The aromatic leaves of perilla—or shiso, to give the plant its Japanese name—are widely used in Japan, Korea, and Vietnam. More recently they’ve been discovered by cooks in Australia, the US, and Europe. An annual herb, related to mint and basil, perilla is native to China. The flavor of dried perilla only palely reflects that of the fresh.
Abaut Taste: Green perilla is sweetly but strongly aromatic, with notes of cinnamon, cumin, citrus, and anise basil, and a pleasant warmth on the palate. Red perilla is much less aromatic and has a more subdued flavor. It is faintly musty and woody with cilantro, cumin, and cinnamon overtones.
Parts Used: Leaves, flowers, and growing sprouts. Seeds are harvested commercially for their oil.
Buying & Preserving: Fresh perilla leaves are sold in Asian markets. They keep for 3–4 days in a plastic bag in the vegetable crisper of the fridge. Growing sprouts are sold by some produce markets and supermarkets. Red leaves are also sold pickled in vacuum packs. Dried perilla is available from Japanese markets.
Herb Gardening: Perilla isn’t demanding about soil or place, however doesn’t like to be waterlogged and doesn’t tolerate frost. Light, well-drained soil is best and a sheltered spot in sun or partial shade. Pinch out the tops to produce bushy plants. Perilla self-seeds easily, especially the red variety.
In Japan, red perilla is usually used for coloring and pickling umeboshi (salted and dried “plums”). Green perilla is served with sushi and sashimi—it’s said to counteract parasites in uncooked fish. The leaves are also used in soups and salads and to wrap rice cakes. Coated with batter on one side only, they’re deep-fried for tempura. The Vietnamese shred green perilla and add to noodles; they serve meats, shrimp, and fish wrapped in leaves with a dipping sauce. Chopped green perilla gives a wonderful taste to cooked rice; substitute dried if necessary. You can use the red in salads and as a garnish, you increasingly extend your use of the green. You can add it to slices of lemon or lime in the cavity of fish to be roasted or steamed, to sauces for fish and chicken, and to salsa verde instead of basil. Sometimes you can use it instead of basil with tomatoes, or with pasta or noodles. Oil extracted from the seeds is a rich source of Omega-3 fatty acids.
Green perilla (P. frutescens): Green perilla has gentle, downy leaves with a crinkly edge. They look somewhat like stinging nettle leaves.
Good with beef, fish, chicken, noodles, mooli, tomatoes, rice, zucchini. Combines well with basil, chives, fresh and pickled ginger, mitsuba, parsley, lemongrass, sansho, wasabi.