The Vegetable-Packed, Endlessly Versatile Recipe That Feeds My Family of Five

published May 30, 2023
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Cabbage and Kimchi Okonomiyaki Recipe

A recipe for cabbage and kimchi okonomiyaki from Hetty Lui McKinnon’s cookbook, “Tenderheart”.

Makes4 (6-inch) pancakes

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Overhead photo of Cabbage and Kimchi Okonomiyaki
Credit: Hetty Lui McKinnon

They say necessity is the mother of invention. But often, desperation plays a part, too. The year that we all want to forget, 2020, was confronting in many ways, but for me, like for many home cooks, it came with the pressure and shock of having to cook three meals a day for a family of five. The sheer amount of ingredients that this task requires is astounding, but when faced with empty supermarket aisles and scarce supermarket delivery slots, the panic becomes real. I realized very early on that I had to get smarter with my shopping and my cooking. I had to choose ingredients that were adaptable and vegetables that could be rationed over several meals, had a long fridge pantry life, and could be used in many ways. I turned to cabbage and kimchi.

Cabbage became my pandemic pantry hero, and remains so post-lockdown. It is both endlessly adaptable and surprisingly generous. I worked out that I could fashion at least three or maybe even four meals from one large cabbage. I would use half for an abundant stir-fried noodle dish or sliced into wedges to braise with lentils or chickpeas, and then the other half would be split again, a portion used to make a raw cabbage salad and the rest for okonomiyaki. 

A Comforting, Family-Friendly Recipe That’s Flexible

Okonomiyaki is a savory pancake from Japan and while its construction varies from region to region, it is regarded as the ultimate adaptable dish — in Japanese, okonomi means “how you like it” or “what you like” and yaki means “grill.” My recipe, conceived during lockdown, features the untraditional addition of kimchi, an ingredient which I relied on heavily during this time to add fast flavor to dishes. It’s perfect in this okonomiyaki, adding a salty tang with a hint of spice that awakens the palate. There are many varieties of kimchi on the market, but for the best texture, opt for a napa cabbage kimchi (and a vegan one if you are plant-based like me) which combines seamlessly with the shredded cabbage. 

The best thing about getting to know an okonomiyaki recipe well is that it opens the door to a world of culinary possibilities. As its Japanese name suggests, you can make it your own by using the leftover vegetables stranded in your fridge drawer. Coarsely chopped broccoli or cauliflower, shaved Brussels sprouts, grated carrots or zucchini, even thawed frozen peas can be incorporated into the batter. 

While this dish was born from economy and practicality, it is still indulgent and comforting. In our post lockdown world, this is exactly the type of unfussy and delicious vegetable-forward meal I want to cook for my family. Most of all, this dish is a reminder of human resilience and joy that can be found in simplicity.

Cabbage and Kimchi Okonomiyaki Recipe

A recipe for cabbage and kimchi okonomiyaki from Hetty Lui McKinnon’s cookbook, “Tenderheart”.

Makes 4 (6-inch) pancakes

Nutritional Info


Vegan dashi:

  • 5

    6-inch (12.5 cm × 15 cm) sheet of dried kombu (10 g)

  • 4

    dried shiitake mushrooms

  • 5 1/4 cups

    (1.25 liters) filtered water


  • 1 cup

    minus 1 tablespoon (150 g) rice flour, or 1 1/4 cups (150 g) all-purpose flour

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    baking powder

  • Sea salt and white pepper

  • 1/2 teaspoon


  • 3

    large eggs, lightly beaten

  • 3/4 cup

    (180 ml) Vegan Dashi or vegetable stock

  • 1 tablespoon

    white (shiro) miso

  • 1 cup

    (200 g) regular or vegan kimchi, drained and chopped

  • 1/2 small head

    green or savoy cabbage (about 14 oz/400 g), finely chopped

  • 2

    green onions, finely sliced, plus extra to serve

  • Neutral oil

  • Kewpie mayonnaise or regular good-quality mayonnaise, to serve

  • Handful of toasted white sesame seeds, to serve

Gochujang ketchup:

  • 1/4 cup

    (60 ml) ketchup

  • 4 teaspoons

    soy sauce or tamari

  • 1 teaspoon

    toasted sesame oil

  • 4 teaspoons

    gluten-free gochujang


  1. To make the vegan dashi, place the kombu, shiitake mushrooms and filtered water in a saucepan and set over medium-low heat until it reaches a very low simmer, without boiling. This should take about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and remove the kombu and shiitake.

  2. The kombu and shiitake can be reused to make one more batch of dashi. Dashi can be cooled and stored in the fridge for up to 1 week or frozen for up to 3 months.

  3. To make the gochujang ketchup, whisk together all the ingredients with 2 1/2 tablespoons of water in a bowl. Set aside.

  4. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon of sea salt and the sugar to combine. Add the egg, dashi or vegetable stock and miso and stir to form a batter. Add the kimchi, cabbage and green onion and fold everything together until well combined.

  5. Heat a medium skillet over medium heat. Add a drizzle of oil and spoon one-quarter of the batter into the pan, using a spatula to shape the pancake into a neat round. Reduce the heat to medium low, then cover and cook for 4–5 minutes, until the underside is golden, lowering the heat as necessary if the okonomiyaki threatens to burn. Lift the lid and flip the pancake with a wide spatula. If parts of the pancake fall off during the flip, simply tuck them back in to reassemble the round. If the pan is dry, add a little more oil and swirl it under the pancake. Cover and cook for another 4–5 minutes, until both sides are golden. Repeat with the rest of the batter.

  6. Place a pancake on a serving plate and season with sea salt and white pepper. Drizzle with some of the gochujang ketchup, squeeze or spoon over some mayonnaise, sprinkle with the sesame seeds and scatter with green onion.

Recipe Notes

Veganize: replace the eggs with flax eggs

Vegetable swap: cabbage – carrots, Brussels sprouts

Reprinted with permission from Tenderheart: A Cookbook About Vegetables and Unbreakable Family Bonds © 2023 by Hetty Lui McKinnon. Excerpted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.