Why It Works
- The naga-imo root turns gluey when grated, perfect for making simple pancakes.
- The pancakes are very customizable, you can add any bits of meat or vegetables that are in your pantry.
- Swap potato or rice starch for the egg, omit the bacon, and change the cooking fat if you want a vegan pancake.
You may have seen these long, light-skinned, and hairy roots at your Japanese or Chinese markets and wondered about their relation to other kinds of tubers. Naga-imo is a kind of mountain yam, the tuberous root of a climbing vine. There are other mountain yams, such as icho-imo, yamamot-imo, tsukune-imo. Mountain yams take on a gluey, almost mucilaginous consistency when they're grated.
But, grating the mountain yam immediately transforms it from a fairly common-looking root vegetable into a pile of sloppy white goo. This fact alone makes naga-imo and other mountain yams distinct from tubers such as the potato or taro, not to mention the unique taste and texture.
Mildly sweet like jicama with a texture similar to taro, only less starchy, naga-imo is delicious pan-fried until the surface is browned and crisp and the interior is soft and tender. This is the way I usually eat naga-imo: after browning some bacon in the cast iron, I use the bacon fat to cook thin slices of naga-imo, and call it a day.
But sometimes I'm inclined to go a step further and take advantage of naga-imo's unique texture. Grated naga-imo is a common ingredient in Japanese dishes that require a binder such as okonomiyaki, a kind of pancake layered with cabbage and often pork belly. I don't often go through the rigmarole of making okonomiyaki by shredding cabbage, browning belly or bacon, sprinkling dashi flakes on top, and dousing the pancake with kewpie mayonnaise and okonomiyaki sauce, yet the idea of using grated naga-imo as a base for a pancake batter is simple enough to do any weeknight.
To prepare the batter, grate the naga-imo with a Microplane grater. You can use a bit of potato starch or rice flour if you want to keep it vegan, but mixing an egg with the grated naga-imo produces just the right consistency for dropping the batter by dollops into your pan. You can add anything you want: chopped bits of bacon, browned garlic and scallions, or sautéed vegetables. If you happen to have fresh herbs around, like basil, mint, cilantro, all the better.
The texture of the batter when it's cooked is something like the interior of a really tender latke, but with very little fuss. Serve with a bit of fine quality soy sauce and sesame oil, and you've got a naturally gluten-free pancake dish.
Finally, a warning: like taro, the skin of naga-imo causes mild itching on the skin, so use a pair of gloves when handling the root.
3 slices bacon, diced
For the Batter:
1 1/2 cups finely grated naga-imo or other mountain yam (see notes)
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 green onions, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons finely chopped herbs of your choice
To Make the Batter: Wearing gloves to protect the skin, peel away naga-imo's hairy skin. Using a Microplane grater, grate root into a bowl. Add the rest of the ingredients for the batter into the bowl. Stir to mix well. The batter will be thick and gluey.
Heat a well-seasoned cast iron skillet or non-stick pan over medium heat. Add diced bacon and brown, rendering its fat, until bacon is lightly browned. Remove bacon and set aside, keeping fat in the warmed pan.
Add bacon to batter. Drop batter by dollops into pan, making small pancakes about 3 inches in diameter. Cook pancakes until they are brown on one side, about 40 seconds, then flip and cook on the other side until browned. Serve with soy sauce and sesame oil for dipping, if desired.
The skin of naga-imo causes mild itching, so use a pair of gloves when handling the root.
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 10g||12%|
|Saturated Fat 3g||16%|
|Total Carbohydrate 13g||5%|
|Dietary Fiber 1g||2%|
|Total Sugars 1g|
|Vitamin C 3mg||16%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|