When chefs Sawa Okochi and Aaron Israel met, they immediately began cooking for one another. Over time, the two married, literally, joining their cultural and culinary heritages. The result is reflected on the menu at Shalom Japan, their restaurant in Williamsburg, New York.
Cooking together, they were surprised to discover many similarities between the seemingly disparate ingredients and styles of Japanese and Jewish cuisine. Popular Japanese specialties like okonomiyaki recalled the all-too familiar Jewish latkes that Chef Aaron had grown up with.
In Japanese, okonomi translates to mean “as you like it.” Okonomiyaki is a popular Japanese street food, kind of like a savory pancake to which you add your preferred ingredients. For Hannukah, Chef Sawa Okochi adds potato to her batter to make it more latke-like, topping her Okonomi-Latkes with ikura (salmon roe) to make them more festive, but any caviar will do!
Batter Ingredients—yields 1 qt batter, 2 qts mix
2 cups all-purpose flour
½ cup Mochiko rice flour
1½ tbsp salt
1 tsp sugar
¼ tsp baking soda
2 1/3 cup cold dashi
1 qt green cabbage, julienned to ¼” thickness and packed tightly
1 qt bean sprouts, green caps picked
1 qt russet potatoes (approx 3–4 large potatoes), grated and blanched
1 onion, cut ¼” slices (about 2 cups)
Canola or vegetable oil to fry
1 bunch of scallion, sliced thinly
1 lemon for squeezing
Ikura (salmon roe) or any other caviar—as much as you like!
For the Okonomi-Latke batter: In a medium size bowl, whisk together the all-purpose flour, rice flour, salt, sugar and baking soda. Add the cold dashi and whisk to mix. Do not over-mix, or it will develop gluten. It should be a smooth pancake batter consistency. The batter can be made ahead of time and stored in the refrigerator up to 2 days in advance.
Prepare the Okonomi-Latkes: Bring 4 qts of water to a boil and season with ¼ cup of salt. Peel the russet potatoes and grate along the coarse side of a box grater. Soak the potatoes in boiling water immediately after grating (otherwise the will oxidize) and cook for 2–3 minutes. Strain and spread them out on paper towels to dry well.
Next, slice the cabbage and onion and combine with the blanched potatoes, bean sprouts and batter. Mix the ingredients together using a rubber spatula, or wear rubber gloves and mix by hand. Set aside.
Heat a 6 or 8-inch non-stick pan or cast iron skillet on medium-high heat with 2–3 tablespoon of oil until it just begins to smoke. Slowly spoon the batter into the pan and flatten it with the back of your spoon until it’s about 1” thick or less. Reduce the heat to medium and allow to cook for 3–4 minutes, or until the edges begin to crisp. The center should be bubbling. Flip the Okonomi-Latke, add another tablespoon of oil and cook for another 3–4 minutes. Once the Okonomi-Latke has browned on the second side, remove from heat and transfer to a paper towel to absorb some of the oil.
Season the Okonomi-Latke lightly on both sides with a little salt and pepper. Cut into quarters and top with crème fraîche, ikura, scallions and a squeeze of lemon juice…or however you like it!