Japanese Pancakes with Bonito Flakes

When I lived in Japan, one of my favorite late-night snacks was Okonomiyaki. Okonomiyaki is a savory sort of pancake, filled with cabbage and topped with special Okonomi sauce, kewpie mayonnaise, and Bonito flakes. The pancake is fried in oil, which gives the edges a beautiful crunch. Meanwhile, the cabbage in the pancake gives it the fresh crunch that only cabbage can give. Okonomi sauce is a dark, rich, sweet, and salty sauce that, when mixed with mayo, balances to make a perfect sauce for the savory pancake. The bonito flakes are smoked tuna that has been dried all the way down to almost a wooden consistency. When shaved to paper thin pieces and sprinkled on top of the hot Okonomiyaki, the bonito flakes appear to be dancing on top. They also add a whole other depth of flavor.

wild nettles ramps spring foraging
Wild nettles (left) and ramps.

Occasionally I like to make Okonomiyaki for friends and family, but for the last few years I have been trying to come up with a way to incorporate some wild ingredients into the dish. What I came up with was using ramps and nettles in place of the cabbage. I don’t usually eat nettles whole—I prefer to use them in pasta or sauces like a chimichurri. I had gone out last week and spent the day picking nettles and ramps so I had a large bag of each in the fridge. If you sauté nettles in butter and squeeze a little lemon on them they taste like a more intense version of spinach. If you’ve ever wondered what the color green must taste like, try nettles.

The batch of nettle I picked was very young and only about a foot tall. I also…

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