If you’re familiar with Japanese food, you’ve encountered shiso, or chiso, in some dishes. Most often, you’ll see these leaves served with sashimi, because when eaten with certain raw fish, it really enhances the flavor.
While in lockdown, many people have started gardening, and quite a few have cultivated shiso because it’s apparently easy to grow. Patrick Malone had to trim back his plant and had an abundance of shiso, so he was giving it out like candy. I remembered that I had made shiso pesto a long time ago in my Melissa Stewart days, but had lost the recipe — and since shiso is expensive in the store, it’s not like I could make it often anyway. I couldn’t even find a similar one online, so had to improvise based on a couple of easy ones.
I like this combination because it doesn’t use nuts or cheese, which helps to cut back on some of the fat in an already fatty sauce. There aren’t precise measurements because it depends on your taste; for example, I prefer to make it slightly saltier than it should be, especially if I’m tossing it with noodles. It also depends on the kind of shiso you get. Patrick’s was more purple, so it had stronger flavor, whereas the shiso from the store was picture-perfect but had milder flavor.
The best advice I can give you, since we’re in lockdown, is to take advantage of the free shiso in your (or your friend’s) yard now, make your first batch of shiso pesto, and then figure out from there how you’d prefer to adjust the recipe. I had to make it twice to get into the groove.
About 10 to 12 shiso leaves, stems removed
3 to 4 garlic cloves
Squeeze of lemon
Put the leaves into a small food processor (you can tear the leaves first). Cut the ends off the garlic cloves and throw them into the food processor. Start with a tablespoon of olive oil, a small squeeze (like 4 or 5 drops) of lemon juice, and a pinch of salt and fresh ground pepper. Blend until smooth.
You can then adjust the amount of oil to the consistency you want — some people prefer a paste, others prefer a saucy consistency. Take a taste and adjust the lemon, salt and pepper as well. You should start with light amounts of seasoning and increase as you need, since you can’t take back seasonings if you overdo it. I guess you could always add more shiso too it if you have your own plant.
Although it was nice on sashimi, it was REALLY good on grilled fish.
The next day, I tossed the rest of the pesto with soba from Niigata and had some coffee jelly drink, so I could feel like I was in Japan. Sigh.
Get creative! You might use this in dishes where you’d have shiso anyway, like with natto.
Here’s another tip for home cooks: Did you know that you can make pesto out of almost any kind of vegetable leaves? One of the farmers at the FarmLovers market makes pesto out of carrot tops in place of basil.
Let me know if you try this recipe and how it turns out!