Last Chance Foods: Shiso's Bright Pink Secret

Friday, September 13, 2013

The next time you see a leaf of shiso sitting under your sashimi, wrap it around the fish, and put it in your mouth. It’s not there just for aesthetics. “Shiso has an antiseptic property so it is safe to eat with raw fish,” said Hiroko Shimbo, the author of Hiroko’s American Kitchen and a well-known expert on Japanese cuisine.

She explained that shiso has been cultivated in Japan since the 8th century, and it has long been paired with raw fish. “Most of the times I find here, in America, when the shiso is served with fish, they are just left untouched,” Shimbo said. “I advise that you will eat it and enjoy the very refreshing flavor after the fish.”

The spade-shaped leaf is currently in season. Also known as perilla leaf or ooba, it’s related to mint, though Shimbo said it tastes nothing like that herb or basil. She added that green shiso has a stronger, fresh herbal flavor, than the purple variety, which is used to make pickled and dried plums known as umeboshi.

“[It’s] always used fresh, as a whole leaf... or chopped fine, or julienned, and then [used to] garnish the dish,” Shimbo said, adding that Japanese cuisine also uses tiny shiso flowers for both aesthetics and flavor.

She recommends getting shiso at farmers markets when possible, rather than Japanese grocery stores, where the shiso sometimes seems more industrially produced and less flavorful as a result. “I get amazing, fantastic quality of shiso [at farmers markets],” Shimbo said. “And there are several vendors [that] carry the shiso in Union Square and the one that I love the most is… Two Guys From Woodbridge.”

(Photo: Hiroko Shimbo/Courtesy of Hiroko Shimbo)

Tomorrow, Saturday, September 14, Shimbo will be at the Union Square farmers market for a book signing from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. She will also be sharing samples of shiso juice, which she explained is currently popular in Japan.

Don’t be shocked if the color of the shiso juice reminds you of the pink slime that took over New York City in Ghostbusters II. The color is a caused by anthocyanin, a water-soluble pigment in shiso that reacts with acid. So, not evil at all.

“I first… infused water with the shiso, then add lime juice,” Shimbo said. “The acid just quickly turns crystal clear–colored juice to this color.” Try making it yourself as a fun home science experiment. Shimbo’s recipe is below, and the resulting juice tastes like lemonade with a slight herbal kick.

Shiso Juice

  • 1 bunch shiso from the Green Market, pick all of the leaves
  • 3 cups water
  • 6-8 tablespoons lime juice
  • 1 to 1 1/2 cups simple syrup (You can use citric acid, as well.)

Rinse the shiso leaves under running water.

Bring the water in a pot to a boil. Turn the heat to low-medium, add the shiso leaves to the pot and infuse the water for about 5 to 8 minutes.

Strain the shiso-infused water into a clean jar, discarding or preserving the leaves.

Add the lime juice to the jar. The shiso leaves infused water turns to beautiful purple color.

Add the simple syrup to the jar to your taste and keep the jar in the refrigerator, or freeze it if you are not consuming it within 3 days.

When serving add 1/5 of the sweetened shiso juice to a glass cup. Fill the glass with flat or carbonated ice cold water.


Hiroko Shimbo

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Comments [1]

Eriko from Central NJ

Awesome story! Glad to see such a great plant given some air time. I grew up during the very early 1970s and getting authentic Japanese food on Staten Island meant waitng for a care package from my Grandmother.
My Japanese mother mortified me as a kid because she saw some shisho growing in someone's yard as an ornamental plant. As soon as she spotted it, she, the usually shy woman, marched right up to their front door, rang the bell, explained what that ornamental plant *really* was and asked if she could dig some up. The lady graciously let her have some and we had a thriving patch in our yard for years. The yearly ritual of making sure we saved enough seed for next years crop is engraved in my soul.
Thank you jogging my memory,

Sep. 13 2013 07:09 PM

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About Last Chance Foods

Last Chance Foods covers produce that’s about to go out of season, gives you a heads up on what’s still available at the farmers market and tells you how to keep it fresh through the winter.


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