When Maxence and I went to Japan last year, one of the items I was determined to hunt down and bring back was a bag of shiso seeds to grow my own.
Shiso (pronounced “she-so”) is the Japanese name for an annual herb called Perilla, which belongs to the mint family. Other aliases include beefsteak plant (which makes little sense, if you ask me) or Japanese basil. It is used in quite a few Asian cuisines, but I’ve mostly encountered it in Japanese dishes myself.
Shiso comes in green or purple leaves with a slightly prickly texture and pointy, jagged edges, and it has a unique and vibrant taste that I could describe as herbaceous and citrusy. Like most leafy herbs, I find it is best used raw, the leaves whole or chiffonaded.
The green variety produces more tender and more flavorful leaves than the purple variety, but the latter makes up for that with a potent dyeing action: it is what gives umeboshi its color.
We did find shiso seeds in a deserted gardening section on the very top floor of a Tokyo department store, and I planted them in a pot outside my bedroom window as a cure for travel nostalgia when we got back. They sprouted with very little prodding, and soon developed into a bushy plant* from which I excitedly plucked leaves throughout the summer.
I hadn’t used all of the seeds, so I was able to plant a new batch this year, and while I wait for the teeny green leaves to shoot up from under the soil, I wanted to discuss possible uses for this lovely, lovely herb.
The simplified rule of thumb is that you can use shiso pretty much anywhere you would normally use basil or mint, but I thought we could go into a bit more detail.
As I’ve done before with sage and sorrel, I called out for suggestions on Twitter, and because you’re such an inspired bunch, you came through with great ideas, which I’m listing below along with my own. Thanks to all of you who chimed in, and the comment section is wide open if you want to add more!
* I’m an enthusiastic but inexperienced gardener and I put in too many seeds, so some of the smaller seedlings never matured in the shade created by the bigger ones. Live and learn.
~ Shiso + rice
~ Shiso + noodles or pasta
~ Shiso + tofu
~ Shiso + avocado
~ Shiso + cucumber
~ Shiso + mushrooms
~ Shiso + tomato
~ Shiso + ginger + soy sauce
~ Shiso + sesame
~ Shiso + fish and shellfish
~ Shiso + pork
~ Shiso + fruit (“exotic” fruits, citrus, berries, stone fruits)
Garnishes and condiments
~ Sprout the seeds and eat the sprouts.
~ When the plant blossoms, snip and eat the buds.
~ Dry the leaves and grind with salt (and optionally, sesame) to make a shiso salt that may be used as a furikake.
~ Fry the leaves in a tempura batter.
~ Make shiso oil to drizzle over gazpacho.
~ Pickle it with cucumbers.
~ Preserve the leaves in salt.
~ Soba salad with shiso, with bonus information on the Qi boosting properties of shiso.
~ Sprinkle if over tofu, as in Chika’s tofu à la mode.
~ Use it with rice: in onigiri, or over a bowl of steamed rice, or in fried rice.
~ Use it in this avocado and grapefruit salad.
~ Sprinkle it over a carrot and ginger soup.
~ Add it to a cucumber salad with rice vinegar.
~ Add it to pasta with olive oil, nori, soy sauce, butter, salt, and pepper.
~ Make shiso pesto for pasta.
~ Make pan-fried shiso & tofu “sandwiches”.
~ Make spring rolls with shiso and mushrooms.
Fish and shellfish
~ Slip a piece of leaf between the rice and the fish in nigiri sushi, or inside maki.
~ Serve it with sashimi or chirashi sushi.
~ Use it in a tartare of mackerel marinated in fresh ginger and soy sauce.
~ Make a mignonette of shiso and mango to eat with raw oysters.
~ Put it inside a rolled pork fillet that you will poach and slice.
~ Make a pan-fried roulade of chicken stuffed with chopped umeboshi and shiso.
~ Make a Vietnamese-inspired shiso wrap: shiso + rice vermicelli + bbq vietnamese pork, rolled in soft rice paper. You can fry these rolls, or eat them as is.
~ Wrap it around some meat or veggies and pan fry them, then add a little soy sauce, mirin, and sesame seeds.
~ Make an infusion with the leaves, to drink hot or cold.
~ Make shiso juice with purple shiso.
~ Try infusing it for cockails, such as Alchemology’s shiso vodka, or just use in place of mint to make a shiso mojito.
~ Use it on fruit, fruit salads and fruit soups: think strawberries, peaches, oranges, pineapple…
~ Mix it with sugar (and optionally lime zest) to make shiso sugar or shiso lime sugar to sprinkle on crêpes and other desserts.
~ Use it to flavor macarons, such as the ones François Payard made for a fundraiser for Japan.
Care to add your own suggestions?