Kabocha Okara Pan Cakes

Kabocha is Japanese pumpkin that looks like what we’d call squash back home, but tastes sweeter than any acorn or butternut squash I’ve ever had. I like it more than pumpkin, and ate so much last year I actually started to get a little kabocha fatigue. It is the ultimate lazy beggar food – it can all be cooked at once, nearly everything can be eaten, and it’s not very expensive (at least right now, while it’s in season). I bought 1/3 of a kabocha at our local JA store for 130 yen. Not bad considering they are selling them at Whole Foods in the US for $5 a pumpkin.

Kabocha pumpkin contains, to me, the taste of fall (or “autumn” if you’d rather), and tastes delicious steamed with the skin on, but it’s more versatile than that. A friend recently posted this cute little piece on what to do with kabocha. Timely, since I’d just recently made kabocha pan cakes.

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Old Shaky Hands Dane bravely tries to hold a forkful of kabocha cake still enough for a photo.

I’m taking care not to say “pancakes” here, but pan cakes. The former contains mostly sweet batter with pumpkin added in as an element of flavor, while the latter is heartier, more savory – containing mostly pumpkin, they are lightly shaped into patties and set onto a hot, oiled griddle, where they develop a crispy exterior while remaining soft and moist inside. These are not topped with whipped cream and effing chocolate chips – they’re too good for that. If you remember the Okara Burgers from a past post, the shape and texture is very similar

Kabocha Pan Cakes

I let these ones cook a little too long. Meh, still good.

Ingredients:

1/4 kabocha pumpkin
1/2 cup okara
3 tbs brown sugar
1/3 cup cornmeal (preferred, but can be hard to find), rice flour, or wheat flour
1 tbs baking powder
1/2 tsp clove
1 large egg
1/4 cup milk or soy milk
nutmeg, cinnamon, or allspice (optional)
canola or olive oil

Directions:

  1. Scrape out the inner membrane and seeds of the kabocha quarter. Place it in a pot and cover with enough water to steam (don’t worry if you can’t cover the whole pumpkin). Bring water to a boil and then lower to simmer. Cook until the pumpkin flesh is very soft and easy pierced with a spoon, like butter.. Drain the water, leaving the pumpkin in the pot with the flesh facing up.
  2. Combine okara, brown sugar, cornmeal or flour, baking powder, and clove in a bowl. If using other spices, add them in as well. Lightly whisk the dry ingredients together.
  3. With a spoon, scoop pumpkin in chunks into the dry ingredients. If you cooked it well enough, this should be very easy. Don’t worry if a bit of the skin gets in – consider it bonus color and fiber. Add the milk and egg and mash the ingredients together with fork or clean hands, until well mixed.
  4. Heat a large fry pan on medium heat, and add a bit of olive or canola oil to the pan to prevent burning.
  5. Shape the mixture into patties about 3 in/8 cm in diameter. Place in the pan, 3 or 4 at a time. and cover. They should sizzle but not sputter. Cook about 6-7 minutes, then flip over and allow to cook for 5 more minutes or until lightly browned on both sides.
  6. Serve immediately. Top with honey, yogurt, or cheese if desired.

The mixture will keep for several days in the refrigerator. Enjoy!

Okara Vegetarian Burgers

Even if you’re not vegetarian, this may be one of the best things you ever make.

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Riddle me this: There exists in Japan a food so cheap that vendors often give it away for free. It is nutritious, being high in both protein and fiber, as well as entirely vegan, yet it is more often fed to livestock than to humans. What is it?

It’s okara, the byproduct of soy milk/tofu production, of course. Any similarity to also-delicious okra is in name only; the latter is a green seedy vegetable, while the former is a soft white powdery pulp. If you live near a shop that specializes in tofu products, chances are they’ll give you okara for free, but you can also buy it at the supermarket for 40-89 yen per package. Fresh okara still contains quite a bit of moisture, so it’s best used within the week you buy it (I’ve frozen it before and it’s cooked into fishes fine, though the texture did change a little). You’ll find it near the tofu, usually in a small plastic bag.

Really, 82 yen is too much.

If you’ve never cooked with okara, I don’t blame you. Despite its nutritional content, most people find it bland on its own. As an ingredient, it’s a straight man – the Michael Bluth of soy products. Yet, like Michael, it does extremely well in an ensemble, and one of the best uses for okara is in vegetarian dishes where it can provide structure while allowing the flavors of the other ingredients to shine. This is a welcome change from, say, portobello mushroom or black-bean burgers.

We’ve made okara burgers twice this month. Dane can’t stop eating them. Once you’ve had one of these, you’ll never, ever be able to eat a Boca patty again without experiencing profound disappointment akin to “peeing into a Mr. Coffee and expecting Taster’s Choice,” as Ross Perot once said (okay, so it was Dana Carvey doing an impression of Perot, but that may be more authentic).

These burgers are not vegan, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be. I went to a vegan restaurant in Kyoto one time where I was served amazing deep-fried okara dumplings that were basically vegan chicken nuggets. If you so wish, you could make okara your vegan burger bitch. Let me know, okay?

Okara Vegetarian Burgers

(makes about 14 patties)

Ingredients:

300g fresh okara

200g firm tofu (if you use soft or silken, it’s still possible but the burgers may not hold together as well)

100g cooked, drained soybeans (or bean of your choice)

3 medium eggs

large handful of chopped scallions, maybe more

2 tbsp black pepper (yes, it’s a lot, and it’s important)

1 1/2 tsp garlic powder

1 tsp each oregano, basil, and/or thyme (whatever your taste)

large handful shredded cheese (optional)

breadcrumbs or crushed fu (optional)

Directions:

1. In a large mixing bowl, beat the eggs until smooth.

2. Add all other ingredients. Knead with clean, bare hands until mixture forms a thick, doughy paste.

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3. Chill the ingredients in the fridge for 30 minutes (optional step, but it helps the patties cohere better).

4. Remove the mixture from the fridge and shape into patties, as you would with hamburger meat.

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5. Cook in lightly oiled nonstick pan over medium-low heat, about 8-10 minutes per side (cook temperature and time could be wildly variable depending on whether you have a Fisher Price stover, like me, or a real one). The outside of the patty should be a lovely golden brown. The inside will still look fairly raw and soft. If you’re worried about the patties cooking through (you basket case!), make your patties slightly thinner and use a meat thermometer – the internal temperature should reach 60˚C/140˚F.

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“Piri-piri” is the sizzling sound in Japanese.

And, finish! Serve on buns or over salad greens, with plenty of mustard, balsamic vinegar, and olive oil. If you work out the cost for ingredients and gas for the stove, each burger ends up being about ¥25. Enjoy!

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*Yo, if you make these, let me know if you needed to adjust my measurements in any way. Peas and thank you.