You may have seen a spade-shaped leaf adorning Japanese dishes from time-to-time. This is shiso also known as perilla leaf in English. Shiso is an aromatic leaf, related to the mint and basil family. Although it's commonly recognizing as a garnish in sushi dishes, shiso can also be found in other East Asian cuisines such as Korean and Vietnamese.
Types of Shiso
Two common varieties of shiso are green and reddish-purple in color. Green shiso tends to have a minty, bitter, lemony flavor, whereas it’s reddish-purple counterpart tends to be milder.
How Shiso is Used
Shiso is quite diverse and can be used in a number of ways. Most notably, the reddish-purple shiso leaves are used to make umeboshi, a popular plum snack also used in Japanese cuisine.
Green shiso’s minty, lemony qualities are often used to mellow out heavy rich flavors. For example, in sushi, it is added as a garnish to any maki roll or nigiri or used an individual wrap with fatty fishes like salmon, yellowtail, and tuna.
In Japanese cuisine, we sometimes see shiso added as garnish for ramen, adding a contrast to rich soups and broths. Just as shiso is used to mellow out strong flavors, frying whole shiso leaves as tempura can also help mellow out the strong flavor of the leaf. In Korean cuisine, shiso is often used to make mini wraps for grilled meat or banchan dishes.
Shiso also pairs well with vegetables and fruits. Thinly-sliced pieces of shiso are often added to salads for a bright citrusy flavor. It is also used in desserts or drinks in place of traditional mint for a surprising twist.
Where to Find Shiso
You can find shiso leaves at most Asian grocery stores and of course, Japanese grocery stores. Fresh leaves are sold by the ounce or bunch alongside other fresh herbs. Shiso leaves are also available frozen packed in sesame oil, dried, and ground.
About the author:
Samantha is currently a 5th-year JET in Okinawa, originally from Hawaii. She has been somewhat connected to Japanese culture her whole life despite being Chinese American. She's had the privilege of traveling to Japan and experiencing Japanese culture at a young age. She loves food and is always looking to try new places. When she is not working or out eating, she is an avid baker at home and has been known to feed her colleagues an excessive amount of baked goods.