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COLUMN from CRYSTAL SMITH: This Installment / Okonomiyaki (Japanese Pizza) and July 4th

By Crystal Smith

July 9, 2012. We had a party to celebrate July 4th on Wednesday. We celebrated with old friends and new ones. We had guests from the US, Germany, Uruguay, Argentina, Colombia, France and even a Brit. I wanted to share pictures with you, but sometimes I forget to take pictures when I’m having loads of fun. I remembered around 2 a.m. that I needed to take pictures and when I went to do so, realized my camera battery was dead. At first this bummed me out a bit, but I know that it’s a blessing to have friends that are so cool that I’m completely and utterly in the moment for hours before realizing that I need to capture it in some kind of permanent way. Sorry I have no pictures of our Argentinian July 4th celebration. I’ll at least give you the scoop on the food. 

The guys were in charge of all things grilled. That means hamburgers, veggie burgers, hot dogs and sausages. I made some mac and cheese and this potato salad. My German friend Yvonne made some spiced wine and her Uruguayan boyfriend, inspired by a newspaper article about Southern cooking, made a homemade sweet potato pie! Our French friend brought brownies and a fellow English teacher brought a great salad. I also made some popcorn for people to snack on while the rest of the food was cooking. It’s amazing how fast popcorn goes while people are standing around the kitchen chatting. I know it’s a cliché, but the kitchen is always the preferred gathering spot, and I just love that.

As we waited on the grill masters, we plopped down on the ground in my entrance way (even though we have a lovely couch) and chatted about all sorts of things. For example, did you know that the number of continents in the world depends on where you’re standing!? Let me explain, for most people in Latin America, the Americas are considered one continent. Ask a person from the US how many continents there are and he or she will usually say seven. Most Latin Americans will say six. Ask my Colombian friend David, and you’re down to five. There’s no right answer here, it just depends on how you decide to break it up and where you went to school. Even so, it was discussed and debated for quite a while and of course, the all-knowing Google was consulted and proved that everyone was right.

That led to another interesting discussion about the word American and all that it implies. From there we moved on to lighter topics and even had a British accent contest that was judged by our British friend Ed. You’ll be ‘appy to know that I won and the night ended on a very happy note. For me it was a perfect gathering. I love a respectful discussion of opposing opinions. Add some good food and drink plus lots of laughter and it makes for a really nice night.

Yesterday we polished off all the leftovers from the party and when I opened the fridge today to decide what to make for lunch, I realized that we didn’t have a lot to choose from. I saw one fourth of a head of cabbage, some leeks, a few eggs and lots of condiments. I racked my brain for something to make with this combination. I remembered a dish I hadn’t made in ages. It comes from one of my favorite blogs and you can find the original recipe here. Heidi calls it a Japanese pizza because you can top it with what you like, but it really reminds me of a Spanish omelet, especially the cooking process. 

I timed myself making this and without rushing it only took me 20 minutes from start to finish. By that I mean the okonomiyaki was on the plate with avocado, cilantro and red onion and ready to eat in 20 minutes. It took another five to throw together a quick salad. As I mentioned in my very first post, cooking is something I do several times a day. I can’t afford to spend lots of time on every meal and recipes like this make me happy. The next time you have a bit of cabbage left, try this out and then tell me what you like to top it with. Oh, and how many continents do you think there are?


Japanese Pizza (Okonomiyaki)

I’ve used both red and green cabbage for this dish and both work well. I use just a bit less flour than the original recipe calls for to keep it light and I don’t think it needs more, but feel free to consult the link above for the original measurements. In my opinion this only serves two when you add a salad, otherwise I can eat it quite happily by myself.

2 cups cabbage, very thinly sliced

1 cup leeks, washed and chopped

3 heaping tablespoons whole wheat pastry flour

a pinch or two of sea salt

2 eggs

1 tablespoon olive oil

**avocado, cilantro, red onion, lemon

Combine the cabbage, leeks, salt, and flour in a large bowl and mix until the vegetables are coated with flour. Add the eggs and mix everything well until it is all uniformly coated with the mixture. 

Heat a large skillet over medium heat and add the oil. Put the cabbage mixture in the pan and pat it down until it is very flat and uniform. Cook for about 3-4 minutes on each side. In order to flip the okonomiyaki, place a large plate on top of the skillet and turn it over into your hand, then slide the omelet back into the pan, press it down again with the spatula and continue cooking. Both sides should be golden brown.

Once you’ve finished cooking you can top it with anything you’d like. Heidi recommends chives and almonds. I love it topped with cubed avocado, cilantro, and a squirt of lemon juice.

Serves 1 – 2