When I hear pesto I immediately think of the wonderful smell of basil. There are certainly a lot of different types of basil and one of them is purple so you may think this blog is about purple basil pesto.
Last May at a local plant sale there was an adorable baby purple leaf plant called Shiso. I remember shiso being so important in Japan as they serve it regularly with sushi. As an herb it has some wonderful properties to help with parasites so you can see the importance of eating it with raw fish.
Well in America, we like fast food and sushi quickly became the new supermarket fast “Healthy” food and a fresh leaf just would not hold up to hours or days under fluorescent lights to stay fresh so they stuck a piece of green plastic in the container instead. You can probably guess by now I am going to tell you about the health pitfalls of sushi. The main being the white rice that is cooked with sugar to make it really sticky, is a glycemic spike nightmare!! The fish is caught in our polluted oceans and filled with heavy metals mercury being only one of them. A local excellent sushi chef can no longer eat fish due to the heavy metals toxic build up in his body. Soy sauce has gluten in it and tons of salt and there is a host of issues with both of these. It is wrapped in Nori and we just know that is healthy, right? Wild Nari in clean waters is healthy! But, right now with the radiation levels so high I would not trust any sea vegetable around Japan. I saw lots of packaged seaweed in tons of plastic packaging at Costco and noticed how little seaweed you get for such a big bunch of plastic to deal with. It is also covered in soy sauce or salt to make it more appalling. Nori and Sea vegetables are great, just buy them in the least amount of packaging such as in bulk and you can eat them raw without being processed.
O.K. so I got on a rant about packaging, my new motto is “NOTHING IN A PACKAGE” I know,” nothing” is a little strict but you will be surprised how close you can come when you only buy produce, nuts seeds in bulk. Bring jars or reuse your bags to buy bulk items.
Now onto the pesto ….What is Shiso and how did it choose my garden to proliferate?
Purple SHISO growing about 5 feet tall
I always pay attention to what is new and growing in my garden and these six SHISO plants certainly took up space and beauty in the garden this summer. This is what Wikipedia has to say about my new plant discovery.
Perilla is the common name for the herbs, known ethnically by various names, but now classified under the single species Perilla frutescens of the mint family, Lamiaceae.
Like basil and coleus, it is a member of the mint family. The overall plant resembles the stinging nettle, though the leaves are somewhat rounder.
The culinary variety is known as shiso, from its name in Japan, where it is an important part of diet and cuisine. These come in both green- and purple-leafed forms. They are also used in China, although there it is not a mainstay herb. It is also used among many other mint and basil type herbs in Southeast Asian countries. The distinctive aroma and pungency of the shiso type might be compared to that of mint or fennel.
Korean cuisine uses green leaves of the oilseed variety, which have a flavor different from shiso, and also uses the perilla seeds, known as “wild sesame”, a source of perilla oil rich in ALA omega-3 fatty acids.
The flowers, as well as the fruits or seeds, of shiso are used as a condiment or spice in Japan.
In temperate climates, the plant is self-sowing, but the seeds are not viable after long storage, and germination rates are low after a year.
Perilla frutescens has been widely naturalized in parts of the United States and Canada, from Texas and Florida north to Connecticut and into Ontario, and west to Nebraska. It can be weedy or invasive in some of these regions.
The weedy types have often lost the characteristic shiso fragrance and are not suited for eating (cf. perilla ketone). Also, the red leaves are not ordinarily served raw.
Perilla is called zisu (simplified Chinese: 紫苏; traditional Chinese: 紫蘇; pinyin: zǐ sū) in Chinese and is traditionally used in Chinese medicine, and has been shown to stimulate interferon activity and thus, the body’s immune system. It is used to ease the symptoms of the common cold. It is fried in oil with garlic or ginger in the wok, and eaten as a dish with meals. The sū in its name (formed by addition of the herb radical to a homophone meaning “revive”) was the namesake for Mount Gusu, the peak which gave Suzhou its name.
Perilla leaves also occur in red varieties, (akajiso), and the flower stalks are used as garnish as well shiso
The Japanese name for the variety of perilla normally used in Japanese cuisine (Perilla frutescens var. crispa) is shiso (紫蘇?). This name is already commonplace in US mass media’s coverage of Japanese restaurants and cuisine. The Japanese call the green type aojiso (青紫蘇?), or ooba (“big leaf”), and often eat the fresh leaves with sashimi (sliced raw fish) or cut them into thin strips in salads, spaghetti, and meat and fish dishes. It is also used as a savory herb in a variety of dishes, even as a pizza topping (initially it was used in place of basil). In the summer of 2009, Pepsi Japan released a new seasonal flavored beverage, Pepsi Shiso.
The purple form is called akajiso (赤紫蘇?, red shiso), and is used to dye umeboshi (pickled ume) red or combined with ume paste in sushi to make umeshiso maki. It can also be used to make a sweet, red juice to enjoy during summer.
An inflorescence of shiso, called hojiso (ear shiso), is typically used as garnish on a sashimi plate; the individual flowers can be stripped off the stem using the chopstick, adding its flavor to the soy sauce dip. The fruits of the shiso (shiso-no-mi), containing fine seed (mericarp) about 1mm or less in diameter (about the size of mustard seed), can be preserved in salt and used as a spice or condiment. Young leaves and flower buds are used for pickling in Japan and Taiwan.
The other type of edible perilla (Perilla frutescens var. frutescens or var. japonica) called egoma (荏胡麻?) is of limited culinary importance in Japan, though this is the variety commonly used in nearby Korea. The cultivar is known regionally as jūnen in the Tohoku (northeast) regions of Japan. The term means “ten years”, supposedly because it adds this many years to one’s life-span. A local preparation in Fukushima prefecture, called shingorō, consists of half-pounded unsweet rice patties, which are skewered, smeared with miso blended with roasted and ground jūnen seeds, and roasted over charcoal flames. The oil pressed from this plant was once used to fuel lamps in the Middle Ages. The warlord Saitō Dōsan, who started out in various occupations, was a peddler of this type of oil, rather than the more familiar rapeseed oil, according to a story by historical novelist Ryōtarō Shiba.
Korean perilla leaves used as a side dish
The plant’s Korean name is deulkkae or tŭlkkae (들깨). The same word is also used when referring to its seed, which has many uses in Korean cuisine, just as the leaves (ggaennip, 깻잎) do. The literal translations of deulkkae (“wild sesame”) and ggaennip (“sesame leaf”) are in spite of perilla’s not being closely related to sesame, and Korean cookbooks translated into English sometimes use these translations. Cans of pickled ggaennip can be found in Korean grocery stores all over the world, with some ground red pepper between every two leaves in the can. The leaves’ essential oils provide their strong taste. Fresh leaves have an aroma reminiscent of apples and mint, and are eaten in salad dishes. The flavor is distinct from Japanese perilla, and the leaf appearance is different, as well – larger, rounder, flatter, with a less serrated edge, and often a violet coloring on the reverse side. Perilla oil (deulgireum, 들기름) is extracted from the seeds; the cake can be used as animal feed. Perilla oil has a rich taste and scent slightly resembling dark sesame oil (chamgireum, 참기름). Perilla seed can be cooked with meals, roasted, crushed to intensify its taste and/or mixed with sesame and salt.
Vietnamese cuisine uses a variety similar to the Japanese hojiso, but with greenish bronze on the top face and purple on the opposite face. The leaves are smaller and have a much stronger fragrance than hojiso. In Vietnamese, it is called tía tô, derived from the characters (紫蘇) whose standard pronunciation in Vietnamese is tử tô. It is usually eaten as a garnish in rice vermicelli dishes called bún and a number of stews and simmered dishes.
Silam plant in Panchkhal, Nepal
In Nepal, Kumaun and parts of India, it is called silam (सिलाम) and Bhangira. Its seeds are roasted and ground with salt, chillies and tomatoes to make a savoury dip/side dish or chutney.
In terms of dietary compounds in the plant, the pronounced flavor and aroma of shiso derives from perillaldehyde, but this substance is lacking in the “wild sesame” and “sesame leaf” variety. Other aromatic essential oils present are limonene, caryophyllene, and a very rich source of the essential nutritional omega-3 fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid,
Perilla leaves are high in the minerals calcium, iron, and potassium, rich in fiber and riboflavin, and very high in vitamins A and C. It has anti-inflammatory properties, and is thought to help preserve other foods.
Shiso has been long used to treat chronic inflammatory conditions like eczema, asthma, hay fever, and rheumatoid arthritis and contemporary scientific research validates this use. Whereas some have concerns about treating these conditions with steroids, Shiso is a safe and effective means of combating inflammation without the side effects associated with steroid use.
Use shiso leaves just as you would basil leaves to make a delicious very unique pesto.
About 2 cups tightly packed washed and dried Shiso leaves into a food processor.
Add juice of 2 lemons
Add a 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
2 cloves crushed garlic
1/4 cup of the best extra virgin olive oil you can find
3/4 cup walnuts that have been soaked and dehydrated
1/4 cup pine nuts
Blend till well incorporated.
Taste and adjust flavors as needed can also add more olive oil if needed for more creamy texture add more pine nuts.
I was at a retreat and brought some of this pesto for lunch to put on raw crackers with avocado and tomato and shared with those around me. Well, the jar emptied quickly and some said their body was really craving whatever this leaf had to offer. Some described the taste as smokey, mineral rich like a sea vegetable, complex and intriguing and everyone asked for more!
So how about you finding a new secret plant friend and getting to know them and discovering all the great gifts it has waiting inside to share!
Some other fun pesto ideas are : Spinach and Mushroom pesto, Cilantro and Pistachio, Stinging Nettles and Walnuts, and of course lots of basil varations as well
use the basic recipe concept and create with your own taste and imagination!
Oh, how do I use pesto you say?
Oh my Gosh, I can’t count the ways…
It goes great on cucumber rounds or carrot, celery, jicama, broccoli, lettuce rolls, or collard wraps, raw crackers, a dollop in warm soups, between tomato slices, with pear slices (in fact Shiso pesto and pear was my lunch today) and of course zucchini pasta and lasagna as well as sea vegetable pasta. Stack avocado and pesto, then tomato then more pesto onto a raw seeded cracker and you have an amazing nourishing easy lunch. Try it instead of mayo on your gluten free bread even on toast for breakfast! Put some on your salad and take it anywhere with you, just keep it cool and enjoy within a few days of making it or freeze it and use in the cold winter days to remind you of your summer garden as it dissolves into your warm veggie soup.