By late October my potted shiso plants are several feet tall. Their ruffled green and purple leaves are sprinkled with flower spikes. As the nights grow longer, I begin to eat the leaves faster, knowing I will not enjoy them again until next summer.
Read on for delicious shiso suggestions–and step-by-step instructions for making a Shisito, my favorite October cocktail:
Photography by Marie Viljoen for Gardenista.
Above: The aroma and flavor have been compared with everything from anise to cinnamon and cloves. But to me the scent is reminiscent of roses, by way of quinces. The purple leaves are far more rose-y in smell than the green, which lean toward the quinces and perhaps a little mint. Their flavor is harder to describe.
Above: Shiso is the Japanese name for a specific variety of perilla: Perilla frutescens var. crispa. Another variety, Perilla frutescens var. frutescens, is the sesame leaf of Korean cookery. One can buy it pressed and preserved in specialty Korean stores. The names perilla, shiso, and sesame leaf are often used interchangeably. I suspect the two very similar-looking plants are often confused, by professional growers, cooks, and diners. I’m not sure it matters.
Above: I first encountered shiso, as many diners do, in a Japanese restaurant. It was sandwiched between a layer of pressed, vinegared rice and a sliver of rosy tuna. The fresh leaf delivered an unfamiliar, perfumed taste. The same night I found Shiso Perilla Green and Red Seeds ($1.99 per packet) at Botanical Interests. The plants have been a terrace staple now for three years, growing in pots and tolerating both full sun and partial shade.
Above: Shiso is very slow to start in cool weather. Despite my inevitable impatience, there is little point in sowing it until early summer. But by late summer, its leaves are fat and crinkled like crepe and ready to pick. By October’s end I make sure to cut most of the flowers rather than let them set seed, as various perillas have demonstrated their invasive potential.
Above: As well as it pairs with sushi, shiso is also a refreshing foil for highly seasoned food. I marinate beef short ribs in a pungent combination of soy, scallions, ginger, and lime, before grilling them over coals. After it rests, the meat is sliced from the bones and each bite is wrapped in a shiso leaf.
Above: Another way we eat it is as a wrapper for Vietnamese-inspired fillings where lemongrass, fish sauce, tamarind, peanuts, and garlic send the umami into the stratosphere. The shiso brings it back down to earth.
Above: A simple, messy meal of shrimp grilled with garlic and lime juice, and drizzled with a quick raw sauce of chopped shiso, mint, more lime, sugar and salt is stickily divine.
Above: You say cocktail? I say: Shisito! Taking a cue from the delicious (but done-to-death) mojito, I combine another ephemeral seasonal pleasure–Muscat grapes–with crushed shiso and rum. October in a glass, with ice.
Makes one sturdy drink
- 6 Muscat grapes, peeled and seeded (yes, you can)
- 1 teaspoon of powdered sugar
- 6 shiso leaves
- 3 ounces good white rum
- 1 ounce lime juice
- Seltzer or sparkling water to top
In a cocktail shaker, aggressively muddle the grapes (crush them) with the sugar. Add the shiso leaves, and muddle to bruise. Add the rum, lime juice, and ice cubes. Shake like mad, and strain into a glass over fresh ice. Some bits will sneak through, that’s fine. Top with splash of sparkling water. Sip.
For more of Marie’s garden, see her blog, 66 Square Feet (Plus). For more recipes from her garden, see:
- Spicy Spinach from 66 Square Feet.
- Tiny Gardens: Alpine Strawberries in NYC.
- DIY: Pears Roasted in Red Wine.