Wednesday, July 14, 2004


When I first tasted shiso (perilla, beefsteak plant; Perilla frutescens) in a Tokyo sushi bar way back not long after I'd just arrived in Japan, my tongue said to me what is that taste, I know that taste but I can't place it, I've tasted that taste before... of course I hadn't, I grew up in upstate New York when it was a lot more parochial than it is now (I think), but shiso does that old flavor trick wherever you're from, with its startlingly familiar yet completely new hint of clove + X + Y flavor...

When we moved here to the mountain there was some wild shiso growing on our land, but we added some of our own shiso seeds in an 'organized' plot; then the mix took over and went its own way, now we plant it no more, just leave some to seed itself and so it does, big succulent clouds of shiso leaves shifting year to year around the garden in the places that are best for it. Shiso harvests even better than basil, you pick off the top tender leaf cluster for your sushi lunch and two more clusters grow back in a day or two, hardy as weeds (and very rich in Omega 3 fatty acids).

Now with the yellow beans beaning and the lettuce bolting, as the sun rises more and more into the sky the shiso is reaching its apex, its inviting flags dotting the garden at random like freckles. There is purple shiso and green shiso... wrapped around sushi, shredded atop soba, blended with water and honey for a cool drink, mixed in to color and help flavor umeboshi, pickled flower stalks, leaves dried, crumbled and mixed with salt for a rice garnish... the shiso recipe list is a very long one.

No comments: