Why I'm adding pickled shiso to — well, everything

Drape it over grain bowls with jammy eggs, mix it into rice with beef or tofu and so much more

By Melina Hammer
December 29, 2020 6:15PM (UTC)
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(Melina Hammer / Food52)

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Living in the pastoral Hudson Valley, I have room to grow things. This year's garden flourished, and within it, my second season growing red shiso, an herb in the mint family with a floral aroma. In Japanese cooking, red shiso is known best for its rich hue that stains umeboshi, or pickled plums.

It self-seeds freely in my garden and so as a result, I have a lot of it. Not one to waste, I have used it in all manner of things over the growing season: leaves added to ceviche, chopped into grain dishes, piled generously onto salads, as an aromatic in making pickles; paired with pork, chicken, ribs, and more. Then arrived the end of warm days.

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The chill set in quite quickly. I had so much of the stuff and I needed to find a way to savor the last of my harvest.

If I've scored wild mushrooms while out on a bike ride, or if the radishes at the market looked especially cheery that day, or if I'm just managing the glut of tomatoes my kitchen garden produced, there is always something I don't want to have spoil that could live another life, if only I made time to preserve it. After some reading to investigate how to capture red shiso's best qualities, I landed on pickled shiso. After all, since it's traditionally used in pickled preparations, it was all but guaranteed to work well with a puckery bite.

Rather than create a traditional brine, I took inspiration from shiso's presence in Japanese cuisine and used shoyu as the base. (This technique is also similar to the traditional Korean banchan, kkaennip-jangajji, which comprises Korean perilla leaves steeped in a spicy soy-based brine.) The shoyu performs double duty: It is salty but also earthy, adding more depth to the shiso than the leaves relay on their own.

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In many pickle recipes, I use chili peppers and garlic, so they're natural aromatic additions. In this preparation with the delicate leaves they are minced. When I create a brine I often add a small amount of sugar to balance the saltiness. Here I chose maple syrup — also earthy — and its mellow sweetness makes a great complement.

A nice thing about this method is that once you've layered the leaves with the aromatic marinade — the longest part of the process here — the condiment is ready to eat after just a day or two. I've been adding it to nearly everything. Punchy, savory, nuanced. I managed to use as much of the bounty before the weather turned and give them purpose, a special satisfaction indeed!

The tricky thing is, now that I've made pickled shiso a couple times, I wish I'd known about it sooner. Pickled shiso is now part of my permanent repertoire, and I cannot wait to see its beautiful leaves unfold next year and get to work bottling the season.

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Recipe: Quinoa Bowl With Jammy Eggs & Pickled Shiso

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cook time: 25 minutes

Serves: 2

Ingredients:

Quinoa bowl

  • 1 cup white, red, or tricolor quinoa
  • 1 cup mushroom or vegetable stock
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 bunch spinach, washed well, ends trimmed, leaves torn if large
  • 2 radishes, scrubbed and stems trimmed
  • 1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 piece pickled shiso (recipe below), for garnish
  • 1 pinch freshly cracked black pepper, plus more to taste
  • 1 pinch flaky sea salt, plus more to taste

Pickled shiso

  • 1 1/2 cups red shiso leaves, mixture of small and medium
  • 2 tablespoons Japanese shoyu or tamari
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons maple syrup
  • 1 clove garlic, finely grated on a Microplane
  • 2 thin scallions, white and light green parts only, minced
  • 1 red jalapeño, minced (about 1 tablespoon)

Directions:

Quinoa bowl

  1. Place quinoa in a fine mesh sieve and rinse under cold running water for a few seconds. Tap sieve into a saucepan, thwacking quinoa into it.
  2. Add 3/4 cup water, the stock, and 1 tablespoon olive oil, and bring mixture to a boil. Lower heat to simmer, place the lid on, and cook until all liquid is absorbed and quinoa is fluffy, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove quinoa from heat, leaving the lid on. You will have extra for another use.
  3. In a small saucepan, add enough water to cover eggs by 1/2-inch (do not add the eggs yet). Bring water to a boil then carefully lower in refrigerator-cold eggs. Bring water back to a rapid boil for 30 seconds to set the whites, then lower to simmer for 5 minutes. Transfer cooked eggs to an ice bath until they are cool to the touch, then peel and set aside. This step, short of peeling the eggs, can be done up to three days in advance.
  4. Drizzle remaining olive oil in a large cast iron skillet set over medium heat. When the pan is hot, oil will shimmer. Swirl to coat, add spinach, and season with salt. Allow to cook undisturbed for 2 to 3 minutes. 
  5. While the spinach cooks, slice the radishes very thinly with a knife or using a mandoline. 
  6. Use tongs to turn spinach, moving any leaves which have already wilted out of the way of those that haven't. Stir occasionally until all leaves have collapsed and become bright green. Remove pan from heat. 
  7. Divide half or so of the quinoa between shallow bowls. Nestle in spinach, followed by an egg cut in half, onto each pile. Arrange radishes and sprinkle parsley on top. Lift pickled shiso leaves using the tines of a fork and add some, along with a little of the marinade, to frame the eggs and quinoa. Once you taste the dish you'll strike a balance for how much is ideal: forkfuls punctuated by the bright, punchy flavors. Season with flake salt and cracked pepper to taste and eat at once.

Pickled shiso

  1. Whisk together all pickling ingredients except for the shiso in a small bowl until syrup dissolves and mixture is uniform.
  2. In a wide mouth half-pint jar, make a single layer of leaves laid flat, followed by a spoonful of the marinade, spread to coat the surface. Repeat like so layering leaves, followed by a spoonful of the punchy sauce - using the labor as meditation - until all leaves are stacked inside the jar. Pour any remaining marinade on top, lightly press the surface to compress, and seal the jar. Chill in the refrigerator for at least 24 hours before using.

Melina Hammer

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