Shiso are beautiful heart-shaped pointed leaves and I have never associated them with beef, but always with raw fish. How about you? I ate them for the first time in Japan. Together with the fluffy cushion of daikon radish, they formed the base under the sashimi. But in America, people have different preferences and probably they do think a lot about beef in their lives. Beefsteaks. The shiso leaves in their red-purple version reminded them so much of the colour of the bloody steak that they called shiso the Beefsteak plant. It was sometime in the mid-19th century when shiso arrived in America. From Asia, of course, because shiso has a home there. In the 1990s, when sushi was rapidly spreading in America, people began calling the plant with the original word shiso. Today, the name shiso has been completely domesticated and I think that it will soon be domesticated in the Czech Republic as well. The reason is the same. It is sushi.
Botanically, shiso belongs to the mint family Lamiaceae and in our stores it is referred to as perilla and often mint perilla. Or Japanese basil. Not only mint, but also basil, butterbur, sage or lavender belong to the same family. They are all herbs, they are all very useful, but each has its own characteristics and it is definitely necessary to distinguish well. I sincerely advise to name the leaves what are associated with Japanese gastronomy, shiso in Japanese. They look like nettles, but don’t be fooled like I was fooled. They are not. In no case do they sting and do not taste like nettles. Shiso is shiso. And I really wish you to taste shiso in Japan or shiso imported from Japan. Elsewhere, shiso is grown into slightly different taste. Less flavoured. I tried to grow it myself, but probably because of the soil here I got leaves from Japanese seeds that looked like shiso, but they didn’t have a real shiso taste. You can try it yourself. We will have seedlings in Miyabi from June 18th and you will be able to buy them. From Japanese seeds. We can then share our experiences. For example, whether shiso is a perennial (perilla is listed as an annual). I wonder if you will be able to keep the plant for several years. I haven’t been able to do that yet. Our climate does bad to it over winter. I already know that. This year I will put the shiso in a flowerpot and before the frosts start, I will take it inside.
You must have noticed that the shiso leaves are either bright green, probably now not called Beefsteak plant even by the Americans, or dark red to dark purple. The two kinds have not only different colours, but also different tastes and therefore different uses. The red ones called akajiso are used, for example, to make umeboshi. Ume plums are originally green, but their colour usually changes to pink or red during ripening in the brine, and this is due to akajiso. Eggplants marinated along with red shiso leaves are also excellent. It’s a Kyoto specialty. Yukari is a salty furikake mix from dried akajiso and is very good for flavouring rice. For example, rice balls onigiri made with yukari are a simple meal and yet absolutely great. You can add sesame seeds and you have a handy meal for a trip.
The green leaves called aojiso are especially associated with sashimi, sushi and salads. Shiso has antiseptic effects, which is an important thing, especially for raw fish. Shiso beautifully diversifies the taste of a chilled summer tofu called hiyayakko. Shiso is very refreshing, no wonder it’s used in drinks. For summer cocktails. Especially the true shiso! Japanese. Last year we had in Miyabi the opportunity to buy shiso imported from Japan, but this year we have to be fine with shiso, which we buy in the Vietnamese SAPA market. It’s good, but it doesn’t have the typically strong taste. It’s only perilla. In Miyabi, apart from sashimi and sushi, we add this shiso to tempura awase dish or to salads. For example, we combine shiso with moyashi shoots and taste with our yuzusumisodressing.
In order to indulge in shiso, it is good to realize how shiso can enrich our diet. Shiso has similar health effects as garlic and onions and the advantage is that it has no effect on unwelcome breath. You probably know the saying that where they eat onions doctors do not need to come, but where they eat garlic no one goes. With shiso, I would say that where they eat shiso means they eat sushi and so everyone wants to visit them. Anyway, in Japan, people believe that shiso is healthy and prolongs life. It certainly has anti-inflammatory effects and reduces allergens. Shiso contains calcium, phosphorus, iron and vitamins A, B and C. It contains omega 3 fatty acids and therefore has a positive effect on the cardiovascular system. Eat shiso!
I read that shiso can become an unwelcome weed. But I would argue that I welcome the invasiveness of shiso in my garden. Even the perilla type. I have plenty of nettles there in my garden, other weeds even more and I don’t benefit from them. It is also good to know that when you grow tomatoes, and I grow them, and you’re worried that they catch mold, it’s good to grow shiso near them. Shiso, banzai!
The reality is that now we can have here only the “less taste” shiso, but maybe someone will soon be able to grow the true Japanese pungent shiso in our regions too. The real shiso. I am looking forward to it so much.