Batter up: savory pancakes inspire kitchen creativity


I had left Mom and the McGill University cafeteria behind circa 1973, and faced the prospect of feeding myself for the first time. Our apartment full of broke student hippies looked for cheap meal solutions that were adaptable, given the presence of the first vegetarian I had encountered in my life.

We found supper inspiration in the seminal natural foods guide, The Tassajara Cookbook (Shambhala) by Zen monk Edward Espe Brown. Expecting an exact formula, the recipe for Japanese pancakes (okonomiyaki) was artfully inexact. It called for adding various finely chopped vegetables, but the number and quantity and spicing was suggestive and inexact. I liked to sprinkle the top with shredded cheese before flipping the pancake for a hint of grilled cheese. It dawned on me that I could put just about anything in them. It got me thinking I could go outside the box that enclosed every recipe.

When it came to a topping, some roommates went with soy sauce, others opted for the potato latke look with sour cream and applesauce. I topped my cakes with traditional butter and maple syrup, which went surprisingly well with the onion, garlic and potatoes in the pancakes.

Throw whatever veggies you have lying around into savory pancake batter.
Throw whatever veggies you have lying around into savory pancake batter.

When I made vegetable pancakes again recently, I was inspired by the Indian pancakes (uthappam) I’d tasted at Masala restaurant in Aurora. Improvisation led me to combine pancake mix and cornbread mix in a bowl with two eggs and some olive oil. I shredded some of every vegetable I had in the house: carrot, potato, cabbage, yellow onion, garlic, sweet potato, serrano chile and canned corn. I seasoned with ground black pepper, red pepper flakes, random spices and diverse dry green herbs. I added milk to get the right batter consistency, but coconut milk also works well and adds to the flavor.

Cooking the vegetable pancakes in a skillet with a generous amount of olive oil, I topped one with a layer of roasted, unsalted peanuts. Over the years I’ve been known to add crumbled bacon or smoked brisket, often crowned with poached eggs. I haven’t used these dense savory cakes as a bun for a medium rare bacon cheeseburger, at least not yet.

Local food news update
Chef Ian Clark of BRU handbuilt ales & eats will open Heifer and the Hen, a new artisan ice cream shop, at 5290 Arapahoe Ave., Boulder, in April. Flavors will range from Vietnamese Coffee to Mango Lassi. … BlueBox Doughnuts, an independent bakery, opened recently at 459 S. McCaslin Blvd. in Louisville. … Crust lovers! Humble Pie has reopened at 3550 E. Colfax Ave. in Denver, serving a full line of fruit and nut pies, quiches, Bubbie’s Chicken Pot Pie and an amazing pastry-wrapped meatball. … Denver’s Linger restaurant now offers steamed cricket-and-cheese rellenos with cotija, queso fresco and cream cheeses with a crunchy fried cricket garnish. Linger orders free-range crickets from Rocky Mountain Micro Ranch, where the “livestock” is finished on a happy diet of organic vegetable scraps and spent brewery grain. … Artisan bitters maker DRAM Apothecary in Silver Plume has introduced DRAM Switchel, a concentrated elixir created from honey, organic apple cider vinegar, ginger and cinnamon. Add a tablespoon of this traditional switchel to a cup of warm water or glass of chilled sparkling water for a nifty refresher, or use as an ingredient in cocktails, marinades and salad dressings.

Whither Wild Oats?
You remember Wild Oats Markets, right?To recap, in the beginning of Boulder’s natural foods lineage there were small, natural food grocers including Green Mountain Grainery, Arati Grocery and New Age Foods. Those businesses begat the Pearl Street Market, which moved and became Alfalfa’s Market, which then became a chain. Crystal Market opened and morphed into the Wild Oats Market chain which swallowed Alfalfa’s, and was itself digested by Whole Foods Market. Later, Sunflower Market was absorbed by Sprouts Farmers Market and Colorado-born Vitamin Cottage mutated into Natural Grocers while Lucky’s Market grew and grew into a national chain. That’s the abridged version.

Alfalfa’s Market was eventually reborn and now has stores in Boulder and Louisville. The other day I discovered that Wild Oats had returned, too, although in a highly ironic sense only. Walmart picked up the rights to the Wild Oats name and now uses it as a house organic brand on cereal and other food products.

Culinary calendar
Haystack Goat Cheese hosts its inaugural Open Creamery social hour, tour and cheese tasting 3-6 p.m. Friday at the new creamery, 505 Weaver Park Road in Longmont. … The Boulder International Film Festival’s CineChef event March 4 at Boulder’s Rembrandt Yard boasts fare from major local chefs including Jen Bush, Jessica Emich, Bradford Heap, Mark Monette, Hosea Rosenberg and Alec Schuler. The tasting is followed by a screening of the film City of Gold, a documentary about an endangered species: the professional dining critic.

Taste of the week
Let us contemplate the glory that is grilled, toasted or flambe cheese. Is there anything better? I have my doubts after tasting the great fried cheese taco at Verde, 3070 28th St. in Boulder, the brick-and-mortar location for the popular Verde food truck. They sizzle a flour tortilla completely covered and then some with grated Mexican cheeses on a hot griddle where the fromage browns, crisps and melts before the addition of good guacamole, pico de gallo and salsa. The taco went well with the chile-infused black beans topped with crumbled cotija cheese. Also on the menu: Sonoran hot dog sliders and a long tequila list.

John Lehndorff

Words to chew on
“Is food the enemy?
Giving a dinner party has become
an ordeal. I lie awake the night
before figuring how to produce
a feast that is vegan, gluten free,
macrobiotic, avoiding all acidic
fruit and tomatoes, wine, all nuts,
low carb and still edible.”
— From the poem “Let’s Meet in a Restaurant” by Marge Piercy.

Tune in 8:30-9:30 a.m. today (March 3) when John Lehndorff hosts a special extended Radio Nibbles during the spring membership drive on KGNU (88.5 FM, 1390 FM, streaming at Call-in with culinary and dining questions at 303-449-4885.Comments or quibbles? E-mail