Takoyaki In My Heart

A VEGETARIAN TAKOYAKI RECIPE


Recently my mum and my sister came over to visit while my housemate was away in Cairns, and we had a late lunch. I decided on a Japanese theme for the meal, as mum and Naomi love their Japanese food and I had just bought myself a dutch pancake cast iron pan with deep grooves, so they were just right for takoyaki, as they made perfect spheres. I first had takoyaki when I visited Japan in 2010, and I loved it so much that I ate it whenever I could. I decided to make it again when my friend David came down for the long weekend. 




Takoyaki, traditionally, are soft and gooey balls of dough containing crunchy tempura bits, pickled ginger and spring onion, and a piece of octopus, then topped with takoyaki sauce, kewpie mayonnaise, aonori and bonito flakes. I had been apprehensive about eating octopus for the first time, but once you get past the rubbery texture, your tastebuds are on cloud nine. At least that was how it went for me. Ever since I became vegetarian I've been missing and craving takoyaki for so long, and I could not find a place anywhere in Melbourne that made a vegetarian one. It was made worse when I went back to Japan this year and could not even have a single piece. 

And thus spurred on the decision to finally buy the pan and make the damn things for myself, using mushroom instead of octopus.

My first try turned out a bit too firm and dry something that was meant to be pillowy yet gooey. I put it down to having the heat on a bit too low and taking too long to cook the balls, so I upped the heat and tried again. A bit better, but still a little bit firm. I remembered that I had added about 2-4 more tablespoons of flour to the batter because I thought it looked a bit too runny, so the next day I tried it again, sticking to the original recipe. Perfect. It was just perfect. I did a victory dance in the kitchen as soon as I had my first bite. 

You can also attempt this with an electric cake pop maker, but I like keeping as close to tradition as I can. You can divide or multiply this recipe, but depending on how many balls your tool of choice makes, each batch takes about 10 minutes to cook. I used vegetarian "chicken" stock, but a more authentic version would be to use kombu dashi, where you simmer a sheet of kombu in a pot of water for some time.

It is better to have everything prepared prior to cooking, in little bowls next to your stove so that you can throw them in straight away. If you're using a cake pop maker, you'll have to make one half each ball, remove them from the pan, add more batter to the pan and then return the cooked ones to the pan to sandwich them together. It takes much more effort this way. Also, if you want a more authentic Japanese flavour and texture, use shiitake mushrooms instead of white mushrooms.


I use Tonkatsu Sauce instead of Takoyaki sauce, as it contains Worcestershire sauce, which isn't vegetarian. It is definitely possible to make a sauce for Takoyaki, but I have yet to find a recipe that had the flavour just right. This Tonkatsu sauce is very similar in flavour and texture to the Takoyaki one, and I also use it for okonomiyaki. As you can see, there are red pickled ginger and aonori (I use this in place of bonito flakes). On the far right there is the Kewpie mayonnaise, which really cannot be replaced by any other kinds of mayonnaise.


This recipe produces 28 balls. 

Ingredients:
Batter:
1 cup plain flour, sifted
2 eggs, beaten
2 cups stock

Fillings:
7 white button mushrooms, stems discarded and quartered crosswise
2 spring onions, sliced thinly
Crunchy tempura bits, made by frying up a batter of water and rice flour and/or corn flour
1 tbsp pickled ginger, finely diced

Toppings:
Aonori
Kewpie mayonnaise
Takoyaki, tonkatsu or okonomiyaki sauce (they're all very, very similar)

Directions:
1. In a mixing bowl, add the flour and make a well in the centre. Add water gradually, whisking from the inside out so that the flour falls into the batter as the liquid collects it in sheets. This ensures a lump-free batter. Whisk in the eggs. Pour some of the batter into a jug so you can pour it into the pan with ease.
2. Preheat the cast iron pan (or electric cake pop maker) on medium-high heat and generously coat the wells with some vegetable oil. Using a pastry brush or paper towel is the best method, but I got lazy and used oil from a spray can.
3. Pour the batter into each well until it fills up to the brim. It's okay if it overflows, because it all works out in the end. Wait until you see a faint border of cooked batter around the edge, and then start adding the fillings. One piece of mushroom per ball, and sprinkle the other fillings all over the pan. 
4. When the edges become more prominent, using a two pronged pick or a skewer, flip the balls around 90 degrees, and ram in everything that may have overflowed. Pour some more batter into the holes.
5. Keep turning the balls until they've achieved a uniform golden brown colour, then remove them from the pan and onto a plate. Top with the takoyaki sauce, then the mayonnaise and then with aonori.






I've had vegetarian takoyaki two days in a row, yet my mouth positively salivates at the sight of these gorgeous looking balls of delicious goodness. *drools*

I wish I had my pan here at Mum's house so I could make some for a snack. It's been a long and cold day standing in the chilly breeze watching Deaf Football Grand Final and catching up with some friends. Takoyaki is really the best way to warm up on a cold wintry day as the hearty flavours dance on your tastebuds and makes your stomach sing in happiness.

Now, excuse me while I go and wipe the drool off my chin. Until next time, folks!

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