Murasaki Okonomiyaki (a purple pancake)

Despite becoming somewhat disillusioned with one most illustrious of Japanese street foods, the okonomiyaki, my taste for it increased as I journeyed through the Kansai region and encountered quite a few more versions, including “Hiroshima yaki” (which literally means “grilled Hiroshima”, and although amusing, as an American I felt it unwise to comment).

However, the use of white flour, the main ingredient in the batter of one of these savory pancakes, strikes me as an unnecessary evil, a pain in the gut I could do without.  Besides, why not turn a taste craving into an opportunity for dietary enhancement?  Not to mention make a few advancements in the field of gluten-free cookery.

Thus I have spent several hours over the past 2 weeks in pursuit of a savory pancake batter based on a healthy, unrefined, preferably glutenless grain, which could be used in the same fashion as a traditional okonomiyaki batter.  After many abortive attempts involving pure rice pancakes that wouldn’t stick and oat flour pancakes that wouldn’t flip, I am pleased to report that I’ve invented a whole-grain, multi-grain batter that performs perfectly for okonomiyaki, tastes wonderful, and…

It’s purple.


My long-winded recipe for making Murasaki Okonomiyaki . . .

Ingredients for the batter:

  • 1/2 cup black rice (aka forbidden rice)
  • 1/2 cup red rice
  • 1/4 cup flax seeds (whole)
  • 2-3 Tb sesame seeds, finely ground
  • 1/4 Tb nice salt (e.g. himalayan, celtic, etc)

For the filling:

  • 1 egg
  • leafy greens of any kind
  • ginger, pickled or fresh (pickled is very authentic-tasting)
  • anything else you like!  Japanese are fond of having bits of squid in theirs.

(WARNING: You need to start at least 12 hours in advance, because the first step is to soak the rice for that long.)

In a large sealable container of some kind, put all of the rice.  There should be enough room in this container for the rice to fill only halfway, because the next thing you need to do is add water to the rice in this container until it is nearly full.  Give it a good stir, and then leave it to soak for at least 12 hours.

Has it been soaking a good long time?  The water atop the rice should now be a dark misty purple, and the rice grains themselves should appear to take up much more volume in the container — they’ve soaked up quite a bit of water.

Hold a sieve over the sink and pour the water and rice out into it.  Casually rinse the rice and then dump it back into the container.  Fill the container with water again, quite a bit less than last time — most likely about 1.5 cups, though I can’t really say exactly.

Put the rice and water into a high-speed blender.  (I use a Vitamix and you should too!)  Blend it all up to a fine paste with a viscosity about the same as crepe batter.  If it seems too thick, just add more water.  Transfer this mixture back into the container.

Next, stir in the flax seeds.

Now the mixture needs to rest at least 20 minutes, because the flax seeds are going to take up water and then put out a sticky substance — this is what will hold the pancake together.

When you next see the mixture, you’ll have to make a judgement call about the thickness of the batter.  It should have thickened from “crepe batter” to “pancake batter”, or somewhere in between.  This is what the ground sesame seeds are for — to add dry bulk if needed.  You could also add ground flax seeds, or ground buckwheat, or maybe oat flour.  I like sesame seeds for the calcium and iron content, and because they don’t have gluey proteins (like oats) or volatile oils (like flax) that might chemically change the operational characteristics of the pancakes.

Take a look at the pictures to get a sense of how the batter ought to look.

Now you are ready to cook.  Take the nonstickiest pan you can find (I’m using a teflex frying pan) and put the droppiest drop of oil in there.  Sesame oil and peanut oil are both good choices for taste and for withstanding heat.  Trust me, you won’t need much of it, and if you use too much, you’ll end up with more of a crispy deep-fried-rice thing rather than a healthy spongey pancake.

Turn the stove to a LOW heat — not super low, but pretty low — and let the pan warm for about a minute.  Then, depending on the size of the pancake you want, spread the batter into the pan to about a 1/4-inch thickness.

A word about thickness: you will see for yourself what happens when the batter is spread either too thin or too thick.  Unlike traditional okonomiyaki, you can’t really get away with a super-thin batter — it’ll fall apart.  And if too thick, it’ll be pretty hard to flip, and it won’t ever achieve a chewy pancake consistency, having lots of goo in the center.  But maybe you like goo, I don’t know!  Just saying.

As the batter sets, start filling in whatever fillings you want.  This is “as you like it” after all!  The okonomiyaki in my pictures is filled with rainbow chard, green onions, and a few shreds of pickled ginger, all chopped coarsely.

Next, crack an egg into the middle of all of this.  I tend to just use the whites and save the egg yolk for later. Mmm, raw egg yolk.  But traditionally, you would put the yolk in, too.  Drag the egg around so that it covers all of the veggies.

Let the veggies set into the egg — about 2-3 minutes worth of cooking.

Now you need to seal the topside of the okonomiyaki by dropping globs of batter all over it.  Try to achieve the same 1/4-inch thickness.  Take a look at the picture in the collage to see what it should look like.

When you are satisfied with the batter coverage, and when the bottom layer comes away from the pan quite easily (it should be nearly crispy), take a wide spatula and FLIP that bitch.

With the right proportions of batter, the flipping shouldn’t be a problem.  Should you find it too heavy and seeming like it’s going to bust apart if you lift it, a good trick is to find another frying pan and then dump it from one pan to the other.  Then resolve for next time not to use so much batter!

On the other side it’ll need at least 6 to 8 minutes to cook.  The insides will get all soft and mushy, held together by the egg.

That’s it — now you have a very savory, possibly purple pancake, suitable for covering with okonomi sauce and mayonnaise just like they do it in Japan.

Extra credit if you have bonito flakes and aonori to top it with!  I used kim chee, hijiki, and more green onions, with my reserved egg yolk on the side.


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