By Avi Landau
The fragrant and edible leaves of the SHISO plant are a distinctive feature of Japanese food culture. The softer, greener variety- AOJISO, is used as a garnish and seasoning and you will most commonly find its leaves ( or sometimes the stems with the berries) on a platter of sashimi ( they add not only beauty and fragrance, but also have an anti-bacterial effect which is important when serving raw fish), chopped into small slices as a condiment for cold somen noodles ( a popular summer dish), or most impressively- deep fried whole in batter as tempura ( which is beautiful when you hold it up in the light).
Another variety, AKAJISO, which is a dark purple and tougher in texture, is used to make all kinds of pickles (tsukemono) and sweets .
Shiso is both aromatic and flavorful ( in a way that I cannot describe). and I always take pleasure in finding it on my plate . The most enjoyable part of a sashimi platter for me might be after I have finished all the fish and seafood and mop up the remaining soy sauce and wasabi ( Japanese Horseradish) with a green shiso leaf held with my chopsticks.
Botanists say that the shiso plant (Perilla frutescens) originally evolved in the foothills of the Himalayas and in what is now mynnmar and south-western China, but archaeological evidence shows that it has been eaten by humans for more than 2,000 years in Japan. Of course there are farmers who cultivate these plants and they can be bought at every supermarket in Japan. However, shiso is very strong, hardy and it spreads very quickly, so many who have gardens in Japan find it growing around their homes in abundance without having given them any care at all. Sometimes. some parts of the garden can actually be overwhelmed by shiso.
What to do in such cases? That`s easy- make shiso juice ! Its easy, fun and the resulting beverage is not only delicious, but said to have healthful effects on the body.
In fact, everytime Toshiko Nojiri (89) loads my arms up with plastic bottlesfull of the ruby red juice ( which happens every time I visit her) she tells me ( as if part of a mantra): KETSU EKI SARA SARA NI NARU ( your blood will flow smoothly), which is another way of saying- this juice will lower your cholesterol!
A visit to the library to check on other medical effect of shiso shows that this plant has long been used in the Far-East to treat a variety of ailments, from common colds, to tonsilitis and diarrhea.
Anyway, if you do have your own garden in Japan, and have found a patch of shiso on it, you might want to try to make some juice with it.
Like me, you have probably come to appreciate the availablity of so many interesting beverages in Japan ( at supermarkets, convenience stores, or vending machines). Surprisingly, however, shiso juice can NOT usually be found at stores ( though you can order it on-line from various sources). Thus, i think it is safe to say that it is the only type of juice widely drunk in Japan which is almost exclusively homemade and made with homegrown ingredients.
Because of this lack of industrialization involved in the making process. there is great variety of taste when it come to shiso juice, with each family having their own recipe.
As Asako Seo, my shiso juice making teacher has taught me, the fun part of making shiso juice is the wide range of possibilities: red or green shiso, any one of dozens of types of vinegars and sweeteners AND the endless possible ratios of vinegar to water !
In other words, if you have enough shiso leaves, you can experiment until you find the best balance of ingredients for you!
I was lucky enough to have spent a little time with Asako-San last week, getting a first-hand look at the shiso juice making process.
Here is the basic idea. You can improvise from there.
Since shiso leaves can be harvested from late June through September, you still have a chance to gather leaves from your garden or maybe ask a local farmer if they have any shiso to spare.
Asako-San is lucky as she has a good supply of shiso from her brother`s garden.
She showed me how to make juice with both green (aojiso) and purple (akajiso) shiso leaves, though the purple variety is much more popular for making juice as it turns a stunning ruby red when boiled in water and mixed with vinegar.
Basic Recipe for SHISO JUICE
One bowl (200 grams) of shiso leaves (green or purple)
1 liter of water
300 – 400 grams of sugar or sweetener
200 – 500 cc of vinegar ( any kind- please experiment)
Add shiso leaves (for 3-5 minutes)
Strain and continue heating
Mix in vinegar ( the liquid will then turn ruby red)
Pour into empty plastic bottles and refrigerate (OR preserve at room temperature)
Before drinking your dilute with ice, water, or soda.
And remember: a little bit of shiso juice everyday will get the blood flowing smoothly!
I was at Lala Garden, a shopping center in Tsukuba, browsing at a relatively new shop which specializes in locally grown produce and select food from around Japan (many of which have RADIATION SAFE certification), and I found large bags full of green SHISO for 100 Yen A bag. At that price shiso juice with store-bought shiso is definitely do-able!
The name of the shop is WAKU WAKU HIROBA, and it is located just across the playground from the Plechef supermarket.