The majority of the food posts on this blog have been inspired by my tendency to see an exciting new ingredient in semi-bulk at the “farmers’ market” at my gym, buy it, and then think, “Wait, what do I do with a whole bag of Hachiya persimmons?!”
But I made a (delicious) mistake. Japan has a variety of leafy greens, including spinach (ほうれん草), komatsu-na （小松菜）, and bok choy, in addition to cabbage and lettuce. I was at the “farmers’ market” and saw a bag of what appeared to be spinach. Now, normally, I’d check the sign to make sure of the price for the product–and hence read the product’s name–but since I thought I had correctly identified it by sight and the price was on the bag, I plunked down my 100 yen (ridiculously cheap) and took it home to use in my bento.
I got home and set to making my salad when I noticed that, not only was this plant matter not spinach, I actually had no idea what it was. At all. It didn’t look familiar and I couldn’t pinpoint the flavor. To add insult to injury, the bag wasn’t labeled (farmers’ market!) AND my hard drive had crashed, so I was connecting to the wireless on nothing but an American iPhone with limited battery power.*
I hopped on iPhone AIM and started chatting to some friends. Thankfully, one of my friends recognized the stuff as しそ (shiso), or Japanese perilla–more specifically, red shiso (赤紫蘇 akajiso). More bitter than its Korean counterpart, shiso is described as a cross between basil and mint, and used as a garnish. Normally, when I see shiso at the store, it’s the green variety, sold 3-5 leaves at a time. I had a SACK of the red kind. Great, I thought. I have like four cups of a garnish that I can’t use as the base of a salad, and I don’t have good enough internet to look up recipes.
I froze some of it for seasoning, but I didn’t really want a whole freezer for of shiso–especially since my refrigerator is Japanese-sized. Which is to say that I have to locate it with a magnifying glass. Luckily, a certain someone sent me this recipe for Korean perilla pesto, and I figured, well, what the hell, it was 100 yen–might as well try to do this.
Click for the recipe and photos.
Adapted from muffintop.wordpress.com
Makes about 1 cup.
3-4 cups fresh shiso leaves (I used 赤シソ akashiso; but I think green shiso 青シソ aoshiso is closer to Korean perilla)
120 ml (1/2 US) cup (or less, if you prefer) olive oil
40 g (1/3 US cup) toasted pine nuts (plus extra for garnish) 松のみ matsu no mi
1-2 garlic cloves
1-2 tsp of coarse salt to taste
Combine shiso, olive oil, pine nuts and garlic in your blend or food processor. If you’re using a low-power blender, like I was, finely dice the garlic or run it through a garlic press first. Blend until paste forms, stopping often to push down the leaves. I found that filling the blender with leaves and smashing them down toward the blade was much more effective than starting small.
Transfer to a bowl. Add salt; stir until blended. Can be made 1 day ahead. Top with 1/2 inch olive oil and chill. You can also freeze it.
I don’t know if it’s a difference between the Korean and Japanese perilla or if it was a fluke, but muffintop suggests that fresh is better for Korean perilla, whereas I found that the red shiso pesto’s flavor and consistency were improved by a month in the freezer. The fresh shiso pesto was initially a glue-like paste and didn’t toss well, even with the addition of more olive oil.
After I defrosted the remaining pesto after a month or so, I found that the consistency was much easier to work with. I also added a little extra olive oil as I tossed it, and it looked and tasted much better than before.
I’m sure it had something to do with the fact that red shiso isn’t really used as pesto base (and probably isn’t supposed to be), but, hey, cooking is about experimenting, right?
*It’s a really really long story that involves SIM cards and phone chargers.