About a year back I accidentally wrote what’s become the most popular post in this blog’s history — What to do with carrot tops aka carrot greens. I wouldn’t call this a sequel to that — and I will thank everyone who’s swung by that post and hope they found it of interest! — but the title of this post is a tip of the hat to that.
And what is shiso? As Wikipedia briefly notes, it’s something that’s long been common in a variety of Asian cultures and serves many different uses. To quote the start of the entry on the plants the name refers to, grouped and listed under its Latin genus name Perilla:
Perilla is a genus of annual herb that is a member of the mint family, Lamiaceae. In mild climates the plant reseeds itself. There are both green-leafed and purple-leafed varieties which are generally recognized as separate species by botanists. The leaves resemble stinging nettle leaves, being slightly rounder in shape. It is also widely known as the Beefsteak plant. Its essential oils provide for a strong taste whose intensity might be compared to that of mint or fennel. It is considered rich in minerals and vitamins, has anti-inflammatory properties and is thought to help preserve and sterilize other foods.
Now speaking as one who loves both mint and fennel, I was all about this — but I came across the idea of exploring shiso by chance. Earlier this year as we planned for our garden, I read through a catalog that friend Stripey had provided and noted an entry for shiso (I believe spelled shisho but I could be wrong), describing both its strong taste and the fact that it apparently had a bit of natural salt taste to it. Intrigued, I made it one of my choices for ordering.
We ended up with purple shiso, or akajiso, which was probably all that was listed in the catalog to start with. I planted several seeds at the end of one of our beds and waited to see what would happen. Initially I thought it would be a bit of a disappointment — the seeds took some weeks to sprout, and when they did the plants looked fairly tame still after a couple more weeks, thus this photo from just before my June vacation:
As you can see, taken at something of a very close angle! So I was wondering if we would just get a few small leaves per plant.
Well, anything but — here’s the shiso from a month later:
And from just last Friday:
So an unqualified success, really!
It was obviously time for me to harvest a few leaves and determine what to do with them. Purple shiso, it turns out, is less commonly used than green shiso in various recipes I’ve discovered so far, at least in terms of immediate preparation — but again, it all depends on what kind of dishes. It’s often used for coloring, as you might guess; the Chow site provides a brief description of possibilities. Often it can be used in drinks — this akajiso soda recipe at Jan Can Cook looks like a definite winner and I’ll probably try it out. Its strong flavor definitely suggests spicing and flavor options in general; experimentation will I think be key for me and my garden compatriots.
Shiso is apparently meant to be used when as fresh as possible, so I decided this should be done with something in a salad style. Besides the shiso I had also taken away many excellent tomatoes, so I searched to see if there was a way to combine the two. In doing so I discovered what looks to be an excellent blog in general, White on Rice Couple, cowritten by a couple as noted who describe their goal as:
We cook, consume and create from childhood comforts that our forefathers passed on through our heritage. But, we are not bound by it. Open to feeding both inside and outside our cultural comfort zones, we believe food holds few boundaries; so long as we understand and give respect/recognition to its origins. After many frustrations, failures and success, we continue to evolve at the stove and in our personal lives.
Couldn’t ask for a finer goal! So with that as a prompt, I chose to try their heirloom tomato and shiso salad recipe, which as they readily note in the entry actually comes from Gourmet’s Diary of a Foodie feature.
In studying this recipe I realized I would have to make a couple of changes — first, while the tomatoes I had were of different varieties, they were all red and so would result in an inevitably monochromatic meal. Meanwhile, the recipe also clearly calls for the green shiso and not the red, so in a way I had to make the most of my random decision from some time previously.
However, I had tentatively tasted some of the raw leaf by this point, and while some comments on line had thought that akajiso was too bitter for them, I found it very flavorful, with the hints of salt I had heard mentioned for the plant as well. So I thought I might as well go for it — along the way making the shallot dressing recipe which had been recommended, since I had some fresh shallots around for such a purpose.
A little prep and marinading and more and the result:
A simple enough creation! But the combination of tastes was quite marvellous, and with a little bread made for a filling dinner.
I’ll yet try some more with the now thriving plants here — all suggestions welcomed of course. I’d definitely say you should give this a whirl for planting and cooking purposes, it’s a great little plant and I’m intrigued with where I can go with it now.