Barrington is blessed with three farmers markets. Throughout the summer and well into fall, part of my weekly ritual is heading down to Haines Park on Wednesday afternoon.
My favorite stop there is Oakdale Farms, a five-generation family farm in Rehoboth. In addition to their organically grown produce, they sell potted plants.
I’ve bought several herbs that I haven’t seen elsewhere, including a wonderful Vietnamese cilantro that doesn’t bolt in the heat of summer, and a variety of Thai basil with tiny, flavorful leaves. The plants adapted quite happily to my herb garden.
The success of these new additions prompted me to widen my herbal vocabulary. A recipe in Gourmet Game Nights (available in the Barrington library) caught my eye: tiny shrimp cakes wrapped in shiso leaves.
I’d never heard of shiso, but I found a package of the Korean variety in Asiana Food Market (92 Warren St., East Providence) and gave the recipe a try.
In a word, yum.
The flavor of shiso is difficult to describe. Like basil, it’s a member of the mint (Lamiaceae) family. It’s variously compared to cumin, cilantro and parsley, with a hint of cinnamon or anise or citrus.
Shiso is widely used in Japan. When I mentioned this new find to my son’s girlfriend, a grad student from Okinawa, her face brightened with nostalgia and she mentioned that shiso is her favorite salad. The leaves are also used in Japan as a sushi wrap, in tempura, or dried and used as a flavoring for rice.
The herb is used throughout Asia. In China it’s referred to as bai su. India knows it as salim. In Vietnam it’s tia to and in Korean, kkaennip. It’s frequently referred to as perilla, from the Latin name for the plant’s genus.
This herb is astonishingly versatile. I’ve seen recipes for shiso aioli and a Perilla Punch—a mojito variation made with rum, pineapple, and crushed shiso leaves. It can be added to fresh fruit and iced green tea, or included in pesto. It is wonderful with sea food. The flowers are edible and have a similar flavor, so they can be added to salads or used as garnishes.
There are several types of shiso. The Korean leaves are large and broad, ideal for wraps. Varieties include green, red, and a bi-color that’s red on the bottom and bronze-green on top. The red varieties have a stronger flavor that leans toward anise. All varieties are considered easy to grow. No need to fuss with seedlings—they’re direct sown after the last frost.
I like to add a couple of new plants to my garden every year. I’ve ordered seeds for Korean and red shiso, and I strongly suspect that next year I’ll be adding more.
To order shiso seed: