Shiso - exotic Japanese basil
Sometimes nicknamed "Japanese basil"
Shiso is an herb which is most known for being a part of Japanese sushi cuisine. Sometimes called "perilla" (which comes from its Latin name Perilla frutescens) this jagged-edge leaf is what inspired those funky plastic leaves you always get in ready-made sushi packs at the supermarket. There are different color varieties, and the flavor isn't something that can be pinned down succinctly. Shiso has been described as having a mix of flavors, with hints of basil, mint and cumin most often cited, but really it just tastes like itself.
In sushi, the leaves are most often incorporated into roll-style concoctions or used as a decorative garnish. You can also find them delicately fried in tempura. Mixing the red leaves in with pickled ginger can turn the whitish root pink, and shiso is what gives umeboshi plums their reddish color as well. Some of the more nouveau uses in modern cooking for shiso are as a pesto or in martinis and mojitos.
If you want to grow your own shiso, it's much like growing other herbs. You can start from seeds or seedlings, and grow the plants either in containers or in the ground. Mixed sun to full sun works well. As with other herbs, be sure they don't get too much sun as this can lead them to bolt (flower) which will shorten their growing season.
There are both green and red/purple varieties of shiso and each has a slightly different flavor. You should taste/eat both before growing or do some usage research so that you can determine which variety is better-suited for how you'd like to use it.
Cooking With Shiso
- Shiso Miso
A classic home-cooking use for fresh shiso.
General Shisho Information
- How to Prepare Red Shiso Leaves for Pickling Ume Plums - How to prepare aka shiso for making umebosh
Intructions on how to prepare red shiso leaves (red perilla) for pickling ume plums - making umeboshi.
- Preserving shiso, basil, lemon verbena, and other herbs | Just Hungry
Just Hungry is a food site dedicated to Japanese home cooking recipes for people living outside of Japan and healthy and delicious eating.
- Obachan's Kitchen & Balcony Garden: Home-made Shiso Drink
This traditional Japanese drink is made from red shiso leaves as a summer treat.
- Simple Recipes: Shiso/Perilla Flowers and Leaves
Fresh, Pickled and Powdered
There are a variety of ways to use shiso, or to save it for later use. You may wish to try a few of them to find which work best for how you cook and what gives you the flavors you like best.
Drying - As with most leafy herbs, shiso is recommended as best used fresh, but can also be dried for later use. Leaves can be dried in a dehydrator or preserved in salt. They can be left whole or ground into powder.
Puree - If you crush the leaves in a blender or food processor, they turn into a paste. This can be frozen for later use. Freeze in ice cube trays if you want to have premeasured chunks, or put into a plastic freezer bag that allows you to flatten the shiso into a thin layer. This will let you break off a piece of the frozen puree as needed.
Pesto - This is another method of preparation that freezes well. Blend or food process the shiso leaves in place of basil in your favorite recipe and freeze with a thin layer of olive oil on top to preserve color.
A Refreshing Shiso Drink
I found a variety of sites that discussed making a concentrate from red shiso that was then diluted to make a sweet drink. However, many of those sites didn't list an exact recipe, and some that did called for both massive amounts of shiso and sugar. So I improvised, especially as I didn't have a pound of shiso (maybe next year). Here's what I worked out, and it's pretty darn tasty too.
For each 50g of shiso leaves you will want
- 1 cup of water
- 2 oz of sugar or honey
- 1/3 tsp of citric acid or lemon juice
Measure out all your ingredients before you begin. Bring the water to a boil and add in the shiso leaves. They will wilt rather rapidly which will let you get a lot of leaves into not-a-lot-of-water. Boil for 10 minutes. The red leaves will lose their color (turning green) and the water will turn a dark purple color.
After the 10 minutes is up, turn off the heat and add the sweetener and citric/lemon. The watercolor will shift to a bright reddish-pink. Let the leaves continue to steep for another 10 minutes. Then strain the liquid, being sure to squeeze or press the leaves to extract all the fluid. This is your shiso concentrate. Keep this in a bottle in the fridge. To drink, you will want to dilute this with 2-3 times plain or sparkling water.