So I was really excited to finally have enough purslane to try some new dishes. This is my first one: an okonomiyaki, a Japanese street food. Okonomiyaki is sometimes called "Japanese Pizza" because, like pizza in America, it's a popular snack and quick meal food which can be customized with a wide variety of toppings.
My vegetarian okonomiyaki, with king oyster mushrooms

"Normal" okonomiyaki is made from cabbage, and uses a special flour, which has been thickened with rice or yam. It also contains seasonings, including dashi (made from fermented fish). I've never actually used that flour, I've just experimented with changing proportions to get the right thickness, and with spices commonly found in an American home.

Okonomiyaki can be made for any meal, or even just a snack. Traditional, non-vegitarian toppings include bonito, shrimp and pork belly. The most traditional vegetarian topping is nori (dried seaweed), but you can also use tofu or mushrooms. I love nori, but didn't have any. I used king oyster mushrooms, thinly sliced, for my veggie option.

Don't forget your special okonomiyaki sauce! A dish this popular needs it's own special sauce: a mix of sweet and savory, salty and sour and with a generous helping of umami.  Otafuku is the most famous brand, it's a secret mix of fruits and veggies, sugars, vinegars, soy, fish sauce, mushrooms and more. The fish and shellfish makes it non-vegetarian, but the internet is full of make-your-own vegetarian options.

Mayonaise, specifically sweet-tangy kewpie mayo, is another traditional topping.

Non-veg oknomiyaki, with pork belly

Ok so back to my foraged dish. Okonomiyaki uses cabbage. It's a veggie that holds its form, even when cooked. Purslane is the same way, so I figured it would be a good substitute.

Truth is, I didn't know HOW good it would be! Purslane as a slightly sour note from oxalic acid, the soy sauce in the batter is salty, and the fried is fried. What do you get when you mix the tastes of sour, salty and fried?

A salt and vinegar potato chip.

Yes, these purslane okonomiyaki, especially at the very fried edges, have a taste that reminds me of salt and vinegar potato chips. And I LOVE salt and vinegar potato chips.

This is the consistency you want for your batter

Okonomiyaki with purslane

Serves 4-5 as a main course 

4 cups purslane stems and leaves. Rinsed and completely dried
2.5 cups all purpose flour
2 eggs
3/4 cup water, warmed
2 tbs. soy sauce
1 tbs. salt
1 tsp. sugar
1 lb. toppings: pork belly, mushrooms, etc. sliced very thinly.

Purslane has more water than cabbage, so make your okonomiyaki thinner, so it cooks all the way through
  1. Chop your purslane. I did a mix of very fine and rough chopping. I was hoping that the very fine would add some of it's thickening element to the okonomiyaki, but I don't think it did, so you would probably be fine with just a rough chop
  2. Mix your eggs, flour, water, salt and soy together. The batter should be on the thick side, if it's too thin, add more flour. 
  3. Heat veggie oil in a non-stick pan over medium/medium-high heat. I used "6" out of 10, but you might want it hotter if you are using a small burner.
  4. Mix your purslane into the batter. 
  5. Ladle generous dollops of batter into the oil, and spread slightly to thin. It should be an even thickness of about 1/2 - 3/4 of an inch. The overall size should be easy enough for you to flip.
  6. Place your thinly sliced toppings on the okonomiyaki and press into the batter slightly. 
  7. After about 5-7 minutes, check that your okonomiyaki is about half-way cooked through, and nicely golden brown on the bottom.
  8. Flip your okonomiyaki. Continue frying for another 5-7 minutes, or until fully cooked through. 
  9. Enjoy with okonomiyaki sauce, Japanese mayo, and any other seasonings you like!


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