Friday, 5 October 2012


How did Jared ever convince me to grow red shiso (aka: perilla) last spring? I wasn't planning to hand make any pickled ume plums. Jared is the Japanese cuisine master in this house, not me. And anything that takes 30 days to germinate from seed and looks like stinging nettle is not high on my list of growing priorities. But love does lead one to do things that make little sense, at first.

We germinated both green and purple shiso in late May, transplanting them when we thought it would be too late for them to grow happy and healthy. OK. I was wrong. By early July green and purple were having a race to grow taller. 

By late August I was looking up recipes for what turned out to be a bumper crop of the stuff. Over a kilo of purple shiso! (Still leaving the green shiso out there until this weekend. It's almost a metre tall.)

Let's see: the flavour is reminiscent of creamy beet, cumin, ginger, and cinnamon. What confounded me was why did I have to wash the leaves, drain them, sprinkle them with salt, rub them lightly, wash them and drain them again? That's what all the Japanese experts told me had to be done with them. We did it.

Shiso syrup seemed the best way to go. You can freeze it for future use. After the syrup recipe, I'll explain why.


1 kilo red shiso leaves, washed, drained, salted, washed and drained again
750 gr caster sugar
250 ml runny honey
1 tb fresh lemon juice
1800 ml water

Heat water to a boil in a large saucepan.Add the leaves and simmer for 2-3 minutes. Remove the leaves and add sugar, honey, and juice. Strain through a jelly bag to remove any sediment. Bottle in sterile stopper bottles. The syrup will keep for 2-3 days in the fridge and up to a year in the freezer.

A few days later, Jared was conducting a Sipsmith Gin and caviar tasting dinner at Hix @ Selfridge's. He brought a bottle of my new creation with us along with a few carefully snipped green shiso leaves. A 3 parts gin to 1 part red shiso syrup cocktail garnished with a green shiso leaf was the result. This lovely, spicy concoction was served against a duck egg and caviar treat.

Now which window sill should I use to propagate another crop of red shiso for next year?

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